Running Fence Revisited Proposal

RUNNING FENCE REVISITED (2007 proposal for which we are still seeking funding. To follow the project as it evolves, please click here.)

A Proposed Collaboration between Wowhaus and the Sonoma County Museum:

The team of Wowhaus will collaborate with the Sonoma County Museum to create a book and exhibition documenting the material, cultural and environmental remnants of Running Fence and its continuing significance to West Sonoma and Marin counties and to global contemporary art dialogues.

Running Fence Revisited  creates a context for understanding how conceptual, site-specific artworks retain meaning over time, explores connections between local community and environmental issues, and establishes a context for making visible Wowhaus’ creative process, linking it to that of our forebears. A deeper understanding of the workings underlying large scale aesthetic spectacle will inform a generation of artists and audiences tuned to issues of land use, collaboration and material ecology. To this end, we view Running Fence as an unfinished, evolving work in need of reevaluation in order to serve as a template to guide future public works in this realm.

Running Fence is perhaps the best known, most spectacular and aesthetically successful of landscape projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Spanning 24 miles of Western Marin and Sonoma counties, Running Fence took four years of planning, six months to install, and was up for just two weeks in September of 1976. To convince a reluctant public, Christo and Jeanne-Claude held 18 public hearings, commissioned a 450 page environmental impact report, and negotiated with 59 ranchers for use of their land. Thousands of people flocked from all over the world to witness the completed project in the landscape prior to its complete and rapid removal.

Running Fence was created over 30 years ago yet its impact remains, especially for those who inhabit the landscape today. Its residue lives in people’s imaginations, in stories, in images found in local restaurants and general stores. Running Fence continues to exist as the most culturally significant event to occur in West Marin and Sonoma counties, occupying the same emotional territory of pride and remembrance usually reserved for sites of historic battles or discoveries; it is one of the most widely recognized public art projects in the world.

Few people know that much of Running Fence has survived in material form as well. In exchange for use of active ranch land, Christo and Jeanne-Claude agreed to give the materials of Running Fence to the ranchers when the project was dismantled. This included over 2000 aluminum poles, 14,000 earth anchors, 350,000 hooks and over 2 million square feet of nylon fabric. The ranchers were free to use the material for their own purposes.

Implementation:  Wowhaus will revisit all the ranches traversed by Running Fence, interviewing residents and recording oral histories via photography, digital audio and video clips. The team will document how the physical remains of the fence – hardware, fabric etc. – are currently being used, and how the landscape has evolved. (Portions of the fence fabric are used in the Occidental Firemen’s annual Salami Toss fundraiser; others in private art collections or on EBay.) Research at County offices will reveal how zoning and land use may have altered; maps will be created to illustrate zoning changes.  Additional research will be conducted at Community Gatherings. The resulting book and exhibition will document the compelling afterlife of Running Fence and explore the project’s continued role in shaping the psycho-geography of a region.

Audiences:  Running Fence Revisted will reach audiences both locally and worldwide. To cultivate interest in the book, Wowhaus will produce a blog and web site chronicling our research; the blog will be part of the museum exhibition. The book will be sold in the museum bookstore and via the Wowhaus web site; we anticipate it will be carried by museum and art/design stores, and independent bookstores nationwide. To outreach the community, we will host Community Gatherings and a Wowhaus Open Studio. We anticipate significant press coverage, cultivating new audiences for the Museum and Wowhaus while generating robust demand for the book locally and globally.

Rationale for Collaboration:  Running Fence Revisited is a significant collaborative creative venture. The project provides an opportunity for the Sonoma County Museum to offer contemporary perspectives on the Museum’s collection, collaborating with local artists to produce a landmark publication and exhibition and cultivating new audiences. Through this collaboration, the artist team of Wowhaus benefits from access to the Museum’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude archive, curatorial expertise and knowledge, and a high-profile exhibition opportunity.  Wowhaus worked closely with Chief Curator Patricia Watts in developing the Tree Trust True installation at the Museum in 2006. We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate on a local project with a global impact.

Wowhaus views the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude as a pioneering a form of ‘social sculpture’, currently an expanding practice in the Bay Area and in contemporary art practice in general. As accomplished practitioners of this socially-engaged model, Wowhaus have the experience to establish a generational link to current trends and to provide a reinterpretation of the tenets of environmental art and related social movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Though our work bears no formal resemblance to that of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, we share a working process that emphasizes collaboration and public interaction as integral components in shaping outcomes. Indeed, we are drawn to the work of Christo and Jeanne Claude for this reason, and find a rare kinship with the artists that transcends our formal differences. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are a husband-and-wife team who led the way for artist couples such as ourselves; this aspect of their work process will be explored in this project as well. Viewed as a process-related artwork itself, the Running Fence Revisited book and exhibition will function as both critique and homage. While our work as Wowhaus has taken many forms over the years, our process remains the same. The working process underlying all of our projects has grown out of our genuine shared interest in heightening an experience of place through everyday exchanges. Running Fence Revisited would give us the combined opportunities of connecting with the people, places and stories of our immediate community while gaining deeper insight into the area’s most culturally significant event.

Sonoma County Museum The Museum is home to one of the largest collections in the nation of works by internationally acclaimed environmental artists Christo and Jean-Claude. The collection evolved from a relationship that was formed between the artists and Tom Golden, a local Sonoma County resident. Through the years, Golden assisted the artists to facilitate the public process of many projects created by Christo and Jean-Claude around the world. During this time Golden acquired over 100 artworks, which were donated to the Museum in 2001, prior to his death.

The Museum has a programmatic focus of “Where Land Meets Art”; it is an important legacy for the Museum to exhibit this collection and to continue to build on this work as an expression of both the art and the land of Sonoma County and its residents. This artwork addresses some of the most important socio-cultural issues of this county as we move into the 21st Century with exponential population growth. It invites conversations about land-use, rural and urban planning, architecture and art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work is known Internationally both in and outside of the art world, attracting both the local community and tourists from around the world who visit the wine country.
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Starting in April 2006, in the West Gallery, the Museum began an exploration of the Golden collection. Approximately every 6 months, the Museum rotates these works to educate visitors of the many projects Christo and Jean-Claude have created worldwide. Running Fence Revisited will dovetail with the planned exhibition in 2009, focusing on the artists’ public process.

Wowhaus: Wowhaus is a collaboration between Scott Constable and Ene Osteraas-Constable, a husband and wife team whose interdisciplinary work include site-specific public art, photography, publications, and architectural and environmental design. Recipients of numerous awards and grants, Wowhaus has garnered public art commissions throughout the Bay Area as well as on the East Coast and abroad; they are currently developing commissions for the cities of San Jose, Brentwood, San Francisco and Oakland.

Scott Constable was among 25 artists selected from a pool of over 200 candidates from throughout California to receive a Center for Cultural Innovation’s Investing in Artists Grant; a book about Wowhaus is in development (2008). Wowhaus was featured in the Design Annual of Communication Arts (2006).  Ene Osteraas-Constable’s photographs have appeared in numerous publications including Sierra, the Utne Reader, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Wowhaus has been selected for the Kohler Center for the Arts “Connecting Communities” Artist Residency in Wisconsin in 2009.

Known for their collaborative, community-engaged process, Wowhaus has created two commissions for the Sonoma County Museum; their  “Art/Ecology Expedition” a participatory project exploring sustainable farming practices in Sonoma County, explored land traversed by  Running Fence. Two years ago, Wowhaus moved to West Sonoma County, establishing their studios near the ranches where Running Fence was installed. Their home is just up the hill from the village of Freestone, home to Christo and Jeanne Claude’s project manager and collector Tom Golden.