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On Monday, June 20, 2016, I got to realize a long held dream – to experience one of Christo’s installations in person. My husband and I have been on an Italian tour the last few days, visiting Rome, Florence and Venice. But that trip was built around going to see The Floating Piers at Lago d’Iseo in the lake country of Italy. Open 24/7 for 16 days, from June 18 until July 3, 2016, it’s estimated that 500,000 visitors will interact with the environmental installation. I will share part of my experience with you in this post. (Author’s note: all images were shot with an iPhone 6S Plus). None of the images used filters or were altered. Also, I created this entire post with my phone – if there are formatting or spelling errors, please forgive me!)
We got to the queue (see a video clip here) around 4:00 in the afternoon. We are staying at a lovely bed & breakfast in Marone, I Quattro Ulivi. The local train takes you into Sulzano about every 20 minutes. We had to wait about 20 minutes in the queue before we got into the piers. They do moderate the flow of the crowd by letting small groups of people in at a time.
The day was warm, and the saffron gold fabric has a strong physicality to it. The color reaches up to you (as warm colors do, they advance), and the cool blue of the lake (orange’s complimentary color),receded and modified the orange, but only so much. The expanse of The Piers was large, supportive, and strong. The heat of the color and the day was a powerful combination. Christo encourages people to walk barefoot (see a short video of feet walking from a worm’s eye view) on The Piers, which many people did.
You do have a sense you are walking on water – The Piers have some similarity to being on a stable waterbed. They move with the water and with the movement of the people.
The whole experience was quite intense. The total length is 3 km, and we walked the entire length. We ended up spending 5 hours at the installation. When we got to the bank of Monte Isola, we took a shade and beverage break, just watching the hundreds and hundreds of visitors interacting with the installation. I understand Christo wanted his guests to not leave their patience at home! This is so true! This small town with 2,000 inhabitants has had a tsunami of guests invade their beautiful, sleepy, summer retreat. Some people DID leave their patience at home! It made for some tense group dynamic situations!
With patience, however, the effort was absolutely worth it! Here are some stats about the project:
- 200,000 cubes of high density polyethylene
- 75,000 square meters of fabric
- 3 km – the pier’s length
- 16 meters – the pier’s width
- 50 cm – the pier’s height
- 16 operational days
- 384 – the work’s lifetime in hours
- 200 anchoring hooks
- 1 work entirely financed by the artist
- 500 employees
After our rest, the sun began to sink lower and the heat began to soften. We went back out onto the pier – everything began to change. The color took on new hues of deep orange and red orange where it got wet. Shadows from the lake’s surrounding mountains began to fall. People were not just walking, but were also resting on the piers and taking in the experience of it all.
No detail seems to have been left out. There were volunteers posted every so often along the piers to keep visitors at least 3 meters from the edge. Safety conditions are also posted – our visit had the best weather conditions, stable. There are five weather condition levels, and if the weather turns inclement, they have to shut down the piers for safety, especially the ones that lead to Isola S. Paola, the tiny island in the lake that is entirely wrapped in saffron fabric. They also have arranged to have boats patrol the perimeter of the piers just in case someone should fall into the lake.
As the afternoon deepened, we finally made our approach to the tiny island, Isola S. Paolo. People on the pier began to focus on a boat in the lake; we looked in that direction and there was Christo! Applause from his happy art appreciators rippled down The Pier. One of the volunteers said he came out at various times every day. What a treat to catch a glimpse of him! My phone camera lens could not reach very far, but he is on the right at the very top of the boat, his long, white hair illuminated by the sun.
What a sight! At every turn, the deep, rich color glistened.
We thought we might go back the next night to see it with the lights and the moon, but we heard that they were going to close most of it because they were doing maintenance. We also tried to locate the helicopter service which had continual aerial views that lasted 5-6 minutes. We were unsuccessful making that connection. A ferry service was also a possibility, but the difficulties in arranging this came down to inaccurate schedules and throngs of people.
We did take a little tram that was at the entrance of the installation for a 30 minute ride up the mountain that Salzano is nestled into. There was a small church at the top which allowed us to get a view from above, despite being a bit far away…
One great souvenir of the installation is that visitors get a square of the fabric used to cover the piers. I had to ask several volunteers, but after a shift change the incoming volunteers had more swatches to give out. A few things were for sale, of course, though not all in one central location. One of the volunteers told me about books, a bag, postcards and a bracelet. I hunted them down, thinking they might not be available outside of the venue. I got lucky finding the bracelets for sale in a bar on the grounds. The book I got on site is about the logistics and engineering of the project, and does not appear on Amazon, though it is a Taschen publication. There is a book available for preorder from Amazon coming out Sept. 16, 2016 that will no doubt include photos of the art in situ (my edition has conceptual drawings only).
I hope I have been able to bring the experience to those of you were unable to go. If you attended The Floating Piers, I would love to hear about your experience in a comment.
Christo has long been a fiber artist hero of mine. I know his art encompasses so much more – monumentality, environmental art, public art, and amazing installations that defy our comprehension – but it is his love of cloth and fabric that tugs at my heart strings. He is truly one of the most important artists of our time. From Italy, it’s time to say arrivederci.