© 2016 The New York Times
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
The works of art that were among the most discussed of the year were monumental, historical, environmental. A lake-spanning installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, JR’s billboard-sized artworks at the Olympics, and a replica of one of Syria’s most prized archaeological treasures, a Roman arch that stood in Palmyra, all filled in blank spaces, reminding us of what was missing or what we hadn’t yet explored. Here, the creators explain their work.
“The Floating Piers”
By Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Lake Iseo, Italy
Nearly 1.3 million visitors took pictures or dangled their feet in the water as the piers gently undulated on the waves. Shoes were optional on the soft fabric.
In Northern Italy, “The Floating Piers,” a vibrant walkway created by the installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, traversed villages along the shoreline and connected two small islands on Lake Iseo with the mainland, allowing more than a million visitors to experience the landscape from vantage points never seen before.
Christo first conceived the project in 1970 with his partner and wife, Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009. The 53-foot-wide walkway was open to the public for 16 days in June and July, after which it was dismantled and its parts recycled or resold.
Each project is a journey. The work of art is that journey, whether it takes two years or six years or 26 years. We work on the drawings and sketches, then move to the physical side: the wind, the sun, the water, the fear, the pleasure. The complete work of art is both these stages tied together.When we started work on the full project at Lake Iseo, we were responsible for a thousand things, from the traffic to the movement of people to the security to the workforce. We had 600 people working around the clock, in six-hour shifts, who needed to be fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. We rented an entire hotel.All kinds of people showed up when “The Floating Piers” opened to the public — young and old. People walked the piers by themselves; some brought their dogs. There were handicapped people; there were children; there were babies crawling on the piers.I walked the piers a lot myself, but in the evening when there were fewer people around. I’d go out with my friends around midnight and walk the full length. It was lovely under the lights. It wasn’t like being on a boat; it wasn’t like being on the shore, with the water on one side and the land on the other. You were literally walking on water.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As one of the first artists in residence for the Olympic Games, the French artist JR installed three massive sculptures in Rio de Janeiro this year. Each depicted a young, little-known athlete frozen in dramatic action, with enormous scaffolding that served both artistic and utilitarian purposes propping up the monumental works.
JR’s sculpture of Leonie Periault, a French triathlon swimmer who hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In the fall of 2015, the International Olympic Committee approached me to be an artist in residence in Rio de Janeiro. I had dreamed of using the city as a 3-D playground for years and saw this as my opportunity to finally do so.I decided to do giant sculptures of young athletes who are training to be professionals. I had complete artistic freedom and chose three people who had never participated in the games: a French triathlete, a Sudanese high jumper and a Brazilian diver. Once the pieces were finished, I did not include an explanation for them or my signature. I wanted the project to be as accessible as possible, and left it open to people’s interpretation. That’s what I love about art: completing the story of a work on your own.I saw a lot of people take photos of the sculptures, and many posted their reactions on social media. But two men went further than the rest, and climbed the tallest sculpture, which soars nearly 280 feet atop an abandoned apartment building. They leaped off it with parachutes and filmed the descent. Afterward I learned they had wanted to jump from that site before, but it wasn’t until my sculpture appeared that the structure became high enough.
Roman Triumphal Arch, Palmyra, Syria
The Institute for Digital Archaeology
Displayed in London and New York
Syria has endured unending losses in its five-year civil war, among them Palmyra’s triumphal arch, destroyed along with ancient Roman temples and towers by Islamic State militants in 2015. After consulting with Syrian academics, who chose the arch for re-creation, scientists and engineers from the Institute for Digital Archaeology, based at Oxford in the U.K, replicated it in precise detail.
The re-creation, scaled to about one-third of the original’s size, was unveiled in London in April 2016. Some Syrians who visited the arch were overcome with emotion as they were given back a small part of all that has been lost — in this case, the beauty of the craftsmanship wrought by 3rd-century stonemasons.
The replica was displayed in public squares in London and New York in 2016, and will be displayed in Dubai in 2017. Next, it will be sent to Syria, to be installed near the arch’s original location.
Alexy Karenowska, director of technologyRoger Michel, founder and executive director
The Institute for Digital Archaeology
When ISIS began destroying historical sites in Syria, we realized that we were uniquely well-placed to make records of the disappearing objects. Palmyra was an obvious place to start. We collected dozens of photographs of the original triumphal arch taken by tourists and archaeologists, compiled the photos into a 3-D computer model and used robots to render the model in stone.
ISIS was hoping to destroy the arch forever, to erase it from the surface of the earth and from memory. Instead, they made it the best-known piece of ancient architecture in the world. Pictures of it have appeared on television and in countless newspapers and magazines. Thousands of people visited our model arch in London. We’ll be sending our 3-D files all over the world so that other arches can be created.
The original object has been a witness to history; it has weathered the ages and accumulated many layers of meaning. This arch embodies all of the things that went into its creation: the courage of the photographers who made the images we used, the fellowship of the people who helped us along the way, the emotional responses of the Syrians who traveled to London to see the final product. In the face of destruction, we must find new ways to create.