herman de vries, Sanctuarium (1999 - 2001)
Before 1969, when he quit his job and changed his life, herman de vries was a biological researcher. But he did not abandon nature when he became an artist. On the contrary: whereas he used to conduct scientific research, he now took a more poetic and philosophical approach to nature. It became the main theme of his work.
meine poesie ist die welt, wrote herman de vries in the early seventies (who does not capitalise ‘to avoid hierarchy’). He frequently repeated this statement.
We cannot enrich or improve natur with art
Since 1970, de vries has been living in the German town of Eschenau, near Steicherwald, one of Germany’s largest forests. Here, he finds most of his materials and makes most of his artworks. He also travels all over the world to places of outstanding natural beauty or significance, and documents them by collecting small stones and soil samples, which he keeps in his erdmuseum (‘earth museum’), founded in 1978.
In addition, herman de vries has frequently written about art and nature. In 1993, on the initiative of the SKOR Foundation for Art and the Public Space, he made a plan for an area, adjacent to the De Weerribben nature reserve in Overijssel, that was going to be given back to nature. In the report he wrote on this, he clarifies his point of view: art in nature is entirely superfluous! nature is sufficient in itself and it should suffice us. we cannot enrich or improve nature with art.
In Zeewolde, he created his sanctuarium in the context of the temporary art project ‘ARTificial NATURAL NETWORKS’ (2000–2001). It is a piece of land that is surrounded by a bank of earth planted with rosebushes, which no-one can enter anymore. The term ‘sanctuary’ refers both to a shrine and to a nature reserve. For herman de vries, this Sanctuarium (1999–2001) should be a space that is both protected and respected.
No art in nature
de vries made his first sanctuarium for Skulptur Projekte Münster (1997). There, he had a round wall built around a piece of land. A few spy-holes in the wall afford visitors a view of the walled area, but they cannot set foot in it. Nature is given free rein in the enclosed space. In Stuttgart, in 1993, herman de vries put a round fence on a piece of land that was bordered by roads. This sanctuarium was more open to view, but even here, there was no opening or gate in the fence. Whereas a garden is usually a piece of cultivated nature laid out and cared for by people, the enclosed gardens of herman de vries do not admit anyone. The artist does not want these parts of nature to be disturbed at all. As long as the briar roses are not yet completely impenetrable in Zeewolde, and people can still climb over the bank, with some effort, the whole work will remain temporarily protected by an extra fence. The gilded gate in the wall is, and will remain, closed.
herman de vries hates art in nature. In his sanctuaria, the artwork therefore does not consist of the bank with its gate, the fence, or the wall. It is what goes on inside. He goes not present nature as art, but shows that nature is art.
1 E.g. see herman de vries: to be. texte – textarbeiten – textbilder, Stuttgart 1995, p. 178.
2 herman de vries, in: Govert Grosfeld, ‘Herman de Vries en het ontwerp voor een nieuw natuurgebied’, OPEN, no. 4.
3 Notes on Skulptur Projekte Münster: xxx.
4 In the framework of xx.
5 herman de vries, ‘ich hasse kunst in der natur’ (1993) in: op. cit. (no. 1), p. 178.
Ibid., p. 179
herman de vries, sanctuarium (sanctuary)
sanctuarium (sanctuary, 1999–2001)
Earth, brick, steel, gold leaf, briar rose bushes (Rosa canina)
2.80 x 5.00 m, opening 4.00 m
De Verbeelding Collection