LAKE ISEO – In the summer of 2016, Bulgarian-born artist Christo will install his latest project, The Floating Piers, on Italy’s Lake Iseo, 60 miles east of Milan. Two hundred thousand cubes made of high-density polyethylene, filled with air and covered with soft nylon fabric tinted dahlia-yellow, will create an Oz-like pathway that allows the public to walk on water for almost two miles, from Sulzano on the mainland to the islands of Monte Isola and San Paolo in the middle of the lake. As with all of the artist’s outdoor installations to date, it will be a temporary work, lasting just 16 days before it’s disassembled and all its materials are recycled.
Christo’s last public artwork, The Gates (2005), created with his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, saw the wintertime walkways of New York’s Central Park basking in the warm glow of 7,500 saffron-colored cloth gates. The intervening period has been marked by the death of Jeanne-Claude and frustrations for Christo, now working alone, in seeing his planned projects come to fruition. Two long-envisioned projects, Over the River in Colorado and The Mastaba in Abu Dhabi, conceived in 1992 and 1977 respectively, remain in the planning stages.
Christo is used to waiting. Permission for The Gates took 25 years and the wrapping of Berlin’s Reichstag 24, so The Floating Piers, for which permission was secured within a year, must have seemed a breeze. However, although the 80-year-old artist has spoken of his sense of urgency in seeing his projects realized, Wolfgang Volz, his photographer and The Floating Piers’ project manager, insists that the site was not chosen for ease of permit-granting.
“We couldn’t have known that,” he said. “These projects are built on the basis of everyday life. Everything we do, you would have to do to build something anywhere, so the rules [that we are obliged to follow] are the same rules that everybody else that lives here or wants to do something here would have to face and deal with and solve.”
In the spring and summer of 2014, Volz and Christo scouted the lakes of northern Italy before settling on Iseo, where the shimmering dahlia cubes will contrast with the dark colors of the lake and its mountainous backdrop.
“We were looking for a lake that has an island in fair shape,” Volz said. Lake Iseo, which has Europe’s highest freshwater island in the center, “is almost perfect. None of the other famous lakes, like Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, or Lake Garda, have quite the right quality. Lake Como was a consideration at one point but didn’t work out because, on the shore side, it was too tight. The traffic would have been horrendous.”
Christo has said that he wants visitors to take off their shoes as they traverse the piers, so that they can connect more immediately with the project’s sensory qualities. Interacting with the piers as they respond to the water’s movement will be a “sexy” experience, he says. While The Floating Piers will allow the islanders to walk to the mainland (usually they take ferries), any functionality is secondary to their artistic merit, according to Volz. “We are not trying to provide a practical purpose,” he said. “The Floating Piers are a work of art that has no purpose whatsoever.”