Christo says 'Over the River' Project won't create a mess
Editor's note: The artist Christo recently agreed to answer questions from Denver Post readers about his "Over the River" project. Here are his answers to a selection of the questions received.
Can you talk about the importance of public art and why for so many years you and Jeanne-Claude have spent vast amounts of your time and money towards something that will only last for two weeks?
Jennifer Garner , Denver
Christo: Jeanne-Claude always said it better than I ever could, but she's not here anymore, so I will try to remember how she would say it. All of our work is about joy and beauty. We have always wished to create something beautiful and we spend all our money, time and energy doing that.
Our world is filled with mundane things that happen over and over again, yet Jeanne- Claude and I create these temporary works that will happen once in a lifetime and never again. Humans have great affection for the things that do not last. That is why we value childhood — because we know it will not last. That is why we value our own lives — because we know it will not last. It is this sense of joy and tenderness for things that do not last that we wish to endow to our projects.
Why the Arkansas River? What makes this the best choice for the project?
Janel Jordy, via Facebook
Christo: The Arkansas River is a very special river — and Jeanne-Claude and I should know! We traveled with our team over 14,000 miles inspecting 89 rivers in seven states in the Rocky Mountains to search for the best site for the project. Out of all the rivers, the portion of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida was the only river that met all of our aesthetic and engineering considerations.
These considerations included having:
• An east-west orientation to best utilize the light of the sun;
• High riverbanks to suspend the cables and fabric high above the river;
• A continuous roadway for viewing the project and a railroad to transport project needs;
• Towns, communities and their human elements that offer a sense of scale for the project; and
• A river with a large amount of rafting traffic.
The Arkansas River was a perfect match, especially because of the last of these considerations. Rafting the river creates an incredible viewing opportunity for rafters, and the Arkansas River is one of the most rafted rivers in the United States.
Would you be willing to guarantee that you will clean up all traces of your mess when the installation is over? Can your "vision" be achieved without leaving scars?
Jason Curry, via Facebook
Christo: We do not create a mess — we create a work of art!
We have always prided ourselves with being some of the cleanest artists in the world. For example, before we built Surrounded Islands in Florida, we cleaned up over 40 tons of garbage on the islands we were going to surround.
After "Over The River" is complete, the project site will be restored to pre-construction conditions. The surface-level holes that were made when installing the anchors will be filled by BLM-approved topsoil and replanted with native plant seed.
It is also important to realize that this is a used valley — the banks have been blasted on the north side to create the railroad and on the south side to create U.S. 50. There will be anchors left, but deep in the ground and not visible, much like the many anchors used by the state to stabilize canyon walls.
Your art is very impressive and I know that you have spent years trying to get permission to decorate our beautiful Arkansas River waterway. I am interested to know how you will keep your fastening materials from tearing up fragile river banks, how you will mitigate the over-the-river obstruction from confusing and repelling all the beautiful water fowl which use the corridor as their safe flyway, how you plan on not disturbing all the animals who forage or hide along the corridor, and how you are planning on dealing with the many tourists who will come to look and then will leave trash and human waste on the ground when they leave?
Pete Neidecker, Englewood
As much as I think your idea is an intriguing concept, I have to say the impact it will have not only on the wildlife but even more so on all of your fellow humans who live there, trying just to get by in their day to day lives is way bigger than this project. I feel it sets a really bad precedent for use of public lands which ideally are to be shared by everyone. . . . It's like someone playing music really loud at a campsite while all the other campers are being quiet and respectful. Why do you not seem to care about this?
Michelle Zanga, Gunnison
Christo: These are all questions we have thought about, studied and tested over many years.
Our work celebrates and exists in the environment and we wish to protect the environment we live and work in. That is why an environmental impact statement for "Over The River" was made, at our request.
To make sure the riverbanks are maintained, we designed a special anchor/frame system with a Colorado engineering firm. To ensure the safety of the waterfowl and animals that call the Arkansas River valley home, we have worked with the BLM and other many other agencies to devise numerous mitigations to protect all canyon life.
As a result of the study of the project and the more than 100 mitigation measures, the final environmental impact statement of the BLM determined that there would be no significant impacts to any wildlife. And as far as trash goes, we are hiring more than 100 monitors to inspect the project daily and to clean up any of the litter left behind.
Who will pay for the extra police and firemen, damaged roads, hospitals and trash disposal (during the installation)?
Eve Simpson, Lakewood
Christo: As in all our temporary works of art, Jeanne-Claude and I will pay for everything with our own money from the sale of my original works of art.
You know, many people assume we receive this money from grants, sponsorships — even from commercials! But we never have and never will. It's actually very simple. We have works of art I have created. Dealers, collectors and museums come to our studio and look at the work, choose the work, pay for the work and take the work. That is how we have money!
We pay for all project materials, labor and permits. We pay for associated expenses, like traffic control officers, trash removal, additional emergency responders and law enforcement personnel. We pay for all of the work done by the state organizations and agencies. The artwork is free for the public and nothing in "Over The River" is paid for by taxpayer money.
We do this because when people give you money, they expect something in return and we can never accept anything but total artistic freedom.
I have read this will be Christo's final installation, and I would like to know how I can be a part of it. How can I volunteer to be a part of the team?
I am a full supporter of your work and have been since I was a teen. . . . I am signed up to be a volunteer and am wondering what kinds of things you are thinking volunteers will do to help make this fabulous work of art come to life once final approval is obtained?
Christo: My dear! I hope this will not be my final installation. I am only 76 years old! And we do not have volunteers. Everyone is paid, because, as Jeanne-Claude always said, you can't fire a volunteer!
It is also important to know that we don't have the permits yet. So until we receive the permits, no work can be done.
Assuming we receive the necessary permits for "Over The River," we will need more than 600 workers — many from the Colorado area. About half of these workers will need to have special engineering and construction experience to assist with installation and removal, but we will also hire around 350 non-skilled workers. These workers will work in the days leading up to and during the exhibition to act as monitors while "Over The River" is on display. Maybe the most exciting part about being an unskilled worker for this project is the hooking and unfurling of the fabric.
If you would like to work on the project, please visit OverTheRiverInfo.com for more information.
I believe you and Jeanne- Claude have resisted classification as Earth artists. That being said, your environmental works were inaugurated during the onset of Land Art in the '60s, and the bold utilization of vast expanses of landscape for the creation of an artwork. Could you discuss the importance of scale in your work, and the visual impact you seek vs. what a sculptor or easel painter might accomplish?
Keith Howard, Arvada
Christo: The scale itself really is not so large — there are airports, buildings and other man- made constructions that are much larger. But because we are used to seeing artwork on a museum wall or in a gallery, this work seems particularly large.
You know, the Pont-Neuf Bridge in Paris is one of the most painted and sculpted images in the history of Western art. For hundreds of years, this bridge has been a subject of art. But in 1985, for the first time, it was an object of art, when Jeanne-Claude and I wrapped it, creating "The Pont Neuf Wrapped." For a painter to paint the Pont-Neuf the mediums are possibly acrylic paint, charcoal, canvas . . . but for Jeanne- Claude and me, the medium is the thing itself — the real bridge. Our temporary artworks always deal with real things — the world we live in. With "Over The River," that would be the real Arkansas River site.