Christo’s Floating Piers Project

A pacific-faced man appears from the other side of Italy’s Lake Iseo on the upper deck of a tottery barge, white hair invading the Alpine haze like a halo. He’s greeted with shouts of ‘bravo’ and enthusiastic clapping from fans ashore. A boom mike and video camera announce to this mountain region that the famed Christo is arriving from an inspection of his latest artistic transformation. It’s the Floating Piers, a walkable ribbon sixteen meters wide that runs along the shore-line and ventures across the lake to connect with two islands. It gives people the sensation of walking on water. The artist is loved for his generosity; attendance is free.

Formed of two hundred thousand floatable cubes anchored to the lake bed and covered with polypropylene, the piers are of saffron hue when dry and orange when wet. Their sharp bright lines cut through the misty atmosphere like a lightening strike. At night, the small battery -powered lights from California on the sides create a ribbed effect like sea sand.

Mountains in diagonal bedding and clad in dark green rise abruptly out of the water, disclosing how deep the lakes are in these parts. Worried divers had to fix the piers a hundred meters below the surface.

A monastery stands lonely on top of one of the promontories and a 13th century castle on another. While they suggest times long ago, a deeper past is present. Roman legions used to march nearby on their way to Gaul over the Alps and back again. Their fortified camp is a local ruin. One can imagine Julius Caesar gauging his chances here as he contemplated crossing the fateful Rubicon River a hundred or so kilometres to the south.

The Project, like all Christo installations, is ephemeral, lasting only sixteen days. In this time it changes the lake, creating a linkage with islands that had never been connected before. The colour and geometry add a character to the lake not thought of before, and never to occur again. It demonstrates for a short while a metaphysical potential, something inherent in all things. Present now, it’s gone in a flash. Its reminder of how quickly time passes brings a brush of sadness, but its presence is a source of joy.

Certainly, the people who came felt that. Christo expected twenty thousand a day to come but seventy thousand actually showed up. They  swarmed over the piers like clouds of flies, from five in the morning to midnight every day, slowing moving to and from the islands. Half a million came in the first week, overwhelming the facilities. Every minute from midnight to dawn was needed to clean up. The atmosphere was like what is seen at a pop music festival. Some fans even dressed in saffron, sympathetic the walkways.

Costing twenty – two million dollars and three kilometres long, the Floating Piers Project is a culmination of effort that began with its conception by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, forty-six years ago.