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Culture

Weaving for Art's Sake

Artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, known for swaddling Berlin's Reichstag in fabric in 1995, are preparing a new textile installation in New York. This time too, a weaving mill in Germany is spinning out the fibers.

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Berlin's Reichstag in 1995 -- fabric courtesy the Schilden company in Münsterland.

Deafening noise greets visitors to the large weaving mill belonging to the Schilden company in the town of Emsdette near Münster, western Germany. Amid 22 looms rolling out white technical textiles for the automobile industry, a glowing orange colored machine stands alone in the center.

Christo und Jeanne-Claude

Bulgarian-born artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude

This is what the weavers here call the Christo machine, in deference to the famous Bulgarian-born conceptual artist who together with his flame-haired French wife Jeanne-Claude has created spectacular transient artworks around the world over the past 40 years, largely involving wrapping swathes of fabric around gigantic objects.

Among their more memorable projects, was a hanging of a curtain between two peaks in a Colorado valley, wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris, embellishing several islands off Florida with tutus and bundling up the Reichstag in Berlin.

A weaving mill's claim to fame

The Christo machine is currently cranking out sturdy sheets of polyamide imprinted with an intricate honeycomb design in saffron yellow, as Christo likes to describe the color. The fabric is meant for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's latest project in New York.

Production head Klaus Schirmer, who makes regular rounds to the Christo machine to check the evenness of the warmly shimmering fabric, says this isn't a routine commission.

"It is definitely special. It's probably not everyday that one can associate art with a technical weaving mill. Thus this whole Christo thing is really special and of course very, very important to us."

Reichtag in Berlin mit Christo und Frau

Christo and Jeanne-Claude with a model of the "Wrapped Reichstag" from 1995

There's little doubt that the Schilden weaving mill also stands to benefit enormously from the publicity that comes with being associated with a world-famous artist like Christo. The Emsdette-based company wove the shimmering silver fabric that Christo and Jeanne-Claude used nine years to shroud Berlin's Reichstag or parliamentary building for two weeks in a statement of the city's east-west political divide.

It also worked for Christo when he wrapped up some trees in Basel, Switzerland.

Company pulls off "The Gates" coup

In a further coup, the Schilden company has now been commissioned by Christo and Jeanne-Claude to weave the material for their latest project, "The Gates" in New York's Central Park, scheduled to open in February 2005.

The duo will set up a 16-day installation of 7,500 saffron-colored fabric panels, each suspended within a free-standing framework 16 feet high and swaying at the whim of the wind. Placed at 12-foot intervals, the panels will occupy 23 miles of park walkways.

The installation is designed to pay tribute to the park's half-planned topography as well as to evoke the structure of the surrounding city blocks. The saffron color is meant to symbolize a park in full bloom and is expected to provide a stark contrast to the bare trees in February.

"The color alone is this gray bleakness in February in New York -- that should be a fantastic thing," says Schirmer.

No run-of-the-mill customers

Christo will pay the weaving mill around €400,000 for 100,000 square meters of polyamide textile, the normal price according to the company. Company CEO Stephan Schilden explains how a modest family business like his hit upon the idea of seeking out Christo as a customer.

"By taking the initiative and contacting Christo with the idea. It's as simple as that," says Schilden. "I wrote to Christo and offered to weave for him and presto, Christo was interested."

Schilden says that ever since the Reichstag project, contact between his weavers and Christo has been kept alive through continued negotiations over new projects, models, forms and colors.

Christo und Jeanne-Claude

The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude pass their "Wrapped Oil Barrels" created 1958-1959

Schilden admits that artist couples don't usually fit into his normal customer profile. "Christo is very reserved, both of them are very modest, very reliable. Christo is the more introverted one and Jeanne-Claude takes care of the business side."

Schilden adds that the disposal of the swathes of fabric is already planned for by Christo. In keeping with Christo's philosophy and his transiert artworks, it ends up in the shredder after the installation concludes.

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