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Moving Chains
Rendering: Courtesy of TOLO Architecture

This giant monument made of steel and chains is heading to Governors Island

"Moving Chains" is a 110-foot kinetic sculpture that addresses the reality of systemic racism.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

A hefty, both in form and in function, new piece of art will take up residence on Governors Island this weekend.

"Moving Chains," by Charles Gaines, is a giant, 110-foot-tall kinetic sculpture featuring sturdy chains that rotate overhead. According to an official press release, the monument "addresses the reality of systemic racism in the United States of America through embodied and visual experience and provides critical historical context on our extraordinary political division today."

The new project, the island's largest public art commission to date, is actually part of Gaines' larger multimedia exhibition titled "The American Manifest," which includes a variety of other sessions that will unfold across both New York and Cincinnati over this year and next. "Moving Chains" in specific will stay on Governors Island through June 2023 and then move to the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

The structure, made of steel and sustainably harvested African mahogany, features nine custom-made chains that weigh over 1,600 pounds each and run its length overhead. Folks can actually walk through the monument and are encouraged to do so to experience the full scope of the project.

"Eight of the chains are representative of the pace of the tides in New York Harbor, while a ninth central chain moves more quickly, recalling the pace of ship and barge traffic that has traveled the city’s waterways for centuries," reads the press release. "The overall effect of the weight and motion of the chains produces a rhythmic, undulating loop, evocative of the sounds of New York Harbor at the entrance to the Hudson River, known to the area's Indigenous residents the Lenape as Mahicantuck, the river that runs two ways."

In fact, the waterway was once a key player in the transatlantic slave trade. 

"Moving Chains" also faces the Statue of Liberty—and it's not a coincidence. A symbol of liberty and freedom, the landmark automatically calls attention to the sorts of themes that the art project comments on as well. 

To push the point forward, this spring, Governors Island Arts and Creative Time will also host a conference about the "unfinished project of abolition."

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