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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.


"Moving Chains" on Creative Time website
"Moving Chains on Governor's Island website

NY Times Review: "On Governors Island, a Machine That Jolts History" by Siddhartha Mitter (October 7, 2022)
Artnet Review: "It Took Eight Years, an Army of Engineers, and 1,600 Pounds of Chains to Bring Artist Charles Gaines’s Profound Meditation on America to Life. Now, It’s Here" by Sarah Cascone (October 25, 2022)
Colossal: "Through a Monumental Sculpture of Moving Chains, Artist Charles Gaines Confronts the Enduring Legacy of American Slavery" 
by Grace Ebert (October 25, 2022)