Film Review: WALKING ON WATER (2019) DIR. ANDREY PAOUNOV
By Belle McIntyre
The monumental installations of the artist known simply as Christo are always highly-anticipated major events, notable for their sheer audacity and complexity, as well as the open-hearted, inclusiveness of them. His art is made for the masses, designed to be moved into, under, onto, or around and touched. This film takes us inside the process of installation his last work “The Floating Piers” installed in 2016 on Lake Iseo in Italy. Conceived in 1970 with his wife Jeanne-Claude, permit denials and other bureaucratic obstacles delayed the execution of this stunningly beautiful, monumentally complex work consisting of floating piers connecting
the islands in the lake to the shore, covered with saffron colored fabric. One of the smallest islands was also surrounded by a saffron yellow-covered platform. The result of this massive undertaking, which takes years of planning and preparation, is something so gorgeously awe-inspiring which brings a childlike delight to visitors of all ages.
The film’s strictly fly-on-the-wall approach can be annoying, as it leaves out details and context of some of the incidents which are being shown. But that does not minimize its merits as a glimpse into the process which answers some of the inevitable questions which come to mind when seeing such immense, labor intensive undertakings. The installation, which took three months and involved over 600 workers. There were major safety issues to contend with as well as municipal, incompetence and interference, crowd control and the overriding concern s of
Christo that the experience for the visitors be the joyful one which is his goal. Ever the micromanager, he was often in a state of contention with authorities and crew.
This is the first Christo installation since the death of Jeanne-Claude, Christo’s most trusted collaborator and major domo. Now he has a burly no-nonsense facilitator, with an aggressive take-no-prisoners manner who rides interference for the frail looking 81-year old Christo. This belies the steely resolve which drives him to undertake such daunting projects. The beauty and irony of the work is its ephemeral nature. In spite of the estimated 16 million dollar price tag and the thousands of hours of manpower, equipment, materials and planning, the world will only have 16 days to see it. The lifespan of a Christo is like that of a butterfly – short and sweet.
There is something endearing in his attitude to his work. He says of his art: “It is totally useless.”
He makes it because he loves seeing it and it makes him happy. That is something that he takes seriously as we see when the crowds become too large. Firstly, they have constructed the piers to only support a certain number of people at a time as well as per day. When the mayor of the town ignores the specifications which Christo’s team has meticulously submitted, Christo threatens to shut it down. Apart from the safety issue, he is really bothered by the crowd aspect. He has designed this as a more meditative, relaxed experience and is bothered by the frenzy induced by hoards of people storming the walkways. He holds the line and forces the issue until he gets his way. An estimated 1.2 million visitors walked on the water, after which everything was removed and nary a pentimento was left behind. The final shot shows Christo scoping out a future site on the dunes of Abu Dhabi for his next project, “Mastaba”. You’ve got to love this guy.