This part of my life is a blur really. It felt like everything was happening so quickly and I was trying to catch my breath. Trying to remember who I am and who I will be, could be. My life was changing...and I didn't know if I was ready or not. It didn't matter anyway. I could deny or I could accept. So I cried and I cried. I cried in Paris for my mother whose life was taken too soon. I cried for this woman who gave me everything and asked for nothing. The woman who helped me become an artist...a part of me that I love so dearly, so truly. A woman so lovely...whose spirit could finally fly.

I would have never made it to Paris without her. I would have never had the courage to go to Paris and see two artists whose work has inspired me and changed me. I left this country for the first time in my life to see art, make art, and live my life in celebration of my mother's in honor of my mother. Eileen C. Walters. 

This Artletter is about my journey to Paris. It's about the performances, photographs, lessons, and the two artists who made it happen,
Jeanne-Claude and Christo.  

As always, I hope this Artletter inspires you and pushes you to reflect on your life and the life around you. Thank you for reading, caring, and sharing. It is through community that I was able to survive that time in my life. 

"We honor those by keeping their memory alive

With Love, 

Ciarra K. Walters
jeanne-claude & christo

It is no secret that I LOVE the art duo, Jeanne-Claude and Christo. The first time I stumbled across their work I was filled with excitement and amazement. How did they wrap things this big? How could they afford that?  How did they think of something like that? The curiosity that would lead to an obsession and the next thing I knew, I had watched every single documentary released about their work and actually had the rare pleasure of seeing Christo speak in person. It was 2018 in Santa Monica at his documentary premiere, Walking on Water. I mean, a priceless moment indeed. It changed my life.

I first fell in love with the work, but would quickly fall in love with Jeanne-Claude and Christo the couple. Their love story bloomed into one of the most iconic art couples in history (in my personal opinion). They were even born on the SAME day, in the same year. It was fate. Christo was an artist, a Bulgarian refugee that spent much of his beginnings fleeing from country to country, finally settling (temporarily) in Paris in 1958 where he would soon meet the Jeanne-Claude. 

They met at her parents' home. Christo was hired to paint a portrait of her mother. Jeanne-Claude came from a well-off family and was set to marry a young officer. Despite her attraction and feelings for Christo, she went through with the marriage and three weeks later she would leave her new husband for Christo.

And their art practice began.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo made everything together. As Christo has said multiple times, "There would be no Christo without Jeanne-Claude". Christo would draw the blueprints, models, and sketches for the piece, while Jeanne-Claude handled the business side of things (project manager, organizing, fundraising, negotiating, persuading). Even then, she still was heavily involved in the art-making process, helping with fabric choice, color, and locations for their installations. She was so much involved, they both took separate planes for trips, just in case one plane crashed...someone had to live on to carry out the artwork. 

Watching their documentaries, I got an inside look at the steps to turning an idea into a physical piece of art. They show the real struggles. They didn't just document the good stuff, they showed us the hard work and determination it took...through every project. Documented through pictures and video, we witness the process: the rejections, the acceptions, the arguments, the agreements, and the countless meetings with government officials and communities. They even showed us the people who said their art was not art, along with the ones who thought it was. 

The question I needed to know was: how did they fund it?

The duo didn't accept money from the government or outside sources...they said their realized work was to be owned by no one. So they funded it themselves. Christo would draw, collage, and build the models of the unrealized work and then sell them to collectors. Their works were fully funded by the sales from the sketches and models. (I also sold an art piece to fund my trip to Paris to make art, true JC+C style). 
I mean the works were impressive, but what left an imprint on me was the way Christo spoke about Jeanne-Claude. When I saw him speak in 2018 it had almost been a decade since Jeanne-Claude passed away, yet he spoke about her as if she was standing right there. I felt her spirit in that theater. She was there. That was the day I discovered the power in speaking about someone who has passed away as if they were still physically there. (It is something I am learning to do with my mother and I learned that from Christo). I had never seen anyone do that before.

MOST importantly, Christo did not play when it came to giving credit to his partner. Their work was a collaborative effort and he made sure that was known. When writers, curators, or whoever tried to play her, (leaving her name out) he would be sure to correct them, never taking sole credit for their work (unlike many famous male artists).

Jeanne-Claude and Christo gave me faith and drive (especially during quarantine) in my art practice and taught me what true partnership can look like (b/c we know these artist couples be messy af). Something that seemed impossible became possible with their work and through their love. 

I think what's beautiful about their art is their dedication to their practice, even through the rejections and long, long processes. Their realized work never happened overnight. It took years, sometimes even decades for them to get approved, only to live once, for 14-16 days.

Their practice is a reminder that if you believe in something, you have to believe in it even when no one else does. Even after you've been rejected and told no for years on out. Keep going. Think bigger. Ask for more. 

I truly, deep heartily, appreciate the love Jeanne-Claude and Christo shared with each other and their work. I am elated to have existed at the same time that two fantastic artists were alive. I thank them for their contributions to the arts. 

Rest in peace to both brilliant, beautiful souls.  

Read 10 Things to Know About Christo and Jeanne-Claude here.
Watch their documentaries here or here.

First Photo: Jeanne-Claude and Christo in his studio with Surrounded Islands works, 1981
Second Photo: Running Fences, 1972-1976, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 
Third Photo: Surrounded Islands, 1980-1983, Miami, Florida 
Fourth Photo: Valley Curtain, 1970-1972, Rifle, Colorado 
Fifth Photo: Christo and Jeanne-Claude at the Museum of Contemporary Art with Wrapped Floor and Stairway, Chicago, 1968

In 2019 I heard that Christo would wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. That would obviously be postponed and to my surprise, it would be the following September in 2021, even after Christo's passing in 2020. 

To see a realized work by the great art duo was indeed an experience like no other. As soon as I got off the plane I took the train to The Arc de Triomphe, suitcase and all. My instant reaction was, "
W o w". The magnitude of it was breathtaking and overwhelming. I had never seen anything like that before. The pictures do not do it justice. The massive amount of silver-blueish fabric, the outline of the Arc de Triomphe, the number of people there, and the beautiful September weather of Paris was woo-ing me away.

Le'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped was an idea that took 60 years to happen!!! 

Some background information:

-The Arc de Triomphe is the monument "dedicated to the armies of the Revolution and Empire in France". (It's not that interesting in my opinion. Basically, Napoleon decided that he needed this built for himself to celebrate his (France) mass killings (wars) of people from neighboring countries. It is the most famous arc in the world). 

-When arriving in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the famous Arc. In 1962, he made a photomontage (click link for photo) of it wrapped, seen from the Avenue Foch, and in 1988, he made a collage. 

-The Arc de Triomphe was wrapped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and with 3,000 meters of red rope.

I loved how the fabric looked, felt, and shined. People were allowed to touch it and were given a small square of leftover fabric to take home (I got two!). I LOVED how it was a silvery blue that shifted from one color to the next depending on the time of day and the weather. I saw Wrapped every day while I was in Paris. I saw it in the morning, mid-day, evening, and night. I saw it in the sun, in a storm, and under lights at 3 am. It never looked the same and I thought that was so fascinating. This fleeting piece of art was also constantly changing throughout the day and night
like life itself.

I love that this was Jeanne-Claude and Christo's last realized project (aside from the upcoming and only permanent one, The Mastaba, in the A.E.). I felt like it was paying homage to their love. They met in Paris, lived in Paris, made their first work together in Paris, and I feel like this piece symbolizes their unity. How beautiful it was to witness a piece that stayed the same yet constantly changed through the day and night
 like partnerships and love

People from around the world traveled to see this work. That is special. I heard different languages everywhere here at the Arc. I can't say I have ever seen an art piece where people from all over the world came together to see it at the same time.

Finally, I love Wrapped simply because they did it. This political monument turned abstract sculpture, I MEAN WOW. Christo and Jeanne-Claude have said their work has no meaning, no purpose whatsoever. They do it because they want to and I LOVE THAT. How freeing! Sometimes I feel as an artist, especially a woman of color, I feel there is this immense pressure for my work to have meaning, to serve a purpose. I am still seeking and searching for the freedom to make art just for the sake of making art and I love the courage and persistence they had in their practice!!!!

Le'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped made me feel alive and that's what art is about. 

"All our projects deal with reality. You are exposed to real things: real sun, wind, rain, fear, joy. That is why these projects are bigger than our own imaginations."  -Christo
Christo with a preparatory drawing for "L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped," in 2019.

When I first heard JC+C was wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, I didn't know how I would get to Paris, but I knew I would have to find a way. Finally, I would have the opportunity to see a work of theirs in person. What I didn't know at the time was that my mother would pass away a month before its opening. 

A few days after my mother's passing I had a dream where I said, "I don't want to live another day without my mother." I remember waking up in a panic and booking my ticket to Paris immediately. I needed something to look forward to. I needed to make new work. I mean, that is what I've done throughout the last several years while I was in pain and heartache...make art. 

It wasn't as simple as it had been previously. I was now the guardian of my two younger sisters, a homeowner, and permanently filling in my mother's shoes. For the first time in my life, I felt what mothers felt....was it ok to leave my sisters for a week?  My friends encouraged me and my sisters did too, but there were still some who didn't seem that supportive. 

They didn't understand it. I was going to Paris to do what? To see what? 

I knew my mother would have wanted me to go. It felt like she was telling me to go. She always understood my art practice. That was all I needed to remember to pack my bags and jump on that plane. 

I had one regret in my life: missing Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch the Throne Tour in 2011 and 2012. And I damn sure wasn't about to add missing Jeanne-Claude and Christo's Wrapped to that list. 

Performance and sculpture had taken over my practice since early 2019 and I knew performing in front of Wrapped would be the defining moment for me. Aside from making new work, I really wanted to see the work of the two artists I had been obsessed with for years, who gave me the ability to dream of the impossible. I had to see the real thing, not a picture, a video, or a drawing. I had to see the piece of art that was temporary  like time.

On my first night in Paris, I broke my 35mm camera and was unable to get another one b/c the up charge in Paris was crazy. Luckily for me, one of my soul sisters and art partners,
AnAkA, would also fly to Paris the same day as I and was available to document and photograph my performance a few days later. Talk about divine timing.

It was surreal how everything aligned. Prior to my trip, I had envisioned this performance being documented on a medium format camera (a camera I did not own) and what do you know, AnAkA had a medium format camera. 

Performing in Paris was an exhilarating experience. It was also nerve-racking. There were so many people around and I was not used to performing in front of that many people and I definitely wasn't used to someone else documenting me. It was like...the moment I dreamt about for years was finally coming true. I was in Paris in front of a Jeanne-Claude and Christo piece, about to perform, barefoot, in front of all these people...the pressure I felt. 

It was hard for me to get into flow during this performance. Between the mass amount of people, cars driving by, the noise, my nerves, and the police casually carrying shooting rifles around their chests, it was hard to find the usual flow I felt when I was in nature (naturally).

What I would later learn, this performance wasn't about finding flow. It wasn't even about performing. This body of work was about being courageous and vulnerable enough to make it, to do it just to do it
like the example JC + Christo had set for me through their own work.

I am still, months later, sitting with this body of work and patiently waiting for it to reveal all of its meanings to me. When I look back at this work, I am beyond happy that I listened to myself first (I know my mom is too) and did what my heart was calling me to do, as Jeanne-Claude and Christo did. What a moment. 

This trip and this work are dedicated to my mother honor of her spirit, her life, her belief in me as her daughter Ciarra, and her belief in me as the artist, Ciarra K. Walters. Thank you mommy. 

A Note:
Of course there are plenty of photos from this performance ;) hope to share the entirety of this work in an exhibition in the near future. I would like to thank AnAkA for documenting such a vital time in my life and beyond that, supporting my journey as a person and artist. There really is no one else I would have rather taken these photos and videos of me. I love you AnAkA, I appreciate you, I see you. How lucky am I to have a sister like you, who sees me too. 

I remember thinking while I was performing, "Ciarra slow down. Make it look eloquent". I was so upset that I just couldn't slow down, but months later, looking back on this I am reminded that my movements are based on the atmosphere's energy and my mental, emotional, and physical energy at that moment. Although I personally don't feel like I was in my regular flow, I see the chaotic nervous flow I took on because of my surroundings. A true reflection of that moment. Love that. 

Watch the 39-second clip

I am selling limited edition, thick, silky smooth postcards from my performance in Paris. There are four postcards, making up a limited edition of 100. Collect yours here :) 

Photo Above: Postcards From Paris (Love Jeanne-Claude, Christo, and Ciarra), 2021 

On my last day in Paris, I finally went to the Louvre and performed in front of the infamous glass triangle. A few people stopped and watched, but there were two little girls who seemed the most fascinated. In broken English and French, the young girls' grandmother, Jaqueline, and I were able to communicate long enough for me to find out that one of the girls was a dancer. To my surprise, her grandmother asked if she could perform with me!!! "ME!?", I responded.

"Oui, oui!" Jaqueline said with excitement. Nervous, I agreed. This was the first time I performed with anyone else (that weren't my little sisters). I didn't know what I was doing, I was just doing it and it seemed that this little girl just wanted to do it too. 

This was the first time I really smiled like that since my mother passed. To be honest, probably the first time I smiled like that since Spring 2021. I am in deep gratitude to the Universe, these two young girls, and Jaqueline. 

Watch it 

24 hours in Paris and I broke my film camera, left my point and shoot in an uber, and was left with two disposable cameras and my iPhone.

See the photos and videos from Paris

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Copyright © 2022 Ciarra K. Walters, All rights reserved.

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