Christo: First of all, you should understand that this is not only my project, it's also Jeanne-Claude's, all I do myself are the drawings . . .
Jeanne-Claude: The only things I do myself is write the checks, pay the bills and pay the taxes. Everything else is Christo and Jeanne-Claude, including the creativity. It's about time that people correct this mistake.
Christo: Of course, this project is very complex, very long. It is not only one person's work, it's really a partnership and collaboration during all these years.
Jeanne-Claude: This is why we did not want to do an interview with only Christo . . .
Christo: But with Christo and Jeanne-Claude . . . she knows better how to say things.
Jeanne-Claude: I have not said a thing for thirty-five years and it is my fault. Now I have changed my mind.
Christo: Now, there is no way to say how long some projects take, that's our principle. We should not say "We know in advance . . . " Certainly, we would not like a project to take twenty-three or ten years, like "The Pont-Neuf Wrapped," but the projects have their own pace and their own history. These twenty-three years are not something out of nothing. During these years we worked hard, we had setbacks and refusals; the Reichstag project, for example, was turned down three times, in 1977, in 1981, and in 1987. It was refused by the governmental bodies of Germany, and this is why we kept the project alive for so long. Some of the projects realized in the last thirty years we kept alive, others we abandoned because we lost interest, they were no longer inspiring. In some cases, like the Pont-Neuf in Paris or the Reichstag in Berlin, the flame of the project was kept alive through all these years, and it was not only our doing. No, the extraordinary part of those projects is that they really build their own energy, their own relation to a great number of people. They involve the community politicians and the people who help us realize these projects. That's why it is not one person, like myself or Jeanne-Claude, screaming, "We want to wrap the Reichstag." On the contrary, there is huge support by many German friends. For example, one of the greatest supporters of the project, who died before we got the permission, was Willy Brandt. He climbed the stairway to my studio on the fifth floor in the early 80s in a moment when we were in despair, we almost gave up the project or resigned. Brandt tried to help us and explained that the project was so important that we should not give up. There is no recipe because each project is a unique proposition that will never be built again. We would never build "The Umbrellas" again, would never build "Surrounded Islands," or a "Running Fence" or wrap a bridge. Every project is a unique proposition, and there are no formulas. We don't know how to do it in advance. Technically, we don't know how to do it, that's why these projects give us this marvelous experience of being unique, because they are not routine, they are not repetitious. Why the Reichstag? Like all these projects, each has its own inside story, a preparation of long, long years. In 1961, living in Paris, I did a small study for wrapping a public building. I used a photomontage showing a wrapped structure with a text saying that the public building should be a Parliament. This is the first proposal to wrap a public building, not a city hall, not a corporate headquarters, not a private home. The building should belong to the nation, like a Parliament, the only building owned by a whole nation. This was the first proposal. In 1971, when I was working on "Valley Curtain," preparing the project in Colorado, an American friend in Berlin, Michael Cullen, sent us a postcard of the Reichstag. I had never been to Berlin before and that's how everything clicked. The building was the ideal thing for me. I was born in an Eastern European country, a Communist country. I escaped from an Eastern European country to the West and I had an acute, interest, in East-West relations. East-West relations shaped the culture and life of the 20th century. That is why I am here in the West, because there was the Cold War. If there was no Cold War, I would have stayed in Bulgaria, buried in some place. The Cold War was part of my arriving in the West and I was very eager to do a project involving East-West relations. The only place in the world where East and West were meeting, with tremendous drama and space in an extraordinary situation was Berlin. The only structure that was under the jurisdiction of the Americans, the Soviets, the English, the French and the two Germanys was the Reichstag. No other structure was under the jurisdiction of all the allied forces. This is how the Reichstag project originated in the early 70s. While the first drawings and sketches were done in 1971-73, we started to intensively negotiate only in 1975-76, though I was working on the "Running Fence" in Northern California and all our time was taken by that. Only in 1975 we did start to negotiate with the government agencies and the responsible bodies in Germany.
Mantegna: Did you ever think that the East-West situation would change in Berlin?
Christo: No, I believe very few people may have thought that, it would have been crazy, foolish to pretend so. The main thing about the project was that it was refused before the ending of the Cold War. If the project had been realized before 1989, before the end of the Cold War, the Reichstag would have been remembered as a footnote in the Cold War history and would be linked with a provocative attitude. If the project had happened before 1989, it would have happened from the Western world to the Communist world and it would have been some kind of arrogant provocation saying, "We can do this and this. You don't understand modern art and you are not capable of coping with those things." Of course, the "Wrapped Reichstag" could have been used in that way and that was a provocative attitude, but it was like a mausoleum, it was a structure with no use. The Soviet government, the Soviet army had made a point that there would be no political gatherings in the Reichstag, because the Soviets were very nervous that the Reichstag would become a focal point of the reunification of Germany. This is why there was so much control by the Soviet army which had jurisdiction over the 28 meters of the east facade of the Reichstag that belonged to the East-German military sector. It all was part of the allied superforces controlling the use of the Reichstag.
The Reichstag was like a solitary monolith with no use, no possible use in anybody's mind. That was the extraordinary part, it was like a sleeping beauty, that was sitting there, standing near the Tiergarten, like a mausoleum, very single. Architecturally, it is a Victorian building, but very separate from all the other buildings, sitting very lonely at the edge of the Tiergarten. Of course, it was by extraordinary chance that the week the Cold War ended there was this enormous revealing of the "powered down" building, of course not invented by us, because the German nation was unified in front of the Reichstag and they are moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin. The Reichstag will again be the Parliament of the new unified Germany before the end of the 21st century. It is part of what is so extraordinary about the wrapping of the Reichstag and that very period when the wrapped structure the work of art will mark a moment of transition a transition of movement, when the people will be using the monument again in a few years from now, and the building will be where German might will charter its policy.
Germany is an economic giant but a political midget, and with the end of the Cold War she has started to muscle her presence throughout Europe and the world. Naturally, all that has left us feeling nervous, because we are so excited that the project was approved, but these are very unsettling times. Before 1989, during the Cold War, it was very easy black and white. Communism and Capitalism. Life was separated between bad guys and good guys.
Mantegna: All of your projects of the last twenty years or so were extremely elaborate and took a long time to materialize; you have pleaded with individuals, confronted community and government groups, you have lobbied in Parliaments. When one sees the documentaries about the projects realized, you came across as the most patient, balanced and witty person. I would like to know your secret. What allows you to overcome all these difficulties?
Christo: First, we should discuss why it takes such a long time. I'd like to explain why some art historians, critics or writers have some problems in grasping this project. All these projects have within themselves what is inherent in them. When we are saying to a painter or a sculptor that some of our projects, like the Pont-Neuf, take 10 years to be done, or six-and-a-half years like the "The Umbrellas," or four-and-a-half years like "Running Fence," or three-and-a-half years like "Valley Curtain;" they think that we are crazy. To do a painting or a sculpture takes 2 or 3 months, or 6 months, but not years. But if you talk to an architect or an urban planner, to do an airport or a skyscraper it is quite normal that it would take several years to build a skyscraper or a bridge or extend a highway or to do an airport. I would like to point out that the projects are what they are; they have very strong elements of architecture and urban planning. Building the umbrellas was like building houses, thousands of houses, for kilometers and kilometers in a California valley and in a Japanese valley.
Jeanne-Claude: Houses because the umbrella is a roof, a house without walls . . .
Christo: And it is two stories high, 64 square meters. Each of these umbrellas is six meters high and 9 meters in diameter. It's unavoidable that these projects are what they are; wrapping a bridge is like building a bridge and wrapping the Reichstag in the end will be like building a building. This is essential in fully understanding what the work of art is. The work of art has these inherent elements and this is why I like to do these projects, because they go beyond the idea of classical sculpture, modern sculpture, or modern painting. For example, in a large Calder sculpture, one can go inside forms and shapes; all that space belongs to Mr. Calder. When we do projects, we borrow spaces that are never part of the conventional art experience. When we do a project like the Pont-Neuf, it's not a project about the Pont-Neuf, it is the Pont-Neuf, the real Pont-Neuf, with all its meanings, all the space, all the intricate relations of that bridge in the French mind for 400 years all the Parisians, the kings, from the Revolution and beyond. Of course, we benefit from these incredible resources, these incredible spatial relations the place has had for two million people for 400 years. When we do the project, we benefit from those intricate, absolutely multiple relations. The Reichstag is a building owned by an entire nation, 80 million Germans. Germans are the owners of the Reichstag. Jeanne-Claude and I cannot talk to 80 million Germans, but we can talk to the 662 deputies who represent 80 million Germans. What we are doing with all our projects, like "The Umbrellas," like the Pont-Neuf, is that we are leasing, we are borrowing the space. For example, to install those 1340 blue umbrellas in Japan we needed to lease the land from 459 rice-field farmers, of whom the youngest was 63 years old and the oldest was 92. Now, to rent the Reichstag, it's unavoidable that there is a very discrete relation; in this case, to get the space we are using we need the permission from the whole nation. This is why the decision of obtaining the lease is very much complicated by the incredible circumstances of forces and energies that had to go in front of the nation. An entire nation watched live on television for one-and-a-half hour the debate over the wrapping of the Reichstag. 200 million people in the Common Market watched the debate. This is how the project developed, not because we like to do that part, but this is inherent with what it is. That's why when we start a project with Jeanne-Claude, we try to discover what the project is, because we ourselves don't know what it is and the project is revealed to us in this process of the making. To the chief process of trying in succeeding to get the permits, the process reflects its magnitude and importance and that's why I always said that I truly don't know what the project means, because we will be very arrogant and it's naive for us to say we fully know what the Pont-Neuf means to the Parisians. Or fully know what the "Umbrellas" mean to the Japanese or the Californians. How can I say how the Japanese can see the "Umbrellas" if I am not Japanese myself? How can I pretend to say what the "Umbrellas" are for a Japanese? The same way with the Reichstag: certainly we cannot completely articulate what the Reichstag would mean to the German people once it is completed. But the very interesting thing is that there was an hour and-a-half debate in the German Parliament. There were two major speeches against and for the project and additional speeches for and against the project. The arguments for and against were the arguments why we would like to wrap the Reichstag. We have all the records of that. To conclude, the patience probably comes from discovering what the project is . . .
Jeanne-Claude: But it is really patience? It is a matter of passion, more than patience.
Christo: Passion, also, but it is very natural. We discover what the project is and we try to get the permissions . . .
Jeanne-Claude: For us it is normal, but there are things that I and Christo cannot understand, like a person could cook all day to make a dinner, we don't understand this patience because it is not our passion.
Mantegna: Wrapping is only a part of your work if one looks at the totality of your projects, could you define the meanings of these works? What is the metaphor of wrapping? Given the fact that all your works have an ephemeral, time-limited nature, but have a very lengthy and detailed preparation, process seems to be a very important part of the work: can you see yourself labeled as a process-artist, like many artists in the second part of this century?
Christo: It is very important to understand that all these projects have two distinct periods: one that we call the "software" period, and the other that we call the "hardware" period. The software period is exactly the moment when the project exists in the drawings and in the minds of hundreds and thousands people who try to stop us and in the minds of the hundreds and thousands people who try to help us. In the software period there is no recipe how we can do the project because, as I said before we never do something in the same way. It is like an expedition in this very complicated process of making. But the software period is working only because we are directed towards the realization of objects. Very precise objects a curtain in the valley, a running fence, a bridge that was wrapped, umbrellas or surrounded islands. Basically, it is extremely directed. This is where our credibility is. If we would never have the process, we would never realize the object.
Jeanne-Claude: That's why we could never be called conceptual artists, this is wrong.
Christo: We would have not had the parliamentary debate in Bonn if the Deputies of Germany would not believed that Jeanne-Claude and myself really wanted to wrap the Reichstag.
Jeanne-Claude: There is no conceptual art there, especially when it costs 7 million dollars to wrap the Reichstag.
Christo: We would have never talked to the Japanese farmers or the California state agencies, cowboys, rangers, if one of them was not absolutely sure that we would like to spend 26 million, not a conceptual 26 million to realize the "Umbrellas." This is the extraordinary thing because this project develops something that normally painting and sculpture do not have. This project developed participatory public. Usually, when people go to galleries and museums, they see the work of art, they like what they like and go away. For days and days, for months and months, and years and years, thousands, sometimes millions of people, like in the case of the Pont-Neuf and the Reichstag, think in advance how awful the Reichstag would look, if they are against the project, or how fantastic the Reichstag would look, if they like the project, and in a way the project develops this extraordinary participatory public who we do not have in normal art forms. They are sensitized through that software period, because the permit process is a public activity, not private negotiations in secret places. We are borrowing a very complex public space for the work of art. Naturally, that software period cannot exists without the hardware period which is probably the most enjoyable and most exciting because in the hardware period we are confronting the forces of nature the sun, the water, the physicality of the space, the height of the building, the magnitude of the fabric, the proportions all that became real there is of course immeasurably exciting. One important part to mention is that no drawing, any drawing or scale model can substitute or fully describe the richness of the real object and this is something very rewarding. For example what I am showing you is a beautiful sketch of the Pont-Neuf, but it cannot ever really match the complexity of the work.
Jeanne-Claude: They are not the real thing, of course. They don't shine in the sun and change the light, they don't move in the wind and you are not physically standing on them.
Christo: I'd like to point out that somehow it is very curious that the drawings by a sculptor are usually better than the real sculpture. Usually, the drawings of an artist trying to make a sculpture of steel or wood are much freer than the real thing. Visually, we are very stimulated, we try to visualize how it would look, but this is very difficult. We do prototypes, we do a variety of research in advance, but we cannot do secretly the Reichstag for ourselves and hide it from the public. No, we only discover the colors, the volume, the movement of the fabric, the dynamics of the material with the wind, the incredible contrast of the fabric only when the project is realized and this is really the marvelously exciting part. The Reichstag will require 60 tons of fabric, 2.5 millimeter thick. Actually, we did a secret test in a castle in Germany, 27 meters tall.
Jeanne-Claude: That big, thick thing looks like silk.
Christo: We needed to have thick fabric like that for the proportions of the building that is about 150 feet long by 380 feet wide.
Jeanne-Claude: When you see sailboats from the beach and you see the sails that look like fine fabric, but you know how thick is the fabric, it's the proportions . . .
Mantegna: But I remember that the fabric of the "Valley Curtain" was pretty thin.
Christo: So was the one of the Pont-Neuf, too. It was pretty elegant. But, why did we choose this fabric? We choose the Reichstag fabric to give this very thick force, almost Medieval, Gothic. Pleats, angular pleats, not roundish like we had them in the Pont-Neuf project. Again, I don't think it's a matter of patience, it's a matter of discovering what is the project. Jeanne-Claude and I spent 180 days last year and early this year, to lobby 662 deputies in Bonn . . .
Jeanne-Claude: One by one not the whole year, but several days at the time, we did a total of twenty-five trips to Germany and in between we did a few other things.
Mantegna: Can you tell me more about the element of time in your projects?
Christo: Before that, I should repeat that our projects are not works of painting or sculpture but have elements of urbanism and architecture. Also, the temporal character of the project is an esthetic decision. I and Jeanne-Claude would like our projects to challenge and question the people's notion of art. The temporal character of the project challenges the immortality of art. Is art immortal? Is art forever? Is building things in gold and silver and stones to be remembered forever? It is a kind of naiveté and arrogance to think that this thing stays forever, for eternity. It probably takes greater courage to go away than to stay. All these projects have this strong dimension of missing, of self-effacement, that they will go away, like our childhood. our life. They create a tremendous intensity when they are there for a few days. When they are there for 14 days, they create an urgency and sympathy because they are going to go away, they will disappear. All this is translated into a nomadic quality, like the tribes in the Sahara and Tibet. It is translated by the biggest amount of material in this project. This project has fabric, ropes, steel, aluminum, but the biggest amount is the fabric, the cloth. The cloth is the principal element to translate the vulnerability, the temporariness and the fragility of the work, very much like a nomadic tribe that moves through the desert. They fold their tents and overnight they could build an entire village and the next day they would be gone. This is why this project is prepared off-site for several months, but the final installation is a very fast, very fresh operation. It happens at once, like the "Umbrellas" that opened in a matter of a few hours and the whole project was completed. But, at the very bottom, immortality is linked with a very essential part of this project. All these projects are about freedom. They happen not because some president of the country liked them, some minister of culture, or some corporate executive or some major of a city; these project happened because the artist liked to have them and, of course, they have this incredible proportion and presence. Nobody can own this project, nobody can buy the project, nobody can possess the project, or charge tickets. This project is a demonstration of freedom. A demonstration of absolute freedom and total irrationality. The world can live without "Umbrellas," without "Valley Curtain" or "Running Fence." They have no other reason to be there except poetical creativity, total creativity. That freedom is the most important part of this project and this is why they cannot stay, because freedom is the enemy of possession and possession is equal to permanence . . .
Jeanne-Claude: . . . Possession is equal to permanence, so freedom is the enemy of permanence.
Christo: Of course, to keep that freedom to exist absolute, we pay for our projects. No strings attached, no bowing to anybody, no sponsors, no compromises . . .
Jeanne-Claude: It is very expensive to be free . . .
Christo: Yes. No compromises, we decide what to do, how we would like to do it, which way we should do it and when we should do it. Of course, that is an incredible demonstration of that aesthetic creativity, it is poetical creativity. This is very important because that is what these projects are about. When they happen, they translate that freedom. When people come to the "Umbrellas" they were 2 million, 3 million 250 thousand people. It was not because of Walt Disney or some big museum, or some big corporation, or Coca Cola, or IBM, or General Motors, or the President of France, or the minister of culture, or the NEA, but because some artists would like to live with total irrationality, with no justification, no moralization, there are not any reasons, that is something nobody can invent, nobody can buy.
Jeanne-Claude: And of course, the people who came, they feel it so much that they change. You can see the people change. They start smiling at each other, they start talking to each other, they are in a completely different state of mind. Is very rewarding for us, because they feel that freedom and they feel that they are witnessing something that happens once in a lifetime . . .
Christo: . . . Never again. There will never be another "Umbrella" or "Surrounded Islands," because they are sublime unique things. In this late-20th-century life, we are bombarded by trivial and repetitious things. Every time the same thing again. These projects are a demonstration of uniqueness. They are an accumulation of efforts, like the Reichstag, like the "Umbrellas" or "Running Fence." When they appear, these 14 days, this short time is the uniqueness. That is what is inherent to this process, to the kind of dynamics. And this is why the cloth, the fabric, stylistically is the principal element of translating that temporality. You know very well that the wrapping of the Reichstag or the other wrappings belongs to the works we did in the late 60s and 70s. After that we have "Valley Curtain" or "Running Fence." We have the projects where the fabric is used much more freely. In the late 70s or early 80s I started to develop the idea for that inner space, where you walk inside it. It's not yet realized, that is the "Gates," that inner space where you would walk inside and go outside and explore that relation. The "Gates" in Central Park, New York involve 15,000 of these gates along 26 miles. That inner space is already in the "Umbrellas," you go under the umbrellas and you see that inner space, or you see it in the "Over the River" project, you can go inside and out, you can see the project from a boat.
Jeanne-Claude: The idea already existed in the "Storefront" [Documenta, 1967], there it was already a denial of an inner space, it was the use of an inner space that was denied simply by putting a curtain in the window. There is an inside, there is a light, you know there is an inside, but you cannot see it. The inside/outside concern was already there.
Christo: The important thing to see is how we really moved to the outer space. Everything in the world is owned by somebody: somebody designed the sidewalks, or the streets, even the highway, somebody even designed the airways. 24 hours around the clock, we move in a highly precise space designed by politicians, urban planners, and of course that space is full of regulations, ownerships, jurisdictions, meanings. I love that space. We go in that space and we create gentle disturbances in that space. Basically, we are borrowing that space and use it intricately for a short time. Very few people know it, but probably one of the most intimate projects that actually translates that is the one called "Wrapped Walkways" in Kansas City, Missouri, done in 1978. It is in a normal, quiet, small park that is used by thousands of people passing through when they go to work, because is located in the middle of the city. The walkway was covered with saffron-colored fabric, very simple fabric. The walkway was made in cement and gravel and we put one millimeter of folded fabric between your feet and the surface.
Jeanne-Claude: One millimeter of gentle disturbance.
Christo: You never watch what you walk on, now, everybody was obliged to be aware of how he walked on that fabric, otherwise he would break his neck because there are many folds in the fabric. In the most ordinary and banal process of walking, suddenly people were obliged to readjust themselves, to rethink how they moved through that space, think every path, think every step.
Jeanne-Claude: And maybe since the first time they watched their children take their first steps, they became conscious of their feet.
Christo: I'd like to say that this was a very simple project, very tactile, very physical and charming, it was like chamber music. I have a very lovely story about that project. During the two weeks of time, our project director, Tom Golden, received a call from a group of people who liked to see the project. They arrived in a bus, the bus stopped and the people come down. Tom Golden went to welcome them and they were all blind. They removed their shoes and walked over the fabric barefoot. They walked for about 10-15 minutes and they said to Tom Golden, "We saw your project."
Jeanne-Claude: It's very beautiful to say that.
Christo: Now, many years later, in 1991, Tom Golden, again, was the project director of the yellow umbrellas in Southern California. He received a call from Sacramento, the capital of California, about a group of people who would like to see the "Umbrellas." Tom said, "Please come," and the person said, "No, we are very strange people. You know, I was a student in Kansas City and I would like to see the 'Umbrellas.'" They were all blind, they arrived again in a bus by the "Umbrellas" and started walking around. There were hundreds of umbrellas adjacent to the road, people could sit under the umbrellas or walk around. After half an hour they came our office, we gave them some free samples of fabric and printed material, and one of the blind people said to Tom Golden, "I cannot believe that they are so big." Tom said "How do you know that they are so big?" He replied, "You know, the shade of the sun is so big."
Jeanne-Claude: They could feel the heat when they came from under the shade. He walked and walked and he knew the exact size.
Christo: This is how the project develops its relationship to the space . . .
Jeanne-Claude: We had never thought of that, honestly, it come as a bonus.
Christo: Another lovely story about the "Umbrellas" is that we had built this base around them. The base was 6 feet by 6 feet (215 centimeter) and 12 inches high, like a sitting platform. In California, people were arriving in their cars and sitting and picnicking under the umbrellas. In Japan, they were also arriving with their cars, but they took their shoes off before they sat on the base, because the base was the floor of their home and in Japan, in the home you walk barefoot, not with your shoes on . . .
Jeanne-Claude: And we had never thought of that, that's why Christo always says, "Is bigger than your imagination." There are so many things that we cannot foresee, it's impossible.
Christo: All interpretations are valid.
Jeanne-Claude: But if you told a painter who has finished painting a horse, "This is a cow," the painter would be very furious.
Mantegna: Allow me to interrupt, speaking of project managers, the Reichstag wrapping has a particular manager, right?
Jeanne-Claude: Yes, he is Wolfgang Volz, who has been our exclusive photographer for 22 years. Now he is also our project manager in charge of building everything and in Germany, the "Wrapped Reichstag" is his work. He is totally in charge.
Mantegna: Could you tell me more about the use of the fabric in your work? By hiding, often it reveals more.
Christo: The use of cloth in the history of art is as old as the history of art. Artists use the fabric in sculpture and painting and the fabric has taken enormous dimensions, enormous sizes [Christo shows a book, with a multitude of classical paintings and sculptures in which fabric has a dominant role]. The fabric creates formality. This is why we do this in all the projects, we play with the fabric, using the resource of that material to create these works. The greatest example of what the fabric does in the classical sculptures in the same way the fabric functions in our wrapped projects, is Rodin. He made two versions of the Balzac statue. In the first version, Balzac was completely naked, with a big belly, skinny legs . . . Then Rodin took his cape, shrouded the big body and today we have the famous Balzac in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. He removed all the details and showed the basic proportions of the body. This is what is happening with the Reichstag or the Pont-Neuf. All the trivial ornaments, windows, little sculptures, have disappeared and only the essential part of the Pont-Neuf was highlighted, the shape of the arches, the proportions of the towers . . . all the little things are gone. This is exceptional, I remember when the Pont-Neuf was realized, it was an abstraction of a bridge, and all around things looked very trivial and banal, only the essence of the proportion was left.
Mantegna: So, in your relation with the environment, both the wrappings and the flowing fabric succeed in highlighting it.
Christo: The important thing is that all the places we use, whether in rural areas or in the city, they are used by the people. We never do projects in the desert even near the "Mastaba" of Abu Dhabi there is a highway near it or in forgotten places. They are all in places where human beings live. They use the space, they have built houses, bridges, churches, post offices or streets, monuments, apartment buildings . . . All the projects are done in places where people relate to the space. And, as I have said before, that space is already regulated and used for some purpose. We arrive at that space and we borrow that space for a short time. The way the project is enriched by this tremendous complexity is that the space is used by and is meaningful to the people. For instance, if you go to an art gallery, the so-called art space, it is very aseptic, or if you go to a museum, it is a very hygienic space: the Brancusi is there, or a Henry Moore, they are all buried there and that space is protected, nice and warm and very unrelated to anything. But outside it is very complicated, it is extremely boulversant. This is why we liked this project, because the space is an essential element of a three-dimensional work of art. When a sculpture is built, you go around it in a museum and, of course, you know that around that sculpture there is only air, light. But if you imagine that between the sculpture and you there are one-hundred things, meanings, regulations, physical lights . . . You can take that on a small human scale, but if you extend that for kilometers, like in the other project, the texture of the fabric, the cloth, is fully dynamic, not static. It is not like a bronze, it is very sensual, very teasing material. You like to push it, to touch it. Is very tactile, that's why all these projects have this quality of inviting you. I remember when the "Running Fence" was built in Northern California, it was built near a grazing land and all the cattle was there. When the wind was blowing, it was making one side very soft and the cattle started leaning and pushing against this big pillow of fabric, soft and nice. In our wrapping projects, as in the case of Rodin, everything that was wrapped had become an abstraction of the essential of the object and all the trivial and little things were hidden and the proportions of the arches, the height of the towers, singular and very visible, was very revealing. The important element of the fabric is that the fabric also links to that temporal character, that fragility, and the fabric allows us to translate that immediacy of the project. We are preparing the project off-site for many months, but the final installation is very immediate, very fresh. You are not used to that change and suddenly the entire landscape or space is changed overnight. Your comparison between before and after is very fresh, it is not something you are used to. All this links to that transition existing in the project, the project is in a continuous transition, passing and going away.
Mantegna: What about the old projects still in progress or the new one?
Christo: There are three projects in progress. Very much like architects, we cannot work only on one proposal, because it would be very frustrating if we had a failure and we spent so much energy on one thing and this did not happened. This is why we have several options working simultaneously and when one option starts to develop, we put all our resources, energy and thinking into that. This is the case of the Reichstag, for the next 12 or 14 months we would be fully involved with that. But we are still working on three other projects: the "Mastaba" of Abu Dhabi is a project we started working at in the late 70s and early 80s. It's the installation of 400,000 oil barrels in the Arab Emirates, in the Abu Dhabi sheikdom. It is a structure 150 meters high, with a base of 300 by 225 meters. The 400,000 barrels are stacked horizontally. We spent a lot of time on this, in the late 70s, but, as you know, the Iran-Iraq war started and all the tensions grew there and now the project is still waiting, especially because of the Gulf war. Naturally, living in New York for more than 30 years, another project we would like to do is in Manhattan. This is the project for the "Gates" in Central Park. In the beginning, in the early 1960s, we had planned of using some skyscraper. After that, we discovered that one of the most extraordinary things in Manhattan is how much people walk. It is the most walkable city in the world. The amount of people walking is unbelievable and so we were thinking to do a project involving the sidewalks, but we knew we would never get a permit to do a work involving the sidewalks. The only place where people walk leisurely is in the park and this is why the project for Central Park came about, using 26 miles of walkways (46 km) and installing about 15,000 steel gates framing the most unused space in Central Park, close to the branches of the trees. The space is framed by this portico, with the fabric free-hanging about 6 feet above the ground and the distance from each gate is smaller that the length of the fabric. The project is very ceremonial: when the wind is blowing, the fabric becomes like a roof. The project is very festive, very playful between the strong, restrictive geometry of the gates and the very sensual disorder of the fabric flapping in all directions. We would like to do this project when we are older; to go there, we would only need to take the subway. In 1981 the City of New York wrote a 235-page book just to say "No." This is the most advanced project and we are very excited about it and we would like very much to do it. In this project there is the continuation of that inner space, a little bit of it is already in the "Umbrellas," but in the "Gates" we would be exploring a bigger inner space. [Christo shows photographs of "Storefront"] This is the corridor of the "Storefront," a very long corridor but closed, so you cannot go inside.
Jeanne-Claude: You walk, walk and walk and you reach a door, but the door is locked and beyond the door you see a big, big space with electricity, very big, white, beautiful, but you cannot go inside. At the end of that big empty room in which you cannot go, there is a door that is slightly open and you wonder what is in there beyond that second door.
Christo: "Storefront" is from 1963-67 and "Over the River" returns to that. The river is born over the mountains when the snow is melting, with brooks meeting together to create a river with white waters and tranquil waters, and the river is used for a variety of recreational purposes, like rafting, canoeing, boating. Of all the rivers we have in mind, there is this Pike river on the Western slope of the Rocky Mountains, near Boise, Idaho. Then there is the Arkansas river on the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All these rivers are very accessible, have a footpath to go down, because they are used for boating and canoeing, and the project could be a very playful use of that inner space, you can go for about 10 kilometers, 5 or 6 miles, and when there is vegetation or rocks [the paths] interrupt and then start again. The fabric is not in identical panels, there are different panels at different heights and that creates almost a river of fabric. A river of fabric over the river, of course. It is luminous fabric, inside we have a great shade, but the light that passes through creates this luminous transparency coming from the two sides like in a cathedral, on the left and right of the banks of the river. These are the three projects. For this last one we have surveyed almost 20,000 kilometers in 1992 and 1993, scouting the mountains in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana, to select possible rivers, we have five of them in mind and in one of them we will do the project. We are going again this summer, to work there for five days.
Jeanne-Claude: Did we explain that we recycle all the material used in every project? We don't reuse it, of course, but is reused by other people for other purposes, industrial, agricultural , or ecological use, like in sandbags to contain the floods of a river. For instance, the aluminum of the "Umbrellas," which was a big part of the cost of the project, today has been melted, there are no "Umbrellas" and the aluminum is probably part of an airplane flying in the sky, or a can of Ginger Ale.
Mantegna: Do you have any unfulfilled dreams, or you fulfill them all?
Christo: We try to fulfill our dreams.
Jeanne-Claude: No, no, no. You have to understand: we never, never, plan the impossible. It may only appear to be impossible to some people, but we are very realistic. If we start something it is because we believed that it can be done. I remember that many years ago NASA asked us to do something "up there," I did not even ask Christo. I answered, "When you have lots of people up there, call us back." There are projects for which we have worked really hard for a long time and you don't know about them because we have abandoned them. We abandoned them because we lost interest, suddenly we matured and did not feel interested anymore. There were projects that we could see we could not get permission and after a while we lost interest.
Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.