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“Moving Chains” by Artist Charles Gaines in collaboration with TOLO Architecture

Mov­ing Chains is a mon­u­men­tal 110-foot long kinet­ic sculp­ture built from steel and sus­tain­ably har­vest­ed Sapele, com­mon­ly referred to as African Mahogany, a tree native to West Africa. Cre­at­ed by Charles Gaines with col­lab­o­rat­ing archi­tects TOLO Archi­tec­ture, the sculp­ture, which peo­ple may enter and walk through, con­tains nine cus­tom made chains weigh­ing over 1,600 pounds each run­ning its length over­head. Eight of the chains are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pace of the cur­rents 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. 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. Start­ing dur­ing the Dutch and British occu­pa­tions, this water­way near present-day low­er Man­hat­tan would become an eco­nom­ic pil­lar of the transat­lantic slave trade and seed the sys­tem of racial cap­i­tal­ism foun­da­tion­al to the Unit­ed States. Fac­ing the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty — an inter­na­tion­al sym­bol of benev­o­lence and human rights, dis­tin­guished by the abo­li­tion­ist iconog­ra­phy of a bro­ken shack­le and chain at her right foot—Mov­ing Chains calls atten­tion to the nation’s eco­nom­ic, judi­cial, and polit­i­cal frame­works that con­tin­ue the lega­cy of slav­ery today.
Photographs by Timothy Schenk
Video by TOLO Architecture
Governor's Island Project
Status: Built
Year: 2022

Charles Gaines’ Moving Chains, a collaboration with TOLO Architecture, 
is commissioned by Creative Time and Governors Island Arts.

Artist: Charles Gaines, Charles Gaines Studio
Architect Collaborator: TOLO Architecture. Team: Peter Tolkin, Trenman Yau, Sarah Lorenzen, Brittany Jones
Engineering and mechanical design: AOA. Team: Jose Romagoza, Karl Nettmann, Paul Bailey, Jena Dolinar
Installation and build: Torsilieri & Sons. Team: Dean and George Torsilieri
Sound engineering: Arup. Team: Willem Boning
Woodwork and metalwork: Stronghold Industries. Team: Chris Hall.
Others: DucWorks, Utah; Horizon Welding, Nevada; Performance Tube Bending, California; Rozell Industries, New York; and Powerhouse Arts, Brooklyn.