Location, Location, Location!: Christo and Jeanne Claude, Slinkachu, & Andrea Zittel
For this class we looked at art that doesn’t happen in a classroom or a gallery — art that takes you places. This is the perfect class to take a field trip, for us that meant walking around the mall but almost all of this art can be made outside.
Christo and Jeanne Claude are a married artist couple who were born on the same exact day, June 13th 1935 but in Bulgaria and Morocco respectively. Together they created large environmental art pieces that often took years to plan and only stayed up for a few weeks!
The Stacked Oil Barrels seen above were put up on a street they closed down in Paris to protest the Berlin Wall. They were refused permits to do it but they did it anyway and took it down quickly. In this way their art remained ephemeral — it can’t be contained in a gallery or sold to someone and as such it doesn’t really belong to anyone. Christo and Jeanne Claude themselves said their art didn’t even belong to them. They never sold tickets, limited the amount of people who could attend, or made money from the art they did, instead relying on grants and funds from selling their preparatory documents from previous projects to fund their work. Their art cannot be contained in a museum so the photographs that are taken of it make it equally accessible to everyone who wants to see it.
Christo, before he met Jeanne Claude, created art where he wrapped objects and obscured what they were. Things like bottles and cans, a wooden horse that belonged to his son, Jeanne Claude’s favorite dress, even people. When they started to collaborate on art together they did several large-scale wrapping projects, like a fountain and tower in Spoleto, Italy, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and even 2.4 kilometer long section of the Australian coast!
They used fabric in other environmental art projects such as the Valley Curtain in Colorado, and surrounding 11 islands in Florida with 6.5 million square feet of pink floating fabric in Surrounded Islands. They also cleared 40 tons of garbage from the islands and donated $100,000 in original art to Miami-dade county to establish the Biscayne Bay preservation fund after they took their art down. These pieces took years to plan and only stayed up for a few weeks.
To make art like Christo and Jeanne Claude you first have to find big pieces of fabric — things like sheets, bath towels, curtains, blankets, etc. Then look for objects that would be interesting to wrap, statues you see outside, your couch, a playground, anything you can find! We used binder clips to secure our fabric but you could use rope or duct tape. Talk about why you might want to wrap something, what effect does that have on the object? Can you imagine what else might be under your wrappings? Snap and picture and then take down your artwork and maybe bring along a garbage bag to leave your art space cleaner than you found it.
Slinkachu is a UK born artist who creates and photographs miniature scenes in urban areas. Unlike Christo and Jeanne Claude, when he finishes his scenes he leaves them where they are so other people can discover them. His goal is to make people pay closer attention to their surroundings when they are outside.
Slinkachu uses things he finds outside like the McDonalds container and the cigarette butts and he also creates props for the scenes himself. His tips for creating your own tiny scene are: first, think about what sort of story you want to tell, then collect lots of objects to use as props — a bottle cap might become a boat, a dead insect could pull a cart, and a tennis ball could be a desert island. Remember to play with scale and imagining how an object would look to a tiny person. A hole in the wall could be a cave, or a puddle could be a lake.
You can order miniature figurines on etsy or from craft and hobby stores and then gather things in your house to use as props. We asked each child to make sure they had a story in mind when building their scene so it can use the props and the space around it to its advantage. These can be built inside your house but going outside and searching for a background and even some props can spark ideas. Take a picture of your scene, we used polaroids so the kids could take them with them, and then you can decide if you want to leave it up. If you do decide to leave it think about the props you use and maybe lean toward a more natural setting and props so you aren’t creating litter outside.
Andrea Zittel creates sculptures and installations that answer the questions: what is necessary for life and how do we give life meaning? She creates small spaces that are completely functional: a bed might be able to flip over and become a table during the day, chairs can fold and be used to hang clothes on — there is no wasted space or superfluous items. Zittel’s work transforms everything necessary for life into “artful experiments in living.” She believes in functionality and lowering consumption and often remodels and redesigns her own home to best fit her current needs and interests.
In Zittel’s art piece, Aggregated Stacks, shown above she covered cardboard boxes she received from packages in the mail and covered them in white plaster to make them into shelves. Since she lives in the desert she orders many of the things she needs on the internet and she felt bad throwing away perfectly good boxes. So, instead, she made them into shelves to use as storage. This piece especially has to do with consumerism — these boxes are just a vessel for the things she actually ordered, they don’t have a purpose outside of that. But, by repurposing the boxes she reduced her waste and lessened her consumption.
Zittel also creates tiny self-contained Living Units where everything a person needs to live is contained in a small space that can open and unfold when in use and close up when not in use.
For our Zittel inspired piece we gave each child a small wooden box and asked them to make everything they would need to live (in miniature) and fit it all in the box. We gave them bottle caps, small wooden blocks, fabric, straws, beads — anything small that could be redesigned into a piece of furniture or an appliance. They were so creative and thoughtful about their designs, and the small space made them think hard about what was necessary and unnecessary to live.
This was such a fun class with three different projects that made the kids do thoughtful work. Teaching them about the Christo and Jeanne Claude before we went out and wrapped objects made them think about what they were doing instead of just throwing fabric on tables…though it’s fine for them to throw fabric on things too! Creating ethereal art like that of Christo and Jeanne Claude, and Slinkachu, which only stays up for a little while helps children learn to be be bold and brave in their choices since it won’t stay up forever.