Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

Artist Christo stands in front of his work The London Mastaba, on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, on Monday. Reuters
Updated 19 June 2018
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Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

  • The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE
  • That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors

LONDON: It stands 20 meters high, weighs 600 tons and needs 32 anchors to stop it floating away.
Amid much fanfare and an unseasonably chilly wind, the London Mastaba by the renowned artist Christo was launched on Monday on the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park.
The Mastaba is a ziggurat, a sort of pyramid with two sloping and two vertical sides, and the top sliced off, made of 7,506 barrels painted red, blue and mauve and all piled up on a polyethylene platform.
The word mastaba simply means “bench” in Arabic. The shape dates back to at least 6,000, when such benches first began appearing outside dwellings in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
As Christo cheerfully admits, like all of his art — the silvery wrapping around the Reichstag in Berlin, the 7,503 gates hung with saffron-colored fabric in New York’s Central Park — it has no function but to look beautiful and excite the onlooker, at least for a while. The London Mastaba will remain on display until Sept. 23.
The Bulgarian-born artist arrived in fitting manner by boat to be paraded before an assembled throng of admirers, art world top brass and more than 200 members of the international media.
The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE.
That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors. Even in model size — one built to scale is on display in the Serpentine Gallery as part of the accompanying Christo exhibition — it looks staggeringly colossal, with minuscule model people around it.
Christo is used to his projects progressing slowly. He is also used to not always getting what he wants.
“In 50 years I have completed 23 projects and failed to get permission for 47,” he said.
It took nearly 25 years to get permission to wrap the Reichstag in 1995. But negotiations for the desert mastaba have already been going on since 1977.
Asked if there had been any progress, he said, “I can’t tell you. There are two stages in any project — the software period and the hardware period. We are in the software period. This is the longest time we have spent, but I am a stubborn man. It is an unstoppable urge within me. It energises me.”
The London mastaba cost about £2 million ($2.6 million). As with all his art, Christo paid the costs himself, raising the money by selling preparatory sketches and collages, which are highly sought-after and therefore considered a good investment. He accepts no commissions for his work and seeks no sponsorship.
However, the desert mastaba is likely to cost about $500 million at a conservative estimate, a sum certainly beyond even Christo’s fundraising means.
“It’s not just about building the mastaba. The problem is that there is no infrastructure at the site where he wants to build it, which is about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi,” explained Scott Hodes, Christo’s lawyer for 55 years. “You would have to build a road, accommodation for the construction workers and facilities for visitors and tourists. It’s a huge undertaking even for a wealthy country like the UAE.”
Could Christo be persuaded to relocate his structure to somewhere that is at least partly equipped already? “No. It’s in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere but that’s where he wants it,” said Hodes.
There have been many meetings and discussions over the years with the ruling family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Christo’s nephew, Vladimir Javacheff, who works with him on all his projects, said, “We keep going. I’m there (in the UAE) at least four times a year.”
Christo celebrated his 83rd birthday on June 13. Though still sprightly, there is no denying that time for him to realize his mastaba-in-the-desert dream is not limitless.
But apparently he does not consider his presence to be essential to the project. His nephew explained it will go ahead with or without Christo.
“Even if he passes away, the project will be fulfilled,” said Javacheff. “He doesn’t need to be there.” But, he added hastily: “Christo is not going anywhere. He is indestructible.”


A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

Updated 20 July 2018
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A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island: Now that women in the Navy can wear ponytails, men want beards.
The Navy said last week that servicewomen could sport ponytails, lock hairstyles, or ropelike strands, and wider hair buns, reversing a policy that long forbade females from letting their hair down.
Servicemen immediately chimed in on social media, asking the Navy if they could grow beards. A sailor’s Facebook post with a #WeWantBeards hashtag was shared thousands of times.
Beards were banned in 1984. The Navy wanted professional-looking sailors who could wear firefighting masks and breathing apparatuses without interference.
The Navy says that’s still the case. Still, some hope the change in female grooming standards opens the door.
Travis Rader, a 29-year-old naval physical security officer, said allowing beards would boost morale for men, just like allowing ponytails and locks has for women. There are two things that would make many Navy men happy: beards and better boots, he added.
Rader had a 6-inch-long beard when he joined the Navy after high school.
“You take something away from somebody, and they want it more,” said Rader, a master-at-arms assigned to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
The Navy announced it was adding grooming options for women during a Facebook Live event. Many black women had asked the Navy to be more inclusive of different hair textures. The Navy had the standards in place because of safety concerns and to ensure everyone maintained a uniform, professional look.
Rader was one of several sailors who wrote in the comments section of the Facebook Live event to press for beards. Bill Williams, a 20-year-old naval information systems technician, commented too, asking why sailors can’t have beards if bearded civilian firefighters wear masks.
Williams said he thinks a nice, well-groomed beard looks very professional.
“It’d be great because I know that when I shave for multiple days in a row, it starts to really hurt,” said Williams, who works at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Hampton Roads in Virginia.
Sailors can get permission to grow a beard for religious reasons or if they have a skin condition that’s irritated by shaving. Mustaches are allowed as long as they are trimmed and neat.
“Handlebar mustaches, goatees, beards or eccentricities are not permitted,” the policy states. The Navy isn’t currently considering changing that.
Safety continues to be the primary concern, said Lt. J.G. Stuart Phillips, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. He referenced a 2016 study by the Naval Safety Center, which concluded that facial hair affects the proper fit and performance of respirators.