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Confessions of a Christo and Jeanne-Claude Groupie

By Jok Church

In the 1970's I was the news director of what was then called an "underground" radio station -- KZAP-FM, Sacramento. The Vietnam War was a great teacher to us all that people had to be involved in the decision making processes. That was a big part of the news on underground radio, activism.

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Running Fence
1976 Christo
Photo: AK Ciesielski

As the war was winding down and Watergate took center stage, I kept hearing news stories about someone described as a "crazy" Rumanian artist who wanted to build a fence 20 miles long and considered getting the permits a part of the work of art. My family is Rumanian and a bit crazy, too. So there was, shall we say, resonance.

I was in love! Activism and art combined into one thing! My partner Adam Ciesielski and I attended a few of the public hearings in Marin County's Civic Center. We were both big fans of Frank Lloyd Wright's work and the building we were in was his last project. More resonance.

The bell itself was in the Board of Supervisors chambers. Christo was testifying to get one of the dozens of permits he and Jeanne-Claude needed. He told us that the people in the room and the hearing were a part of his work of art. Jeanne-Claude, meanwhile, was telling us this was a "subversive" work of art. The word had a special resonance for me, too.

So there was all this resonant bell ringing and chiming going on and I knew had to be a part of this thing, and that was even after I found out Christo was not a "crazy" Rumanian, but an "interesting" Bulgarian.

Adam and I rented an old World War II combat movie camera and bought reels of 16mm Kodachrome film. I had the radio station's tape recorder and Adam had an old Rollex 120mm still camera.

Since this was a "subversive" work of art, we decided to be subversive ourselves and sneak in and document it. Our sneaking in would be our work of art.

Hours before sunrise we drove to the fair grounds in Petaluma. There were hundreds of workers inside watching a movie of the Valley Curtain Project. We pretended to be with the film crew on the Running Fence.

The workers started getting into rented school buses and a magical moment happened that changed our lives. Adam was driving our old beat-up Volkswagen. I got a strong "hit" from one of the buses and I asked Adam, to follow that particular bus.

link to image
Running Fence
1976 Christo
Photo: AK Ciesielski

It led us to the ocean and the last 1,000 yards of the Running Fence. The part that the California Coastal Commission said could not be built, the part that went into the ocean.

Even though we sneaked in, we ended up working on the crews. Mainly because is was the most interesting thing to be doing there. Walking and working on the shiny nylon drape, we went into a kind of trace. We saw and walked beside miles of the fabric panels. The work was overpoweringly beautiful. We passed hundreds of panels, all the exactly same dimensions and all of them completely different. Time got warped in the same way a repeated mantra warps time.

We met people from all over the world who were as turned on as we were. It was a group-high. It felt really good. Twenty five years later, we are still together and we still like to get together with those people from all over the world who come together to get high on working for Christo & Jeanne-Claude, helping to create their art. Whenever there's another project, we rush to be hired to work on it. We like it because it feels good. We like the high. It still feels really good!

Jok Church is a syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate. His feature "You Can with Beakman & Jax" appears in over 300 newspapers around the world. He is also the creator of the CBS television show "Beakman's World" and one of the co-editors of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Web site.

1998, Jok Church


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