The works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude are not easy to describe or define because they are so dissimilar and so complex. In addition to the spell-binding visual miracles constantly thrown up by their work there are other activities which, at first glance, seem to be of a "minor" or "lower" status when compared with the final result. But all the meetings, hearings and court appearances, the discussions with politicians and opinion-makers, the visits to the factories, the inspections of manufacturing processes and, finally, the often laborious and wearisome process of construction, are an indispensable part of the work. We have been aware of these phases for many years, thanks to the work of Wolfgang Volz. Christo, Jeanne-Claude and Wolfgang Volz decided to work together very early on, and this exclusive relationship has given rise to something unique. For much of what we recall of the miraculous, short-term global productions is really seen through the eyes of this committed and thoroughly sensitive photographer. The important and instructive exhibition shown here provides viewers with a small survey of the artistic work of the photographer, Wolfgang Volz, whose photos recall the two artists' multifaceted – and morphologically very different – enterprises. For the exhibition emphasises one fact very clearly: that Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not repeat themselves. With every different project they address a new problem and a new way of viewing the world. And on each occasion – whether they are dealing with urbane objects, or isolated and secluded objects, intimate or monumental enterprises – the artists manage to put a different signature on their work. This in turn enables Wolfgang Volz to continually redefine his own work. In this sense the exhibition helps us to recap the course of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's development. The photos graphically depict Christo's "gentle force".
But they are not simply about this. The exhibition also shows that Wolfgang Volz's work is not confined to his passionate mission to accompany Christo and Jeanne-Claude wherever they go. There are also photographs which have nothing to do with Christo and Jeanne-Claude and which stem from other areas. Nonetheless these other areas – the Volkswagen works in Wolfsburg, a cooling tower, stone circles in Scotland, a meteor crater in Arizona – do not feel like alien bodies at all. Here the photographer reveals his sensitivity in an objective manner, so to speak. For he can use the freely selected subjects shown here in his approach to the motifs to which he owes his fame and renown all over the world. Both the technical details as well as the visionary pictures of nature are important in grasping the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. In these photographs the autonomous photographic artist only seemingly appears before our eyes. For I believe that this is not really what interests him. It is the unique symbiosis with Christo and Jeanne-Claude which makes his work so incomparable. He captures their work in the same way as the Bechers capture the cooling towers in the Ruhrgebiet. Where else can you find a similar monopoly of viewpoint? Where can you find a comparable definition of a work seen through a universal medium controlled by a single man? The consequences are decisive. We can no longer separate Christo, Jeanne-Claude and Wolfgang Volz from one another. We are confronted with an indestructible trinity.
The thousands of pictures, for whom we owe our thanks to Wolfgang Volz, not only provide us with a huge amount of pragmatic and aesthetic information. They create and fix the dramatic tension which accompanies every appearance by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. High pressure, expectation, fear, the constant confrontation with moments of failure, mini catastrophes – all these are reported back to us by the photographs. The view of the faces is very revealing. The expressions of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and their working colleagues cover every shade of emotion. These pictures might be illustrations for a teaching manual on physiognomy. The tension is one of the preconditions of the project. The "wages of fear" also play a certain role. For they are an integral part of everything which these artists have made their life mission. A certain modicum of danger keeps all the participants holding their breath until the very end. There are some projects on which everything depends on one single sharply definable moment. Either the project fails at a certain moment in time, or it succeeds. To all extents and purposes there is no leeway for corrections and improvisation.
These photographs show that Wolfgang Volz is in no way a cold documentary note-taker. He is part of the action. He cannot simply note down what is happening objectively and icily. His emotions show through the photographs. And the emotional involvement which ties him to the project is what gives his work such an exceptional place in the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Each particular project throws up a different range of feelings and images. Each has its own inimitable social, political and geographic character. The more the artistic interventions conceal, the more they reveal. They take the shackles from our eyes. Even before the photographer has taken his pictures Christo and Jeanne-Claude have, in their own fashion, illuminated a place, a building or a society. I may as well say it right away. This is perhaps the most exciting reward to be had from Christo and company's activities. They give the unknown, the unprotected and the overseen a chance. They challenge us to put aside our routine, pragmatic perceptions of the world and, in this way, to become sensitive to objects and atmospheres which have nothing to do with usefulness or consumption. This also explains why the resistance to Christo and Jeanne-Claude is so aggressive and hysterical in the starting phase of every project. The projects they propose cannot begin to be grasped by minds which are orientated to normality and efficiency. Whatever the case they go way beyond the imaginative powers of all politicians and local authorities. For the latter are afraid of taking responsibility. There is no doubt that there is a certain risk involved. This accounts for the resistance which it is necessary to break. And the energy bound up with this resistance subsequently becomes a condition for their acceptance. It explains the thunderously joyous sense of relief which can be seen on everybody’s faces at the end. Nobody can remain neutral. The interest in the transformation which the artists are forcing on the known world grips everyone with the force of a hurricane. No one can escape the confrontation with Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
I recall the Running Fence, the forty-kilometre long fence of white nylon which wound through the north of San Francisco like a dreamy band. The Los Angeles Times noted that you only really needed to describe the event to someone who had just awakened from a long coma. This explains the amazing popularity and intellectual success of the projects. For let us admit it. Everyone longs to experience the inconceivable. Everyone wants to be torn out of his own banality and timidity. And here I am talking of the most diverse things. Christo and Jeanne-Claude bring to light the repression of a landscape or a people. They liberate and redirect encrusted thoughts and feelings, and move them into light-hearted paths. The wonderfully precise photographs also recount this process. They depict the transformation of a section of land, a familiar place or a fixed mentality. All too hastily expressed prejudices and condemnations break down into countless, minute, individual perceptions and experiences. The seasons, the landscapes, the animal world, the many habits and customs which can be distinguished thereby, are extremely diverse. Never do people experience the place in which they live and which they have become accustomed to over the years with such a precise intensity as in the few short weeks in which Christo and Jeanne-Claude move in to transubstantiate the known environment. We come up against a process of self-discovery. This is not merely a more comprehensive experience of objects. A new way of seeing is created which is capable of penetrating the diversity of the world ever anew. And let us admit it. In this way the artists are presenting us with exceptional gifts.
We only have to recall the Wrapped Reichstag building which made everyone happy apart from Chancellor Kohl. What a pity that he was the only one who believed he had to put up a show of resentful resistance in the face of all the joyful and enthusiastic people who felt they were the recipients of a wonderful present. He not only deprived himself of an elegant excuse to correct his own opinionated attitude, but also of a basically indispensable experience which is rare in the life of a politician. Never, if ever before did German society, thankfully mixed with a legion of foreign visitors, feel so free to revel in its own diversity and behave in such an untypical manner. Those few days in Berlin were a stroke of luck of this country. The more the projects reject the idea of usefulness and functionality the more strongly the world and society emerge as something ethereal and poetic. An apt quotation which could be used to describe the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a quotation which describes the unreal which comes into existence because of their artistic interventions, can be found in Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities. It explains how the interventions, rearrangements and attempts at alienation undertaken by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Miami, in Sonoma Country, in Kansas City, in Paris and Berlin, disrupt pragmatic ways of thinking. The interventions throw conventional ways of seeing and perception into question for a short time. "Normally a herd of cattle means nothing more to us than a mass of grazing beef. Or it is merely a picturesque object against a background. Or we ignore it completely. Herds of cattle on mountain tracks belong to mountain tracks and one would only really become aware of them were they to be replaced by a common-or-garden electric clock or an apartment house." This is the effect sensed and experienced by everyone who comes into direct contact with the interventions of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. This is the case time and time again when something which cannot be measured or quantified is created in no time at all from 100,000 square metres of silver-coloured polypropylene fabric. At that moment statistics become meaningless. We are cast into a world of confused visions, of unexpected sights which suddenly throw all clichés and habits into question.
All of a sudden we begin to cast doubt on the validity of our egocentric picture of the world. This underlines only too clearly the fact that for some years now the two artists have presented themselves as joint authors of their work. This may appear surprising. But when we take a look at how these immense works are created it is clear that each of the two artists has taken over responsibility for a particular part of the work which is crucial for its final success. The complexity with which we are confronted suggests that we have to find new ways to judge the artistic achievement and the visual appearance of the works. Conceptions, discussions, persuasion, and the implementation of the often difficult technical tasks all come together. And now we become aware that for a long time a third party has been a part of the game. Someone who, in a certain sense, is inseparable from the work. Wolfgang Volz. The way he photographs the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is unlike anyone else. Nor does he photograph them like a professional independent photographer would. His pictures are themselves fixed elements in the works, authorised by the artist twosome. They are a part of the realisation. Long years of collaboration have resulted in a visual symbiosis which seems to us to be unique. The working process is systematic. It has to cover every phase of preparation and construction. But this is more than mere documentation. Wolfgang Volz's photographs of the finished works are interpretations which transcend documentary concerns. As a photographer he has the tremendously exciting task of making a transcript of events, an appraisal and a sublimation. Alongside cool, objective constant factors lies an interpretation whose vitality springs from the proximity to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Wolfgang Volz's achievement – the glorious publications which present his photographic work in detail – lies in the fact that he summons forth the memory of these projects.
If we take a good look at the monumental projects Valley Curtain, Running Fence and Wrapped Walk Ways we can see that these have been created in a thoroughly complex fashion. The drafts of the work – drawings, collages – and the records of the realisation – films and photographs – are all an integral part of the work. There has been a succession of phases from the first draft to the final realisation. All the discussions and processes which were necessary to obtain the authorisation to implement the projects are as much a part of the work as its material implementation. A glance inside the books which document the creation of the works shows how much Christo and Jeanne-Claude place on pinning down every single phase of creation. Even at this stage the photos have an important part to play alongside the minutes of meetings, the letters of protest and the expert reports in favour of or against the project. Furthermore the photos pin down the implementation. They fix the transition from utopia to reality. The two artists are always the commissioners. For them the photos are important records of these often dramatic moments, proofs of the resistance to the imagination. Photography becomes a medium which annotates and provides the evidence of the reality of these "short-lived monuments". It establishes all the facets and the virtualities which escape the experience of even the most zealous observer of the completed works. Furthermore photography creates a fabulous memory of poetic dreams. For the nostalgic character surrounding the major works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude is based on the fact that they create nothing definitive or permanent, but simply memories. Each work, each project creates its own particular visualisation.
To rework the range of atmospheres and facts into a visual text is a major challenge for a photographer. Dramatic factors stand alongside epic factors. Each "still" photo taken by Wolfgang Volz does not merely fix the work in time but creates it. It is also interesting to note in the publications dedicated to the major projects, how the proximity of imagined and realised moments arises. The graphic artist and the photographer stand in opposition to each other. Christo's drawings anticipate the realisation, they pin down effects which can only be attained by the finished work. In doing so the graphic artist constantly takes up viewpoints usually allowed to the profession of photography. He moves back and forth between the panoramic view which takes in everything, to the close-up, the excerpt. The two visual experiences are also separated in photography. The work of Wolfgang Volz begins before the work. It mediates a huge number of aspects which only become visible in the realisation. Christo's drawings arouse anticipation: he anticipates effects which he is hoping for. For when the work is finished the graphic artist steps aside. There are never any drawings after Christo and Jeanne-Claude have completed a work. Here the two artists abandon the field to the eye of the photographer who operates as a transcriber and interpreter. The hour of the photographer has now arrived. The hour when the graphic artist is forced to take a back seat. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are constantly beside him when he approaches their work. All three walk up and down alongside it and fly over it together. Wolfgang Volz becomes the eye of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. For what is the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude other than a monumental snapshot which raises the transitory to the state of a vision? The photographs of Wolfgang Volz are an integral part of the work. They generate retrospective images of a captivating and unforgettable fata morgana.