by Mario Ayala
The Arty Friday of September 27 had an agile program, since it was dedicated to the screening of a movie. The film was a documentary by the acclaimed filmmakers Albert and David Maysles in which they follow the journey of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence project. The film was chosen because it captures the adventurous and courageous spirit of the couple, detailing the arduous work that Christo and Jeanne-Claude go through in order to see one of their most spectacular projects come to life.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a famous married couple, known for their massive projects, which often took years to complete. Their works were characterized by the initial impact the viewer received upon first seeing the work, which usually consisted of large areas of land or structures being covered by sheets of fabric. Their goal in doing this was to restructure the viewers’ minds to that they perceive the world around them in a completely new way.
Running Fence does exactly that, and the documentary does a wonderful job of presenting the process that lead to the finished piece, which is itself a crucial part of the final installation. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had the arduous task of convincing property owners and county officials alike to erect their twenty-four and half mile-long white fabric fence. This task was made all the more difficult due to their being being foreigners in rural America, at a time when their fame could not yet pave the way for them. The film shows the hardships and triumphs of the couple’s grass-roots efforts to obtain the ranchers’ permission to use their land for the Fence.
The reactions to the project as it was being made were many and varied. Some called into question the project’s claim to be art, as voiced by one of the locals who calls the Fence a “piece of rag.” There were also concerns about how the project was going to affect the environment and many protested its construction. Through these and many other issues Christo and Jeanne-Claude persevered, embracing the struggles and recognizing them as part of the art. In one scene, during one of the many public hearings, Christo passionately argues that the work of art extends beyond the fabric and includes everyone present, whether they like it or not, whether they support his project or not.
As the Fence is being constructed, the skepticism of the locals begins to dissipate. One of them talks about how interesting the poles for the Fence make the contours of the land look. The finished installation was majestic. The Fence wound its way through ranches,high ways and hills before dipping into the ocean, its curtains blowing constantly in the wind and catching the light of the California sun.
The documentary ultimately captures the spirit with which Christo and Jeanne-Claude work with, focusing on the process and not the final product. It highlights the idea that art is something that happens and is alive, that can give joy even when there are difficulties to be overcome.