Sunday, October 11, 2020

Matthew 22.39: Neighbors and Fences

Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39 say the same thing: Love your neighbor as yourself. A friend once told me that she "translates" that verse to mean that we should love for our neighbor what we love for ourselves. That's a different thing isn't it? More concrete than just assuring oneself and the world that we have warm fuzzy feelings for everyone because we're good people. When we love a luxury car for ourselves, but we love a 1978 Pinto for our neighbor...well, that's not exactly the same thing, is it?

Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" is often quoted in discussions of neighbors. One line of the poem is most often pulled out: Good fences make good neighbors. The idea is that neighbors will get along better when there is a clear boundary between what's mine and what's yours and you stay on your side and I'll stay on mine. Frost's poem is a conversation between two neighbors. It is the neighbor who insists - twice - that good fences make good neighbors. The narrator's voice asks why they make good neighbors. Sure, you would need a wall where there are cows - to keep them contained and not wandering into a field with neighbor cows or a neighbor's pasture grass spread out like a salad bar for cows. But where there aren't cows? Why build a fence? The narrator continues:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude had a different idea with their project Running Fence. The project was begun in 1972 and completed in 1976. The actual project was installed for two weeks and then taken down, leaving no reminders of its presence. 

(Top photo) Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 1976 Christo. (Bottom photo) Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76. Photo: Jeanne-Claude. © 1976 Christo. 

The project was a 24.5 mile long, 18 feet tall "fence" of nylon fabric panels hung from steel cable between steel poles. The artists battled every step of the way. The 18 public hearings were contentious. They had 3 sessions in California superior courts. It wasn't easy to get permission from all of the 59 ranchers whose land was crossed. They wrote and filed a 450-page environmental impact statement. Over and over they heard that this piece was not art. Christo agreed, or agreed that the fence itself wasn't the whole of the art. Quoted in Brian O’Doherty’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Christo asserted, “The work is not only the fabric, the steel poles and the Fence. The art project is right now
here. Everybody here is part of my work if they want it or don’t want it.”

The artists intended for this fence to bring people together, not to separate them. The project visually connected human elements (houses, barns, farms, fences, roads) across the rolling California landscape to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. Once the project was begun, about 400 people worked on the installation - everyone from art students to Hell's Angels. After two weeks, those same people began taking down the fence. All materials were given to the ranchers. Nothing remained on the landscape.  

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, loving your neighbor in a quilt story. 

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