It will be the largest sculpture in the world, made from 410,000 multi-colored barrels to form a mosaic of bright sparkling colors, echoing Islamic architecture. The Mastaba is an ancient and familiar shape to the people of the region.
The colors and the positioning of the 55-gallon steel barrels were selected by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979, the year in which the artists visited the Emirate for the first time.
The proposed area is inland, in Al Gharbia (Western Region) approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the city of Abu Dhabi, near the oasis of Liwa.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have proposed The Mastaba, a huge pyramid of oil cans to be installed in the desert of the UAE. It would be their only permanent large-scale work.
In a run-up to Halloween, this week’s posts all scare me a little. Scary wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind when I think about these oil cans, but I can’t consider this proposal, or their other work in progress – Over The River, which would install “5.9 miles of silvery translucent fabric panels suspended clear of and high above the water in eight separate areas along a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River” – without thinking about:
Feds hunt clueless graffiti ‘artist’ in Yosemite, other parks
And: The Heist: How Visitors Stole a National Monument.
There is a certain ecological cluelessness in these actions, in a lot of Christo’s art. I haven’t seen it in the same light ever since – I may have mentioned this before – a class co-taught by art and biology professors. The art instructors showed Christo and Heizer’s works as examples of large scale land art, and in the course of the following discussion, the biology professors chimed in that they were terribly offended by how negligent works like Surrounded Islands or Double Negative were.
To assume that one can place a layer of plastic over the surface of the ocean along a coastline and have no effect because it is temporary and will be cleaned up is to be ignorant of how marine life interacts with the surface of the sea. To assume that you can do radical things in the desert because there is “nothing there” is to ignore the fact that a desert for all its inhospitality to people, is a living ecosystem. On the other hand, these projects certainly do not have the same effect a paved over development or a city would have.
I suppose it’s a matter of your own personal priorities. I have been planning and testing my first performance action and have been trying to figure out whether I can unfurl a thread across the entire bay. In the end I decided that I couldn’t live with the littering. So much trash ends up in our waters that I don’t have the heart to add to it, even in the name of art. But I can see how someone else may choose differently. I can see how most people might not think of it as a big deal. Yet for me it is the equivalent of a God-hand descending from the sky to litter in your house or cover it in a sheet of plastic without your permission.
It seems that, for us at this point in time, there is more cultural value the spectacular large scale action than in the preservation of the integrity of certain ecosystems. I find that disappointing, but – full disclosure: I have always had a bit of an environmentalist streak.
And yet I drive a car and love roadtrips. I have no idea how to reconcile such things.