Art Installations That Imagine the Impossible


Next summer, contemporary environmental artist Christo will create floating walkways around Lake Iseo, west of Venice in the Lombardy region of Italy. Bright yellow fabric will invite visitors to stroll through the area — walking on water atop 200,000 floating cubes — that joins the mainland to the lake islands, continuing into the streets in two mainland towns. This is Christo’s first major work since the death of his longtime collaborator Jeanne-Claude in 2009. Christo’s stunning landscape installations have always imagined the impossible — but he is hardly alone.

Cai Guo Qiang’s installations envision “the most pressing dilemmas and contradictions affecting us,” despite the works’ seemingly impossible narrative — whether it be about flying wolves or territorial animals drinking peacefully from a lake.

Michael Heizer created an installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that saw the artist “levitating” a 340-ton rock. Levitated Mass is meant to withstand 3,500 years. The megalith was transported from a quarry near Riverside to the city. “Arrival at the bottom is momentarily disconcerting. After all, how often does one see the underside of a 680,000-pound rock? The bemusement soon dissipates, though, replaced by simple curiosity about the construction’s elaborate engineering,” wrote critic Christopher Knight of the installation.

Watch David Letellier’s kinetic sound installation come to life out of thin air:

Compared to Tessel (2010) and Versus (2011), Letellier’s two previous installations, the technology behind Caten is rudimentary. “There’s no software. Just four industrial worm gear motors, that’s it,” Letellier tells CAN in an email. “Two of the motors are connected to relays that switch on and off from time to time in order to desynchronise them and produce different shapes.” The rest is left to gravity and the beauty of ‘catenary‘, a mathematical term for the curve formed by a rope – or wire – hanging freely between two ends.

Tomas Saraceno’s On Space Time Foam allowed visitors to walk on air thanks to three layers of clear film to create the above-ground illusion.

“Random International create artworks and installations that explore behaviour, reaction and intuition in relation to natural phenomena and the human form,” according to the group’s website. They created a rain room that allowed visitors to move through the space without getting wet.

Monika Grzymala creates installations that appear to freeze time and imagine the moment of impact or dissolution.

Matti Braun filled a gallery with 20,000 litres of water, forcing visitors to enter the space across logs cut from a 150-year-old Douglas fir (yanked from the ground due to a fungus problem), allowing them to essentially walk on water.

Dutch artist Theo Jansen created a wind-walking species known as Strandbeest with his kinetic sculptures that move on their own.

Doris Salcedo’s Istanbul created a “topography of war” by filling the space between two buildings with 1,500 precariously stacked chairs.

Leandro Erlich’s installation imagines what it’s like to live at the bottom of a swimming pool.