An iridescent mass of purple, red and blue specks floats erroneously on the Serpentine Lake. Christo’s new public commission, The London Mastaba, is an abstract monument – the form of which, inspired by the flat-roofed tombs of ancient Egypt, makes for a jarring statement in the heart of the Grade-I listed Hyde Park. Upon closer inspection, the dappled colours begin an aesthetic exchange with their surroundings: from morning to late evening, the rich chromatic hues chatter with the water’s own aquatic blues and residual verdant tones; their conversation refracted into a pointillist painting by a waterfowl’s rippling wake.
Standing 20 metres high by 30 metres wide, The London Mastabais the latest sculpture to incorporate his and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic barrels. A total of 7,506 horizontally stacked 55-gallon barrels have been specially made, painted and installed onto a floating platform. Though details of its sustainable fabrication and recyclability are undisclosed, the project is intended to spark conservationist investment – the artist himself has funded its construction with an added promise to invest in the development of ecological habitats following its removal. In truth, it only takes up 1% of the lake’s surface area.
Insight into Christo’s journey leading up to The London Mastaba is provided by Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018,the first major UK exhibition by the artists since 1979. A selection of sculptures, drawings, collages, images and maquettes divulge details of former projects – both completed and unrealised. While three-dimensionality is central to the duo’s practice – there are three fascinating examples of their very first ‘wrapped’ sculptures – we soon realise how important two-dimensionality is to their practice. Technically-minded plans – in the style of a draughtsman or architect – are collaged together with images and free-hand renditions of dreamt-up, futuristic installations: these works truly steal the show.
Audiences are introduced, step-by-step, to phases of their career until, rather abruptly, the exhibition throws all of its energy into displaying details of The Mastaba – a piece originally conceived in 1977 for Abu Dhabi. If completed, it be will the largest sculpture in the world comprised of 410,000 multi-coloured barrels grouped together to measure 150 metres high by 300 metres wide. A scaled-model, along with proposalsand images from the couple’s visits to the Emirates, illustrate the magnitude of the project. Its unrealised status (and proposed remoteness in Al Gharbia) mean that the documentation of the artists’ journey – their commissioning of engineers and specialists to analyse its feasibility and social / economic benefits to the area – enable the project to exist in a tangible way.
As viewers depart, comparisons can be drawn between The Mastabaand The London Mastaba, questioning their respective impacts and relationships to their elected sites. Historically, a Mastaba connects more readily with a desert ecology due to its visual association with Egyptian tombs; Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s vibrant mosaic-design, too, relates to Islamic architecture; and there’s also the significant fact that Al Gharbia holds approximately 90% of Abu Dhabi’s oil reserves (which in turn represents 90% of UAE’s total reserves) – thus linking with the use of barrels. With plans to make it the artists’ first permanent structure, it also reflects the ancient Egyptian translation of Mastaba as “house for eternity.” The London Mastabais temporary, more ephemeral – a reflection upon modern, urban life in which nothing is built to last.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Barrels and the Mastaba 1958-2018, The Serpentine Galleries, London, until 9 September. (The London Mastabauntil 23 September). For more information, click here.
The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake) can be experienced in Virtual Reality through Steam and HTC Viveport for free with a VR headset. From 10th July a mobile version will be launched allowing everyone with a smartphone to experience VR and 360° video through the Acute Art app, which will be available for free download on Apple and Android. Visitors to the Serpentine Galleries will also be able to experience it by accessing the gallery’s mobile tour. For more information, click here.
1. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Barrels and the Mastaba 1958-2018, The Serpentine Galleries, London.