We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

More Gates · 21 February 05

The Gates is ephemeral, fragmentary, aleatory, communal.

Vita brevis, ars brevior. Essential to The Gates is that it is an event. The charismatic Williams professor Mark Taylor ended his talk: "Here today, gone tomorrow. Just like us." It is not a permanent object or installation to be looked on and admired at leisure and convenience. It must be experienced now, in this place. If you are not at this place, you must travel to it, now, or by next weekend.

The individual elements are even more ephemeral. Any may be taken down and removed without any apparent detraction from the work as a whole. It takes four people only a few minutes. Instead of 7,532 gates, there are now 7,531. But who’s counting?

For you cannot see the whole work. David Sucher at City Comforts has a photograph taken from high in a nearby building. Most of the gates are obscured by trees. The photograph only captures the southern half of the park; it misses everything north of the reservoir (a common White Manhattanite view). We climbed to Belvedere castle (for those who don’t know the park, the Count’s Castle in Sesame Street). From there we got a good view of the gates surrounding the Great Lawn, but could see nothing north of the 86th Street traverse. To the south, the view was even worse: almost no glimpses of orange through the tangled branches. Undaunted we went to the roof garden of the Met. From there, even less. Even the western edge of the Great Lawn was obscured.

Some of the people we were among on the Met’s roof grumbled. This was not the best view, they said. They left, looking for a better. But there is no better. From above, the trees obscure the view. This has to have been deliberate. So one does not, cannot view the work as a whole. One experiences it, must experience it in fragments, on the ground. This path. This particular combination of sun and wind and shadows of branches. Which give way to that combination of sun and wind and shadow of branches. If the wind is parallel to the path, the banners will be lifted by it. If the wind is orthogonal to the path, they will hang still. A soft version, in a single color, of a Calder mobile, endlessly ramified. Where paths intersect, the banners along one path may be waving madly while along the other they hang limply, as in the chapel of an order of knighthood.

We, those who walk beneath these banners, are brought together. Ellen talks of "processing" below. During the panel discussion at the Williams Club on Saturday morning, the question came up, "Why are all these people smiling?" Various answers were proposed: universalist experience, children let loose at recess. I think it is because we have been formed, temporarily (everything about The Gates is temporary), into a community: the Order of the Orange Banner. As we walk it flies overhead, plain, inclusive and democratic, with no device.

There was some talk about the work comprehending the entire 25, or maybe 27, years of proposal and negotiation. I don’t believe that’s true. It is a convenient fiction for funding. The years of proposal and negotiation throw off, more or less naturally, artifacts which can be sold to finance both the work itself (it was erected by volunteers, but fabrication and delivery cost money) and the artists’ living costs. So collectors can purchase drawings from proposals, a whole series, perhaps, as the proposal gets modified—it began as twelve foot high gates for twelve days in the fall, it ended as sixteen foot high gates for sixteen days in February; videos were made of meetings (Gordon Davis recalled his first meeting with Christo and Jean-Claude: they brought along a film crew!); photos, perhaps other relics, exist of the fabrication process; there is a book which documents the work and relates it to other works by Christo and Jean-Claude.

But these are not the work. The work itself is the event: the irreproducible two weeks.

Go and experience it.

Posted by: Jim

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  1. i enjoyed your Gates commentary! you might enjoy mine as well:
    Wild About Saffron

    kristen    Feb 28, 11:20am    #

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