Wrapping has been a major recurring component in the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I have faint memories of the time they wrapped part of the coastline just south of Sydney in 1969-70, when I was a child growing up in a northern suburb. A 2.5km stretch of cliff and beach was wrapped with synthetic erosion-control fabric and polypropylene rope, a four week process. The wrapping was in place for ten weeks, then removed and recycled. It was widely reported and polarised opinion. It could be a manufactured memory, but in my middle class home it was seen as odd, not something we would go to see, but rather nice that such a thing could be done in Australia.More recently I’ve seen two works by them at the Art Gallery of NSW – Wrapped Paintings (1968 – link and Two wrapped trees (1969 – link). I was reminded of them while using a heat gun in an earlier project (20-April-2015). I find the wrapped trees depressing – long dead and preserved beyond reason. The wrapped paintings are intriguing – apparently no-one knows just what is inside.
Wrapping could take many forms – transparent, both displaying and transforming the contents (a nude woman, a bundle of Esquire magazines – interesting that in a video with Christo he comments on the movement in the wrapping, rather than the contents http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/videos/wrapped-magazines#.Vank1_mqpBc); Opaque, but with contents easily identified, as with the trees; Obscured. In a video of Woolworks (1969, http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/videos/christo-during-the-installation-of-wool-works#.Vanlh_mqpBc) a stacked wall of wool bales is covered in dark tarpaulins, completely obscuring the contents, but displayed nearby are more bales, the tops opened and contents tipping out. The wrapping can create a sculptural quality in everyday objects and cause viewers to reconsider, to see afresh, both object and the surrounding space.
Wrapping is not the only process used by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They have also surrounded objects (eleven of the islands situated in Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami in 1980), and drawn lines through environments (a 39.4 km fence in California 1972-1976, a curtain across a valley in Colorado 1970-1972). They alter an environment, allowing viewers to see it with new eyes, newly conscious.
Many of the large landscape-based projects take years to fulfill, or have never been realised. There can be long negotiations and litigation, as community and environmental concerns are addressed and permissions obtained. They are generally sited in or near population centres, intended to be seen and experienced directly by people. The large scale works are temporary, and that is part of the aesthetic, creating a sense of urgency to see it, knowing that this is really unique, giving a quality of the love and tenderness we can feel for the fleeting.
Fabric is a frequently seen component. Christo explained it “translate[s] the fragile, nomadic quality of our projects”, “like living objects, they move all the time”, “you can see the wind, normally you cannot see you can only feel the wind” (https://vimeo.com/34773748). In the website FAQ Jeanne-Claude described the use of textiles as the common denominator of their work “Fragile, sensual and temporary materials which translate the temporary character of the works of art.” (http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/common-errors).
The work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is not conceptual. They wanted to see it realised. It is environmental in being in human environments, but the claims I have seen about commentary on waste and use of plastics is all from others, not the artists themselves. More than anything the works are intended as an aesthetic experience. Talking about a proposed project, The Mastaba, Christo said “Simple, incredible geometric form situated in the waving landscape of the sand dunes. This is important, the contrast between the movement, the organic shape of the dunes with that steep, very simple form.” It was to be very colourful, multi-colours, gorgeous abstract painting, “so enchanting and unique that they [people] like to be present” (https://vimeo.com/50862146).
Christo prepares enormous numbers of drawings while developing projects – simple sketches, collages, altered photographs, maps and more. This could be simply part of his process, but the drawings also are a part of the communication process in advancing a project, and a necessary part of the planning process for major organisational and engineering undertakings. Sales of the drawings provide funding of the projects themselves. Inspired by this, I attempted a sketch of a possible wrapping of St Mary’s cathedral in Sydney, printing a photograph on A3 cartridge paper then spreading acrylic paint with a cut-down credit card. Lines for the ties were drawn into the paint with the wrong end of a brush. (More about the cathedral is in a report I did for Art History – 10-June-2013)
A variety of opinions on the wrapping of Little Bay – “Christo”, broadcast 19 April 2004, transcript available on line, http://www.abc.net.au/gnt/history/Transcripts/s1090226.htm. I particular like “Although it isn’t my cup of tea, I should imagine that to many thousands of people, it would be their cup of tea with cream added in.”
Images of work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude held at the Art Gallery of NSW http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/?q=christo
T1-MMT-P2 Joining and Wrapping Research – Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Textiles 1 – Mixed Media for Textiles
Part 2: Joining and wrapping
Research: Christo and Jeanne-Claude