NEW YORK - If they pay attention to it at all, many people view the water off Manhattan's East Side as a flat, even boring expanse stretching under a series of bridges.
Not this summer.
When the spigots are turned on this Thursday, four mammoth waterfalls will spring into existence, freestanding cataracts roaring down into the East River and New York Harbor in a multimillion-dollar engineering feat designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
'Here in New York, water is everywhere. We take the water for granted,' Eliasson said in an interview. 'I want to suggest - now, it's not about the land, now it's about what's between the land.'
'The New York City Waterfalls' is the city's largest public art project since 2005, when artists Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, adorned 23 miles of Central Park's paths with thousands of saffron drapes. The artificial cascades will be up through Oct. 13.
Eliasson, 41, creates indoor weather systems that incorporate elements like temperature, moisture, aroma and light. He's best known for his 2003 tour de force, 'The Weather Project,' which drew about 2 million people to London's Tate Modern to see a glowing sun 'rise' in a gallery - an effect he created by using a mist machine, mirrors and hundreds of light bulbs.
For this project, since there are no cliffs for water to pour over, metal scaffolds provide the framework for each waterfall. A system of pumps carries water up to a trough, where it will be released in a frothy cascade - about 35,000 gallons every minute for all four falls.
The falls will be turned on every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and illuminated after sunset.
They will roar off Governors Island in the harbor and into the East River at the Brooklyn base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 35 near the Manhattan Bridge and off the Brooklyn Promenade. The highest will stand 120 feet tall, or almost the height of the Statue of Liberty, minus its pedestal.
They will be visible from the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfronts and from the pedestrian and bike lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge.
'My work is ... about the relationship between the waterfalls, the journey around this part of town and the spectator,' Eliasson said. 'I want people to see something which is personal. I want them to see themselves, essentially. I'm not offended when people say 'This is not art.'
'Waterfalls,' which overlaps with the last days of a retrospective of Eliasson's work at New York's Museum of Modern Art, is expected to generate at least $55 million in economic activity for the city.
'The project promises to make a big splash in our local economy by attracting thousands of sightseers to town, who will then spend money in our restaurants, hotels and stores,' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.