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These floating piers let visitors (almost) walk on water

For the past two weeks in Italy, a lake has been transformed with floating piers that allow visitors to walk on water. The fanciful public installation comes courtesy of the renowned conceptual artist Christo. NewsHour Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay has the story.

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  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Something extraordinary has drawn thousands of tourists from around the world to this normally peaceful lake in Northern Italy — Lake Iseo, 60 miles east of Milan.

    It’s called The Floating Piers, nearly two miles of saffron-colored, floating walkways connecting the mainland to two islands usually accessible only by boat.

    The piers undulate with the waves and the feet of some 65,000 visitors a day.

    These college students are from Utah.

  • TOURISTS:

    It exceeds expectations. It was a long journey out here, but it’s definitely worth it.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    What’s it feel like walking barefoot on this artwork?

  • TOURISTS:

    It feels surreal. Unreal. The way it moves it feels like you’re floating. You are floating, I guess!

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    The installation appeals to both young …and old. A chance for photos….and Just chilling out.

  • CHIJI:

    It’s cool!

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Chiji is from California.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    A lot of people wouldn’t consider this art.

  • CHIJI:

    I think this is definitely art. For someone to think of what it takes to make this come to life, it definitely takes creativity and imagination.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    This is the latest creation by Christo, the Bulgarian-born conceptual artist famous for giant outdoor installations.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    He wrapped islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay in pink fabric. Paris’ oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, in ivory fabric and Berlin’s Parliament, the Reichstag, in silver. His last major project — The Gates — more than 7,000 of them, dotted New York City’s Central Park, back in 2005. A few days before the Floating Piers were finished, I set off to meet the artist.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Christo! I’m Chris.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Before we started discussing the project, Christo was eager to stir things up to show his piers were safe even with waves.

  • CHRISTO:

    See the waves!

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    I had to ask the obvious question.

  • CHRISTO:

    No! There is no banister.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    No bannisters? Yes.

  • CHRISTO:

    It’s the greatest achievement of the permitting process. (laughs)

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    A process that usually takes years or even decades. Miraculously, the piers came together in 22 months.

  • CHRISTO:

    Now we walk. The project is about walking, you know.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    A bundle of energy at 81-years-old, Christo refused to “sit” for our interview. The piers are 53-feet wide and about a foot high and made from more than 200,000 interlocking plastic cubes. Christo insists his structure is only part of the art.

  • CHRISTO:

    Everything here. The work of art is not the piers. The work of art is also the mountains, the water, the houses, all the waves. All that together is the work of art.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    The whole thing.

  • CHRISTO:

    Yes, exactly.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    While they may look simple, Christo’s projects are complex, in this case involving engineers, helicopters and even scuba divers. The process starts with photographs of the location by Wolfgang Volz, who has worked with him for 46 years. Christo sketches the design over the photos to make a kind of blueprint.

  • WOLFGANG VOLZ:

    Now it’s this fantastic moment when the project is finished and realized and you look at it and you say, well, it looks just like the drawings however a little bit better.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Christo’s team identifies suitable materials, and almost everything is manufactured from scratch. On Lake Iseo, his team took five months to set the cubes in place, filling those near the edges with water to create the piers’ sloping effect.

  • We watched the finishing touches:

    3.5 million cubic feet of made-to-order fabric being laid over the piers and the streets leading to the water’s edge. The budget for all of this — $19.5 million dollars — is paid for entirely by Christo from the sale of his art.

    Like his previous monumental works, the Floating Piers are temporary. They will be open only 16 days and then dismantled — the materials, recycled. And that’s part of the point.

  • CHRISTO:

    People come to be present for something that exists once in a lifetime and never again.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Is it art or is it spectacle?

  • CHRISTO:

    No, it’s the physical art. First thing – Put in mind all our projects gave unique image from the concept to today is a work of art. We put together enormous intelligence of people, engineers. To discover myself how the project will look is incredible joy.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Tempering that joy — this is the first major project Christo has completed without his wife, Jeanne Claude, who died in 2009. Photographer Wolfgang Volz says she is missed.

  • WOLFGANG VOLZ:

    If we have a big problem we always say: ‘What would Jeanne Claude have done to fix it, if it were catastrophe or something like that?’ (laughs) You deal with permanent danger of catastrophe.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    While there haven’t been any “catastrophes,” the Floating Piers have posed some unexpected challenges. Rain and wind force parts of the piers to close at times. Monitors like this woman — instructed to keep baby strollers off the outer pier, because of the wind — face arguments from upset moms.

    Wear and tear from the much-larger-than-expected crowds also cause the piers to occasionally close at night for maintenance and repairs.

    But all in all … as Christo passed by on his boat, visitors have cheered the Floating Piers as a success. And Christo is now looking ahead to two more large scale projects – a pyramid-like structure in the United Arab Emirates and a curtain of fabric over the Arkansas River in the U.S. – which has been his home since the 1960s.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    You just turned 81-years-old…

  • CHRISTO:

    Yes, yes…

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    When I asked if he would ever slow down, Christo quoted something his wife used to say.

  • CHRISTO:

    You know, she had a great humor: ‘The artist does not retire. They simply die. (laughs) And this is why art is not a business; it’s the existence.‘

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    On Monday, the existence of the Floating Piers will start to end.

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    Does it ever make you sad to see the project taken down?

  • CHRISTO:

    No, no..

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    You like to move on?

  • CHRISTO:

    To move on….Like our life. [with subtitles]

  • CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:

    A life spent creating art that is fleeting, meant to be savored in the moment.

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