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Artist Christo walks on water in Italy

Associated Press Associated Press 12/06/2016 Colleen Barry

It's taken nearly 2000 years, but regular folk will soon get to feel what it is like to walk on water thanks to a project by the artist Christo, who may or may not have had his namesake in mind when envisioning his latest project, The Floating Piers.

"Any interpretation is legitimate," Christo, 80, allowed graciously in an interview with The Associated Press at the picturesque Lake Iseo in northern Italy where his 23rd large-scale installation is just days away from opening.

Since November, Christo and his team have been overseeing the assembly and anchoring of 220,000 floating poly-ethylene cubes to create a three-kilometre undulating runway connecting the mainland with a pair of islands, one inhabited and towering above the lake.

"For the first time, for 16 days, from the 18th of June to July 3, they will walk on the water," Christo said of the 2000 residents of Monte Isolo, which is normally only accessible by boat.

The Floating Piers is expected to draw half a million visitors during the longest days of the year to northern Italy's least-known big lake.

That is considerably fewer than the five million who visited Christo's and his late wife Jeanne-Claude's famous Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin in 1995 and the two million who walked through their work The Gates in New York City's Central Park in 2005, due largely to the relatively rural location.

The project still awaits a final touch: application of fabric that the artist promises will dramatically shift from nearly red to brilliant gold under the effects of light and humidity.

"You will need sunscreen," from the reflection, he says with conviction.

The fabric will be sewn into place by German seamstresses with specially made sewing machines, to create natural ruching. This effect prompts Christo to warn that visitors will have to step carefully along the oscillating platform.

The artist describes the sensation as "walking on the back of a whale".

Once the installation opens, 150 volunteers, among them lifeguards, will be posted on the piers and on boats around the clock to ensure safety.

Swimming is forbidden - but expected, despite the cold water temperatures. Entrance is free, with the entire cost of the 15 million euro ($A22.81 million) project financed by the artist himself.

Christo's projects are as much feats of engineering as they are works of art.

He has brought in a team of athletes from his native Bulgaria to assemble the specially made cubes and divers to anchor them to concrete slabs on the lake-floor, employing oil-rig-inspired two-week rotations. The 190 anchors were moved into place by air balloons.

He chose Lake Iseo for its calm waters and simple shoreline against the majestic Alpine foothills that some believe may have inspired the background of Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

Christo suggests the hypothesis is made believable by the misty effect created by the lake climate, softening the mountain contours.

In a painterly gesture, he said he made sure that the project offered vistas not only of the mountains, but also of the lake's medieval towns and verdant flora.

"The project is done for ourselves. And if other people like it, it's almost a bonus, very much like a painter who (has) huge big canvases they like to fill it with colour," he said.

"You don't fill the canvas with colour to please Mr Smith, Mr Jones, you fill it with colour because you like to have the joy to see this colour."

Christo delighted in the gentle movement of the nearly finished project. He instructed a boat driver to circle past the runway to create waves and smiled gleefully at the gentile oscillation of the platform.

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