It’s a 66ft high array of oil barrels in the shape of a pyramid with the top cut off – called a Mastaba. Mathematically we would call it a trapezoid. It is a shape that is reported to have been popular with ancient Mesopotamians and the word mastaba is an arabic word for bench. It is floating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Central London until September 9. There is an accompanying exhibition in the Serpentine Gallery that I have not yet seen.
Christo (full name Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) has been wrapping things for more than half a century. Twenty three schemes have gone ahead, and another forty-seven never made it off the drawing board. Apart from the two listed above he has skirted islands off the coast of Miami in pink fabric, and erected a 25 mile curtain of fabric in California. All his projects are monumental and self-funded.
The Mastaba suggests a completely new direction for the artist but that is not the case. Interviews and reports associated with the London installation reveal that Christo has been interested in barrels since the late 1950s. In fact in the 1960s he used oil drums to blockade (briefly) a Parisian street illegally. On the drawing board, and in development now, is a much larger Mastaba destined for the Abu Dhabi desert.
I was very much aware of the Mastaba through articles and pictures in the press. Thinking about how I might photograph it, I had considered that the image would probably be abstract. When seen, in the flesh, the installation in the Serpentine is immediately eye-catching and arresting, but as a shape I would not call it beautiful. I walked round it – quite a long walk up one side of the Serpentine and back down the other, searching for an image that was different in some way. The colours – red, blue and magenta – on the vertical sides were dense. The sloping sides were red with white stripes. Neither ‘spoke’ to my creative heart. It was not until I got an oblique view of one of the vertical sides, almost looking into the sun, that suddenly my ‘Eye’ saw images. And this is what I saw:
If London is accessible to you, do go and see this before September. You won’t be disappointed. Images will come but you may need to spend time working out ‘how’ you see them.