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The Artist Christo Talks About His Latest Project

The artist Christo’s latest project, “The Floating Piers,” is a walkway covered in yellow-orange fabric that stretches almost two miles into Lake Iseo in northern Italy, connecting two islands with the mainland. The project is open to the public for just 16 days, from June 18 to July 3, then it will be dismantled and recycled.

It’s Christo’s first large-scale project since he and his late wife and artists partner, Jeanne-Claude, installed “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park in 2005. Their other projects include “Wrapped Coast” in Australia, “Wrapped Reichstag” in Berlin, “Surrounded Islands” in Miami, “Running Fence” in Northern California. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Christo about this project, which he and Jeanne-Claude first got the idea for in the late 1960s.

Images From Christo’s “The Floating Piers” And Recent Projects

Interview Highlights: Christo

On the original inspiration for the project:

We first envisioned it many, many years ago. This happened just after the wrapping of the coastline in Australia near Sydney, 1969. The first proposal for floating pier was for the Delta of Rio de la Plata near Buenos Aires in Argentina. Many of our projects, they deal with the fluidity of the water and the sturdiness of the earth. Like the wrapped coast in Australia, like the things in the Pacific Ocean. Basically, all that play between fluidity and the water was very much in our work for many years.

On the concept of people walking out on the floating piers:

That was the idea. Basically in 1970s, there was the idea to put pantone type and put linoleum floor and go with fabric, and the people will walk. Of course the pantone will move because it is not totally a solid structure. Fortunately, we didn’t do that project at that time but technology today, to translate the motion of the water is so much more advanced and I come later.

Between 1958 and 64 we lived in Paris, but we exhibited many times in Italy. We did exhibitions in Milan, Torino, Venezia and Rome. And this is how we were scouting the lakes I know. We were looking for tranquil water basically, lake. And right away Lake Iseo was most suitable for our project. The lake had in the middle of the lake a very tall island. It was actually called Monte Isla. Now, the idea was to connect the mainland with the islands because in those islands 2,000 people lived in their homes and villages, and these people go from the island to the mainland by boat. They do not have a bridge. And this is how all the project starts. Taking the island of Monte Isla and connecting it with the mainland and the Eastern part of the lake with the town of Suzzano, and creating three kilometers of the floating piers and two and half kilometers perez an si.

In the early years, the floating piers was built with the typical pantone, like everybody knew with a typical wooden floor. But early 2000s, a Canadian engineer built a very intelligent, very simple system to create a pier that would literally float built by the system of the extruded cube, and then connected with a giant screw. This is why it is very difficult to explain to you how the surface worked because you need to experience it. It’s almost like walking in the water.

On getting the funding for the project:

We need to sell works, but fortunately Jeanne-Claude and myself had the biggest collection of artwork. Our principal storage is in Basel, Switzerland. And this is the golden mine, that worked from the late ’50s to today and this allows us to be very free, independently sell the works and build this project.

On why many of his projects aren’t permanent:

All our projects are designed to be temporary. There are some permanent works, in the museum, in the collection. They’re permanent, they stay forever. But the project is not only designed as temporary, they’re also designed for a particular season of the year. Like the Central Park project was a winter project.

All the journey is the work of art. And the most beautiful part of the floating pier is to see the entire project is about the people walking nowhere. About the feeling of the surface of the land or the water. And your feet actually, many people walk barefoot. And they walk, they walk. It’s not like going to shop, not going to see your friends. It’s going really nowhere.

On what it was like completing the project without his wife, who passed away in 2009:

I miss her all the time you know. She loved that project very much. She was a very dynamic woman. She never stopped. She could never sit. She’s moving all the time. She was really, very energetic. And this is why the project is still so much still with her.

Guest

Christo. He tweets @xtojc_tweet.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
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Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
Christo. Over the River (Project for Arkansas River). Drawing 2007
13 7/8 x 15 1/4" (35.2 x 38.7 cm). Pencil, pastel, charcoal and wax crayon. Photo: Wolfgang Volz
© 2007 Christo
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Christo. Over the River (Project for Arkansas River). Drawing 2007 13 7/8 x 15 1/4" (35.2 x 38.7 cm). Pencil, pastel, charcoal and wax crayon. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo
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Christo and Jeanne-Claude.The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
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Christo and Jeanne-Claude.The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
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Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
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Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014-16. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo
Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for The Mastaba
2012. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2012 Christo
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Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for The Mastaba 2012. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2012 Christo
People walk through the art exhibit "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005'" exhibit at Central Park February 12, 2005 in New York City. The Gates will be displayed along 23 miles of paved paths throughout Central Park through February 27, 2005. It will be the largest public art display in New York City history.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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People walk through the art exhibit "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005'" exhibit at Central Park February 12, 2005 in New York City. The Gates will be displayed along 23 miles of paved paths throughout Central Park through February 27, 2005. It will be the largest public art display in New York City history. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)