Governors Island, New York | October 15, 2022 – Summer 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.
TOLO Architecture is a Los Angeles based architecture studio led by Peter Tolkin and Sarah Lorenzen. The studio works on projects at a range of scales and uses, from residences to workplaces, to arts projects and cultural spaces. Principals Peter and Sarah both have educational backgrounds in the arts in addition to being architects, and see TOLO as a bridge between the art world and the building world. This background and an ongoing interest in the visual arts has led to a robust practice working on large-scale installations with a variety of artists. Peter and Charles met over ten years ago and they share a connection to CalArts; Peter is an alum of the school and Charles has taught there for over 30 years. This relationship has led to a number of collaborations, most significantly the 8-yearlong effort to develop and realize Moving Chains.
Engineering and mechanical design by AOA, with special thanks to Jose Romagoza, Karl Nettmann, Paul Bailey, Jena Dolinar.
As a leader in the creation of immersive experiences, AOA offers full service experiential design, production, installation, and project management. Leading projects from concept to completion, AOA is no stranger to bridging the gap between a vision and reality. With a limitless range in the space of live shows, interactive exhibits, impactful museums, themed lands and attractions, highly kinetic retail, and world-class themed dining, AOA led the effort to design, engineer, and deliver the monumental and historically significant art installation of the Moving Chains experience.
Installation and build by Torsilieri & Sons, with special thanks to Dean and George Torsilieri.
Torsilieri, Inc. specializes in providing superior landscaping, art and production installations, and exceptional event management with high-level industry expertise and project excellence. Exhibition, production and fine art clients rely on Torsilieri, Inc. to provide the highest level of logistical support, planning, execution, and installation.
Sound engineering by Arup, with special thanks to Willem Boning.
Arup is a multinational firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists providing advisory services across every aspect of the built environment. Arup has played a central role in the design and development of many of the world’s favorite cultural institutions.
Woodwork and metalwork by Stronghold Industries, with special thanks to Chris Hall.
Stronghold Industries, LLC is dedicated to the art of metal working, machining, and the mechanical trades servicing the Greater New York Metropolitan area. Operating multiple welding, repair and manufacturing facilities that include the most modern and up-to-date equipment and software available, Stronghold Industries’ highly trained, experienced, and certified mechanics and artisans have been bringing experience and dedication to each project required from the most particular clients and organizations since 2009.
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.
OVERVIEW: THE AMERICAN MANIFEST
RIVER YEARS: A BLACK GOTHAM EXPERIENCE
MOVING CHAINS: TOWARD ABOLITION