Governors Island, New York | October 15, 2022 – June 2023
For nearly 50 years, Charles Gaines has distinguished himself as an artist dedicated to the perception of subjective and objective truths. In the artist’s first public art commission, in development for nearly a decade, Gaines confronts the American origin story—both the nation’s founding and its expansion—with a monumental artwork that dissects a narrative riddled with falsehoods and omissions that have furthered the project of white supremacy.
Moving Chains is a monumental 110-foot long kinetic sculpture that evokes the hull of a ship, built from steel and Sapele, a tree native to West Africa commonly referred to as African Mahogany. Inside of the sculpture, nine chains run overhead: rotating on a maritime sprocket system, eight of the chains represent the pace of the currents in New York Harbor, while a ninth central chain moves more quickly, mimicking the pace of a ship in transit. The motion and sheer weight of the chains produces a rhythmic, undulating loop, evocative of the lapping water surrounding it. Known as the Hudson River today, Mahicantuck, as it was originally named by the Lenape, means a great waterway in constant motion, or simply translated, “the river that flows two ways.” This waterway would become an economic pillar of the transatlantic slave trade starting during the Dutch and British occupations, and seed the system of racial capitalism foundational to the United States. Facing the Statue of Liberty, an international symbol of freedom, Moving Chains calls attention to the nation’s economic, judicial, and political systems that continue the legacy of slavery today.
Marking the second chapter of the multipart project The American Manifest, Moving Chains furthers Gaines’s examination of the Dred and Harriet Scott decision, a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1857 that established that no person of African descent, enslaved or free, was eligible for U.S. citizenship. While this decision was reversed in 1868 with the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, its impact continues to permeate every facet of American political and social life as demonstrated by the continued and systemic subjugation of Black life. Through this series of public works, simultaneously representational and abstract, Gaines continues his long standing interrogation of the logic of systems, creating the possibility to break them open, revealing their dysfunctions and inaccuracies, and to begin to imagine life-affirming structures beyond.
Making Moving Chains
To make Moving Chains, Charles Gaines considered each element of the sculpture with deep intention. Gaines went through an in-depth and complex process of research, development, design, and building with a large team of collaborators including architects, engineers, fabricators, and skilled workers nationwide. Moving Chains is the largest commission in the history of Creative Time and Governors Island Arts.
The sculpture spans 110 feet 6 inches long by 19 feet at its widest and 17 feet 6 inches tall.
Each of its 9 chains weighing over 1,600 pounds are made of 214 custom made steel links, requiring nearly 4,000 welds to assemble.
The steel frame sculpture is clad in Sapele wood that was sustainably harvested and TLTV certified.
Nine teams located across six states participated in the creation of Moving Chains.
Architectural design by TOLO Architecture, with special thanks to Peter Tolkin and Trenman Yau.
Engineering and mechanical design by AOA, with special thanks to Jose Romagoza, Karl Nettmann, Paul Bailey, Jena Dolinar.
Installation and build by Torsilieri & Sons, with special thanks to Dean and George Torsilieri.
Sound engineering by Arup, with special thanks to Willem Boning.
Woodwork and metalwork by Stronghold Industries, with special thanks to Chris Hall.
Thank you to the countless fabrication houses around the nation who participated in the manufacturing of specialty parts including: DucWorks, Utah; Horizon Welding, Nevada; Performance Tube Bending, California; Rozell Industries, New York; and Powerhouse Arts, Brooklyn.
Special thanks to the team at Charles Gaines Studio, Audrey Moyer, Director of Operations; Sonia Mak, Studio Manager; and Merideth Hillbrand, Project Manager.
Charles Gaines: The American Manifest is made possible in New York and Cincinnati by the visionary support of the Ford Foundation, Lambent Foundation Fund, a fund of Tides Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, VIA Art Fund, FotoFocus, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Charina Endowment Fund, Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, Morgan Stanley, Wave Pool, and mediaThe Foundation, inc.
Major support is provided by Hauser & Wirth, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Marie Douglas, Karl Iagnemma and Ann-Kristen Lund, Jacob and Deborah Kotzubei, Jon Neidich, Bob and Renee Parsons, Sanjeev Rathi, Eric Richter, Waddell Family Foundation, Jed Walentas, Christopher Walker, Margaret Wang, Debi and Steven Wisch, and additional anonymous donors.
We are also grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) in partnership with the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams; and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.