Christo and Jean Claude never explained, interpreted or gave meanings to their work; they didn’t need to. We will always obligingly do that for them. Writers and art critics have theorised about their ideas, conjuring a complex set of social, political, philosophical and psychological reasons why we should be interested in the art they produced. If I list many of the customary arguments here, you might consider them to be pretentious, meaningless drivel. And who knows, you may well be right. What I know is, I love the mystery and sense of wonder they created by using the unbelievably simple device of concealment, and for some reason it is far more effective if the object is relatively well known and familiar in terms of scale and shape.
‘The Ouse Washes are part of a flood defense system. They are an uninhabited area of nearly six thousand acres that provides storage for floodwater that the River Great Ouse cannot discharge directly into the sea (at Kings Lynn) without overflowing its banks. The excess waters are held within the washes until tides and river flows allow discharge back into the river and thence the sea. This can take a few days or several weeks’.
‘Unfortunately, this essential safety feature results in regular flooding of a section of the A1101 main road where it crosses the washes between Welney and Suspension Bridge. This part of the road is known as the Wash Road or Welney Wash Road, but referred to as Welney Causeway.’
Well, there you have the technical explanation that somehow overlooks the beauty and drama that is a direct by-product of the floodwaters. This photograph was taken from the now impassable Wash Road, just as the rays of the sun momentarily broke through the dark winter clouds.
In the Fenlands, a house is a mute record, a repository of thoughts, memories, and lives lived. Inside, random collections of discarded objects lounge in neglected corners, like careless tenants. Torn curtains in upstairs windows, become props in a witness protection program, scanning the horizon for potential interlopers. A polyurethane oil tank cements the incongruity as the telegraph poles transmit on forgotten frequencies.
This is an archetypal Fenland landscape, just near Gold Hill, close to the Old Bedford River. There are no physical hills in the Fenlands even though fanciful hills are declared in abundance. It is either stoic irony or wishful thinking, or both. The flat road stretches towards the horizon like a low budget American road movie, neither the weather nor a distant mountain range conspire to underpin this popular genre. With squatters’ rights, the dark, opaque sky occupies the usual space above the horizon whilst in other latitudes, the world coexists in technicolor.
The Fenland landscape belongs to Winter. In football terms, Summer relegates the Fenlands to the third division or possibly a non-league team. How do you compete with the beauty of the English Lakes, the peak district and Dartmoor? There is nothing of the traditional picturesque here but there is something elemental and prosaic. This is a functional world of telegraph poles, dykes, rivers, drainage ditches, tree lines, and flat open fields. Winter strips away all delusions and leaves us with brutal yet magnificent honesty and directness.