Earlier in the year, a friend had learned of an upcoming Christo and Jeanne-Claude art installation that was going to be open for two weeks in June on a lake in northern Italy. Instead of wrapping islands, trees, or buildings in fabric, Christo was going to create a fabric covered, 3-kilometer-long floating walkway called “The Floating Piers”. Shortly after my friend read the article in the New York Times, she decided to go and invited my partner and me (Lisa) to join her. Until then, I’d always assumed taking in Christo’s work would be something I would do only through pictures. So when given the invitation to go, I knew this would be a trip of a lifetime.
My first impression of the piers came in response to being among the enormous crowds. Initially, I felt anxious and most of my attention was focused on not walking into the people around me. The crowd was hemmed onto one path, and we mostly had to move in the same direction, at the same pace. To add to the feeling of being overwhelmed, the average temperatures were above 90 degrees and very humid, and there was no protective shade to rest under. Despite these conditions, with the exception of late night to early morning, the piers were nearly always full.
Since we were staying nearby, I had the luxury of walking the “Floating Piers” several times and at different hours of the day and night. After my initial adjustment to the crowd, whenever I joined the thousands of others walking the pier, that’s when I could feel the power of the art. Even though there were hours-long waits even to step on the piers, relentless heat, a lack of food and water, and long distances traveled (there were very few rooms available within hours of the site), most everyone walking the piers appeared relaxed and happy. I was astonished, thinking it would have been understandable if everyone’s tempers boiled over.
Instead, we witnessed a spectrum of joyful activities. Some couples became engaged and others got married. There were people of many different cultures and nationalities walking and sharing conversation with each other. Families of multiple generations held hands while they made their way across the lake and around the islands. We saw a man in tears as he lifted his wife out of her wheelchair so they could sit together, feeling the fabric and the gentle rolling of the walkway underneath them. And there were adults doing handstands with children, laughing and smiling together even though they just met.
It was one of the most moving art pieces I’ve ever experienced.
It was one of the most moving art pieces I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t help but think about how the bringing together of so many people was the true purpose of this latest Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation. Even if this wasn’t the intended purpose for their concept, I imagine Christo felt pleased by what he saw and thought his wife would have enjoyed it too.
The “Floating Piers” installation was conceived in 1970 by the husband and wife collaborating duo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Even though Jeanne-Claude passed away 7 years ago, after thousands of work hours, and millions of self-funded dollars, Christo was able to bring the installation to fruition. It existed for only two weeks and was free to anyone who wanted to visit. The piers were built as a continuous floating walkway crisscrossing the lake. The hollow polyethylene blocks were linked and layered first with felt and then covered with a saffron-colored fabric that changed tone along with the light of the day. The continuous pier connected the mainland to the island of Monte Isola, across to a smaller island, and back again. The pier was about 50 feet wide and floated 12 inches above the water. Before The Floating Piers opened, the estimate was 40,000 people might walk it every day. Instead, there were 90,000-100,000 people visiting each day. After the “Floating Piers” closed, the installation was taken apart, and pieces were either recycled, repurposed or sold to help fund the installation.