Research Point: Textiles in context – Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Surrounded Islands, 1980-83

This is a very well known installation by the artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude and it has been interesting to look at this work more in depth on their website. (Accessed 5/08/2017)

Eleven islands in Biscayne Bay were surrounded for two weeks ‘with 6.5 million square feet (603,870 square meters) of floating pink woven polypropylene fabric covering the surface of the water and extending out 200 feet (61 meters) from each island into the bay. The fabric was sewn into 79 patterns to follow the contours of the 11 islands’ covering an area of around 11 square kilometers. The artists write that ‘the luminous pink color of the shiny fabric was in harmony with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited verdant islands, the light of the Miami sky and the colors of the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay.’

This extremely ambitious project was made possible only by a three-year preparation work that included not only obtaining the permits from several governmental agencies but also the involvement and cooperation of attorneys, marine biologists, ornithologists, mammal experts, marine engineers and others plus a builder-contractor to execute the works.

Finally, ‘on May 4, 1983, out of a total work force of 430, the unfurling crew began to blossom the pink fabric. Surrounded Islands was tended day and night by 120 monitors in inflatable boats.’ (

As an article of the New York Times said Surrounded Islands was a ‘major exercise in ephemerality’ (, accessed on 5/08/2017). After two weeks the installation was dismantled and only survives in drawings, photos and films.

I personally find the preliminary drawings particularly beautiful and informative. Here is one of them, many others are to be found on their website:

Christo Surrounded Islands (Project for Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida) Drawing 1982 in two parts Pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon, enamel paint, aerial photograph and fabric sample 15 x 96″ and 42 x 96″ (38 x 244 cm and 106.6 x 244 cm) Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1982 Christo Ref. # 36

I agree with the analysis by Creative Arts Today that this installation like other works by these artists both defines and covers aspects of the natural environment: island shapes are echoed and highlighted by their fabric envelopes and the effect is perhaps that of marking off their borders and differences from the rest of the environment. I do think that islands have been always perceived as very special places in collective imagination, places of separateness but at the same time places of desire for connections and communications with the mainland. Also  they are surrounded by water, another very complex symbol.
It seems to me that this separation/connection relationship is vigorously underlined by the surrounding pink rings of fabric.

Wrapped Trees, 1998 (Accessed 6/08/2017)

Wrapped Trees is a project of 1998 which involved the temporary wrapping of 178 trees with woven polyester fabric of the kind used to protect trees from frost and snow and 23 kilometres of rope, which took place in the park surrounding the Beyeler foundation near Basel, in Switzerland.

Like Surrounded Islands, also this project was made possible by the cooperation of several experts and involved eight simultaneous teams of climbers, tree pruners and workers.

Using the criteria proposed I would define this work as:

ART: it’s an installation work

TEMPORARY: the trees were wrapped for a limited time, from November 28th to December 14th 1998

LARGE SCALE: it extended from the park around the Fondation Beyeler, in the adjacent meadow as well as along the creek of Berower Park, northeast of Basel, at the German border

DEFINING: it defined the underlying structure of the trees

IMMERSIVE: it was possible to walk from tree to tree

SHAPE: the main focus of interest were the shapes and the volumes of the individual trees

Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98
Photo: Wolfgang Volz
© 1998 Christo


Wrapped Trees (Project for Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland)

Christo Wrapped Trees (Project for Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland) Collage 1998 in two parts Pencil, fabric, twine, charcoal, wax crayon, fabric sample and map 12 x 30 1/2″ and 26 1/4 x 30 1/2″ (30.5 x 77.5 cm and 66.7 x 77.5 cm) Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 1998 Christo Ref. # 12

The artists’ website has beautiful images of this project and looking at the work from the point of view of the textile rather than the trees these are my first thoughts:

  • the use of fabric or textile is in keeping with the fragility and temporal character of the work,  as the artists say
  • with its flexibility and drapeability fabric can be used to create sculptures as in this project
  • notwithstanding its fragility, fabric can also be long-lasting like trees
  • the translucency of the particular fabric used sculpturally underlines the shapes, their lights and shadows
  • its transparency allows to see the branches and foliage underneath, so the fabric both  hides and reveals
  • the individual fabric sculptures create an impressive installation as a whole
  • the fabric moves with the wind so the effect is naturally dynamic and evolving as the trees



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