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Running Fence

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

A homage to Christo and Jeanne-Claude,

Credit: Wolfgang Volzs -

The environmental artist Christo sadly died on the 31st of May 2020, at the age of 84. His passing brought back very fond memories for me, because in the late summer of 1976 I had the honour of working voluntarily for him and his wife Jeanne Claude, on the construction of one of their most controversial projects Running Fence in Northern California, USA. It was a life changing moment for me, and something which has remained in my mind ever since.

So, I've posted below a link to one of the many articles written following his death, which I commented on and wrote to the author about. So please scroll down to the end and then click on comments, to see my input. I've also posted a link to another article by a colleague and fellow co-worker from the time, who describes it all so wonderfully. Enjoy

I worked voluntarily for Christo and Jeanne Claude for 6 weeks in the late summer of 1976, on the construction of ‘Running Fence’ in Northern California. However, there’s a lot more to him and his work than just controversy and stubbornness. Christo and Jeanne Claude’s partnership was more than symbiotic, she was the calming and charming influence to his more typically irascible artist persona.

He didn’t like being labelled as a Land Artist either, he preferred the term Environmental Art, and RF was the 1st ‘work of art’ to require an Environmental Impact Report. The material for the fence panels was recycled from a parachute manufacturers in Georgia, that had gone bust after the end of the Vietnam War, it was the Circular Economy at its best, ‘design for disassembly’. All materials were kept in the loop for as long as poss, and after RF was dismantled given to the 14 or so farmers whose land RF traversed. Also you barely mention their political standpoint, so if you have read the book that they created after RF you’ll see how they enjoyed the disparate reactions of e.g. Councillors from Sonoma and adjoining Marin Counties. And the Anti-Running Fence committee, a group of local artists and intellectuals who believed he was a charlatan, and were determined to stop the RF from being built, even threatening to dynamite the trucks transporting the panels to site.

I have lectured about my life changing experience to students groups for over 40 years. And my time spent creating the RF PR leaflets in Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wrights last building, will like Christo and Jeanne Claude’s vision for their projects ‘remain in the memory of all those who participated in them’ forever. Christo often recited Duchamp’s words ‘Art is what artists do’, when asked by the press but ‘Is it Art’. I prefer that as an epitaph.

A more detailed explanation of another persons experience working with Jeanne-Claude and Christo on the Running Fence can be found here:

Stephen Edge

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