Floating barrels make waves

The London Mastaba by Christo (right) weighs 600 tonnes, is 20m high, 30m wide and 40m long.
The London Mastaba by Christo (above) weighs 600 tonnes, is 20m high, 30m wide and 40m long.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Artist Christo's artwork in Hyde Park, London, draws mixed reactions

LONDON • The swans and ducks on a lake in a popular London park have not made a flap over a new arrival in their midst.

But public reaction is mixed after the artist called Christo on Monday unveiled 7,506 coloured barrels floating on the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park in central London, an installation designed to stimulate debate as much as the senses.

The London Mastaba is a trapezium-shaped work weighing 600 tonnes. It is 20m high, 30m wide and 40m long.

Some may see the metal barrels and wonder if there is an environmental message, thinking of barrels of oil in the heart of one of London's green lungs.

Visible from several hundred metres away, others will see a prism, giant pixels or a simple geometric creation.

However, the work is open to all interpretations and comes with no message attached, said its 83-year-old creator.

"There are no messages. There is something in it to discover yourself. I cannot direct you. You should develop your senses," added the Bulgaria-born American artist.

Christo is known for his contemporary artworks, including The Pont Neuf Wrapped (1985), which involved wrapping the oldest bridge in Paris with polyamide fabric, and Wrapped Reichstag (1995), a similar project involving the parliament in Berlin.

"It's created an enormous invitation, like a stairway to the sky," said the artist, on the banks of the lake popular with swans, ducks and tourists.

Christo's first major open-air art installation in Britain is in the shape of a mastaba, a type of ancient Egyptian tomb.

The floating platform is held in place with anchors.

Red with a white candy stripe on the sides, and blue, mauve and red on the ends, the barrels are a striking contrast to the lakeside surroundings.

"The colours will transform with the changes in the light and its reflection on the Serpentine lake will be like an abstract painting," Christo said.

The artist has long appreciated the low cost and aesthetic appeal of working with barrels.

In 1962, having fled communist Bulgaria, he blocked off a Paris street with a wall of them, in response to the Berlin Wall.

More recently, he created a wall of 13,000 barrels in Oberhausen in Germany.

Construction of The London Mastaba, financed by the artist, started on April 3. It will stay in place until Sept 23, when it will be taken down and recycled.

The artwork is already drawing astonished reactions in Hyde Park.

"It's modern, but this place is natural and historical. I don't like it here," said Turkish tourist Yasmin Koc Ozcengel, 46.

Another onlooker, Ms Anna Andronova, said: "It's good because if it was less brave in its shape and volume, it would be less stunning."

Ms Sheila Steffenson, 58, an American living in London, said: "I'm sitting here pondering what in the world does it mean... if it means anything.

"I'm just not sure how I feel about it. Maybe it's a message about pollution. Who knows?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'Floating barrels make waves'. Print Edition | Subscribe