Why Christo's Floating Piers had to be destroyed

Christo's latest temporary artwork, "The Floating Piers" at Lake Iseo in Italy, is now leaving traces in Germany - but they're intentionally unrecognizable. Some of them are literally buried in the sand.

"The Floating Piers," Christo's latest art project on Lake Iseo in northern Italy, was incredibly successful. Over a million visitors walked on water thanks to these floating pontoons. The 3-kilometer-long (1.9-mile-long) and 16-meter-wide (52.5-foot-wide) piers were covered with a dahlia-yellow fabric. The temporary installation created a boom in tourism in the small town of Sulzano over 15 days.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The fabric was sent from Italy to Gronau, Germany

That was a month ago already. The piers have been removed and the fabric rolled away. What remains is the hope that more tourists will keep coming to visit the Italian lakeside town.

In Germany, Christo's collaborators are not done working on the project yet. The last remains of "The Floating Piers" are still being processed. More precisely, the fabric still needs to disappear.

"Christo always wants his projects to be destroyed beyond recognition," says Karsten Stienemann, director of the company Altex in the German town of Gronau. That's why his machines were running all week to shred the yellow fabric to pieces and then combine it with other synthetic fibers. In other words, it is all recycled.

Christo's art should remain ephemeral

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The material from the piers was all pressed into bales

The American artist Christo feels that the impermanence of his art is a way to express freedom: "The disappearance of the artworks is a part of the aesthetic concept. That makes them deeply rooted into freedom," he has often said. Freedom is a big concern for Christo, who fled Communist Bulgaria. Permanence leads to ownership, and the artist sees possessions at the enemy of freedom.

However, the fabrics the artist has been using for years to wrap huge surfaces shouldn't be simply thrown away. He feels just as strongly about recycling them, since the materials are used in an artwork for two weeks only, as was the case in Italy.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The piers were cut up, shredded and turned into polyester felt

It was not easy to pack the loose fabric and send it back to Germany, explains Karsten Stienemann. It was then pressed into bales. His company didn't produce that fabric, but rather another layer of protective textile that came between it and the piers.

Stienemann was on location when everything was dismantled. He says he was unexpectedly impressed by the project once he stood barefoot on the swaying pontoon, "It was great. We were almost alone there because two days before it was taken down, there was another storm warning," he remembers.

Floating Piers to protect horses' feet

Despite the unusual experience, the shredding of material remains pure routine for Stienemann. The art is turned back into raw material. "That's 100,000 square meters of fabric and altogether 45 tons of textiles," he says. However, that's just a small part of his company's work, as Altex processes and recycles 3,000 tons of textiles a month.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

These shreds landed in the sand of a riding ring

The fibers of the dahlia-yellow fabric will be used to create a material called needle felt. It can be used for insulation or as protection under plastic liners for artificial ponds, for example.

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The company's protective textile fleece that was used in Italy is to be shredded into small scraps that will be combined with the top layer of sand on riding rings. "The particles of textile stabilize the surface, so the horses' don't break their hooves in the sand," explains Karsten Stienemann.

A few keepsakes remain

In the end, the fabric is no longer recognizable, just the way Christo wants it. "Christo does not want new articles to be produced with it or for someone to reproduce the fabric," says Stienemann, who has previously worked with the artist, for example for the "Wrapped Reichstag" in 1995 or his "Wrapped Trees" in Switzerland in 1998.

Despite the whole shredding, some souvenirs do exist. As was the case with the "Wrapped Reichstag," five-by-five-centimeter squares of fabric leftovers were distributed to visitors for free.

Visitors to "The Floating Piers" don't have to pay a fee. Christo wants everyone to experience his art and isn't interested in commercialization. The work, which cost as much as 13 million euros (over $14 million), was financed by the sale of his sketches and photos. In this way, Christo remains independent of sponsors.

"The Floating Piers," Christo's latest art project on Lake Iseo in northern Italy, was incredibly successful. Over a million visitors walked on water thanks to these floating pontoons. The 3-kilometer-long (1.9-mile-long) and 16-meter-wide (52.5-foot-wide) piers were covered with a dahlia-yellow fabric. The temporary installation created a boom in tourism in the small town of Sulzano over 15 days.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The fabric was sent from Italy to Gronau, Germany

That was a month ago already. The piers have been removed and the fabric rolled away. What remains is the hope that more tourists will keep coming to visit the Italian lakeside town.

In Germany, Christo's collaborators are not done working on the project yet. The last remains of "The Floating Piers" are still being processed. More precisely, the fabric still needs to disappear.

"Christo always wants his projects to be destroyed beyond recognition," says Karsten Stienemann, director of the company Altex in the German town of Gronau. That's why his machines were running all week to shred the yellow fabric to pieces and then combine it with other synthetic fibers. In other words, it is all recycled.

Christo's art should remain ephemeral

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The material from the piers was all pressed into bales

The American artist Christo feels that the impermanence of his art is a way to express freedom: "The disappearance of the artworks is a part of the aesthetic concept. That makes them deeply rooted into freedom," he has often said. Freedom is a big concern for Christo, who fled Communist Bulgaria. Permanence leads to ownership, and the artist sees possessions at the enemy of freedom.

However, the fabrics the artist has been using for years to wrap huge surfaces shouldn't be simply thrown away. He feels just as strongly about recycling them, since the materials are used in an artwork for two weeks only, as was the case in Italy.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

The piers were cut up, shredded and turned into polyester felt

It was not easy to pack the loose fabric and send it back to Germany, explains Karsten Stienemann. It was then pressed into bales. His company didn't produce that fabric, but rather another layer of protective textile that came between it and the piers.

Stienemann was on location when everything was dismantled. He says he was unexpectedly impressed by the project once he stood barefoot on the swaying pontoon, "It was great. We were almost alone there because two days before it was taken down, there was another storm warning," he remembers.

Floating Piers to protect horses' feet

Despite the unusual experience, the shredding of material remains pure routine for Stienemann. The art is turned back into raw material. "That's 100,000 square meters of fabric and altogether 45 tons of textiles," he says. However, that's just a small part of his company's work, as Altex processes and recycles 3,000 tons of textiles a month.

Christo Projekt Floating Piers

These shreds landed in the sand of a riding ring

The fibers of the dahlia-yellow fabric will be used to create a material called needle felt. It can be used for insulation or as protection under plastic liners for artificial ponds, for example.

The company's protective textile fleece that was used in Italy is to be shredded into small scraps that will be combined with the top layer of sand on riding rings. "The particles of textile stabilize the surface, so the horses' don't break their hooves in the sand," explains Karsten Stienemann.

A few keepsakes remain

In the end, the fabric is no longer recognizable, just the way Christo wants it. "Christo does not want new articles to be produced with it or for someone to reproduce the fabric," says Stienemann, who has previously worked with the artist, for example for the "Wrapped Reichstag" in 1995 or his "Wrapped Trees" in Switzerland in 1998.

Despite the whole shredding, some souvenirs do exist. As was the case with the "Wrapped Reichstag," five-by-five-centimeter squares of fabric leftovers were distributed to visitors for free.

Some of them are now being auctioned online - for money of course. Christo's art will probably never be completely impermanent.

Click through the gallery below for a look back at Christo's "The Floating Piers."

Culture

Sulzano: a temporary museum

Fiorella Turla, the mayor of Sulzano, is very pleased. From June 18 to July 3, the tiny village in northern Italy is expecting some 800,000 visitors, all coming to see and experience "The Floating Piers" by American artist Christo. Three kilometers (1.9 miles) of piers connect Sulzano with two nearby islands on Lake Iseo.

Culture

The sketches

Visitors to "The Floating Piers" don't have to pay a fee. Christo wants everyone to experience his art and isn't interested in commercialization. The work, which cost as much as 13 million euros (over $14 million), was financed by the sale of his sketches and photos. In this way, Christo remains independent of sponsors.

Culture

The real thing

The mayor calls "The Floating Piers" the "miracle of Christo." The 16-meter wide (over 52-foot) piers are fixed onto swimming pontoons, allowing visitors to walk from the mainland to the inslands of Monte Isola and San Paolo. It's a temporary replacement for the ferry, which normally transports Monte Isola's 2,000 residents to shore.

Culture

The art couple: Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo had developed the project with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009. An installation that makes it possible to walk on water was an idea Christo had in the 1970s. However, he didn't receive a permit to realize the project in his locations of choice: Argentina and Japan. But Lake Iseo in northern Italy proved an ideal alternative.

Culture

Producing the canvas

Material Made in Germany: The textile company Setex in Hamminkeln in Germany created the shimmering nylon fabric stretched across the piers. Some 90 square kilometers (nearly 35 square miles) of material were needed to cover not only the three meters of piers, but also the streets in Sulzano and the surrounding villages.

Culture

Preparing the fabric

The company geo-Die Luftwerker in Lübeck had one year to prepare rolls of fabric, which were five meters long and weighed 200 kilos (440 pounds). Simply storing and transporting them was a challenge. To move the fabric, special extra thick bags were needed. Two hundred of those bags were transported by truck to Sulzano.

Culture

XXL sewing machines

Since the fabric is so heavy, two people had to work each sewing machine when sewing them. An ultrasound laser was used to make sure the cuts were precise. At the pontoons, a special machine was used to sew the individual pieces together.

Culture

How the pier floats

Christo's gigantic installation is not only an impressive work of art, but also a logistical challenge for everyone involved. Christo also had 220,000 floating cubes made out of polyethylene. They were used to form a three-kilometer bridge and covered with the fabric in a final step.

Culture

Christo walks on water

Pictured here, Christo is seen testing his pier in October 2015. He seems particularly pleased that it's possible to feel the movement of the water when standing on the pontoons.

Culture

Beautiful, but not forever

The fabric has been stretched over the pontoons and the work is ready for visitors. On June 18, guests will be invited onto the golden bridge and be able to feel the water under their feet too. Up to 20,000 can walk simultaneously on "The Floating Piers." The only condition is good weather.