Arts

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.

Christo's artwork 'The Floating Piers' on Lake Iseo, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

"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.

Fabric from Christo's project 'Floating Piers' in Germany, Copyright: Altex

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's project 'The Floating Piers' - fabric pressed into bales, Copyright: Altex

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's projekt 'The Floating Piers' - fabric is cut up, shredded and turned into polyester felt, Copyright: Altex

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's project 'The Floating Piers' - The last shreds of the artwork land in the sand of a riding ring, Copyright: Altex

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."

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