herman de vries

in the thick of life (2004/2005)

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'sitting in the train from arnhem to frankfurt' [untitled (in de trein van arnhem naar frankfurt...) original dutch text. first published in the exhibition catalogue herman de vries. random line - and dot grid structures / chance and change situations, galerie swart, amsterdam, 1974. see page 5] is a short text herman de vries wrote in 1973. i particularly like the black and white text and the grey areas it treats. the subject is movement; a train's journey from arnhem to frankfurt, with chance movements seen through the carriage window; ponies, snowflakes, a crow and even shifting thoughts. passing wagon-loads of coal are seen as energy in transit, life on the move: [...] "'chance & change', i wrote in my notebook, 4th july 1970, in teheran, on the road from arnhem to bombay and the seychelles, to buy there with friends an island, to live there. the island is not bought. chance & change - change and chance."

herman de vries evoked movement, flux and change as early as 1968 in a text called de lijnen [2. original dutch text in 'de lijnen v68-161' [arnhem] : published by integration [herman de vries], 1968. cf. catalogue raisonné no. 9]. "lines are like dams in water. the eye is forced to climb over them as if they were obstacles. it can also skirt round as water does. alternatively one can follow the line or walk along the dam noting changes in the surrounding environment. indeed the eye's position is an observation point wilt respect to the water's surface. a line is therefore like a series of 'argument points'" [wittgenstein's argumenstellen]. "following it, going around or climbing over it, imply a change of perspective and viewpoint."

seen from here. herman de vries settles his gaze upon the world around him. things seen, absorbed - everything within his ken - becomes fodder and fuel for his work.
"meaning is visible everywhere" he concluded in his text in der landschaft [in the landscape] [3. in egoist n° 15, ed. adam seide, frankfurt am main, 1969. the text was composed by randomly picking sentences from books randomly chosen from the shelves of herman de vries' personal library. the first sentence to be picked therefore served as a title for the work. herman de vries confirmed this in a letter he sent to me, writing that "it was good luck, see page 301] and the words of his exposition complète de luang-prabang poster were even more explicit; "poésie actuelle. exposition complète de luang-prabang comprenant tous les éléments de paysage de ville et tous les objets, vivants et morts de la région de luang-prabang. l'exposition est ouverte tous les jours, par tous les temps à continuer partout et par tous" [poetry now. complete exhibition of luang-prabang including all elements of the town landscape and all things both alive and dead in the region of luang-prabang. the exhibition is open every day come wind or shine and continues everywhere with everyone] [4. asiatische & eschenauer texte, portfolio, bern: artists' press, 1975. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 30].
each point of view constitutes a slice of reality in the thick of life.
in each book that herman de vries publishes, makes or edits, he unveils and helps us discover this vision of life. we are free to share it, to see or not see it. publishing could be defined as making something public or well-known and herman de vries' books and publications are clearly works involved in communication and relationships.

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"and [i] looked, looked around me, as often before" [5. les très riches heures de herman de vries, pfäffikon sz [switzerland]; seedamm kulturzentrum - stiftung charles & agnes vögele, 2004. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 102] looking from where you are is precisely the theme of three of his publications: catalogue incomplète d'exposition complète de luang-prabang, a random sample of my visual chances, 18-1-1975, look out of any window (1973) and les très riches heures de herman de vries, a project dating from 1982 and published in 2004.

on the 18th january 1975, herman de vries wandered through the town of luang prabang and produced thirty-five photographs which became part of his catalogue incomplète d'exposition complète de luang-prabang, a random sample of my visual chances, 18-1-1975 between 13.21 and 15.33 p.m. timing [6. mathematically meticulous references to time in many of the titles of his books and publications are merely notes indicating how the work was created], place and angle of each shot were determined by a set of random paradigms thus producing multiple and varied views. contrasting with the inherent mobility of this piece, look out of any window proceeds from a static stance, the work consisting of windows seen from inside rooms at his house in eschenau. even more static are the 131 photos in les très riches heures de herman de vries, all taken within the span of four hours from a restricted spot in the middle of undergrowth in a forest just outside eschenau. the principle of permanence (of place...) here seems to coalesce with that of mobility [7. the larousse dictionary's definition of space as 'a measureless environment containing all the beings therein' strongely echoes the message de vries chose for his exposition compléte de luang prabang poster].

herman de vries' relationship with the world is clearly based on time (duration, immediacy) and space (area or environment but also in the sense of displacement, travel or distance). the physicality of a book like october, february, june [8. october, february, june. the eschenau summer press publications 8, 1977. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 44], published in 1977, even manages to undermine our own sense of time. a poplar tree leaf is stuck to the front of each of the three pages that make up the book and represent the months of its title. the state of preservation of successive leaves seems to worsen from page to page, the first gathered in october (normally considered late in the sequence of seasons) being the freshest) conjuring up the lush greens of june whereas the last leaf - collected in june the following year - seems more redolent of october. thus our expectations of a seasonal cycle are overturned and conventional bi polarities of youth / age, beginning / end, before / after, brought into question.
whilst october, february, june recounts the time we live through, his next work the dust of some roads and a leaf from a tree [9. the dust of some roads and a leaf from a tree. the eschenau summer press & temporary travelling press publications 9, 1977. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 45] is more concerned with the space we live in. cellophane sachets containing samples of earth are stuck to each of the first three pages in the book and a lime or apple tree leaf has been glued to the very last page. earth picked up from some of the roads and paths he has travelled sums up instability, being forever on the move (even the earth samples are themselves unstable, crumbling into dust) whereas the leaf evokes stasis, the permanence of things (i often feel that everyone has their own tree within them). obviously, however we can only be aware of time from the perspective of our own existence. these two books therefore examine the experience of movement in time and space. "my poetry is the world" herman de vries wrote in 1972

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and the poetry in the dust of some roads and a leaf from a tree is undoubtedly of the concrete variety.
another work that, like october, february, june examines processes and the effects of time, is the portfolio collected in time - I & II [10. collected in time - I & II. eschenau, published by the artist, 1979. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 51]. it consists of eight sheets with four fern specimens and four horsetail specimens picked at four stages of their growth cycles (illustrating both temporal change as well as durability since both species of plants have existed since precambrian times).

yet other works record short periods or frozen moments, wavering on the edge of permanence and instability [11. his use of earth and ashes in rubbings underlines their fragile nature. held on paper these substances remain relatively stable, as though their powdery reality were suspended for just an instant]; examples include the portfolios stream (water reproductions) 1986 [12. bern, pub. lydia megert, 1992. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 25] and chance & change processes & situations, morocco 1973 [13. chance & change processes & situations, morocco 1973. bern pub. lydia megert, 1982. catalogue raisonné n° 59].

the three photos that compose stream (water reproductions) 1986 show the rippled surface of a river, all photos ostensibly alike. the message 'no beginning no end' is printed on the upper flap of the portfolio's box case. chance & change processes & situations, morocco 1973, features four photos bearing the title '28.3.73. ourika. 30 seconds intervals'. there then follows a series of three photos labeled '11.4.1973 sidi moussa d'aglou. between the waves'. it depicts close-ups of pebbles on a beach, the second picture showing them partially covered by the foam from a wave. six further photos of waves form a third set marked '11.4. 1973. sidi moussa d'aglou. 10 seconds intervals'. the work ends with a diptych '14.4.73. el douar mirleh. at random times 14,56h & 16,32h' in which two photos are shown of a street in douar, taken from the same angle and identical except for longer shadows in the second. in a similar vein, fleeting and ephemeral images can be seen in - niggenkopf-serie - [14. niggenkopf-serie. bern, artists' press, 1975 cf. catalogue raisonné n° 28] in which eight photos document the dispersal of a cloud. these are all records of things occurring; a cloud moving through the sky, liquid movements in a stream, currents in air and water.

herman de vries often employs the term 'stream' in the sense of some kind of current (this is one of what he calls his core or seed words), a word that not only suggests flowing movement or something happening now but also conjures up the notion of continuity or constance. both meanings infuse much of his work. for example, documents of a stream. schetsboek 1976-81 van herman de vries [15. volumes I & ll, eindhoven: het apollohuis, apeldoorn, van reekummuseum, 198l. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 57] published in 1981 consisted of his sketchbook and working diary for the years 1976 to 1981 together with facsimile copies of handwritten notes, plant specimens, newspaper pages, ready-made collages, photos and other artefacts, all part of ordinary daily activities.

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the work produced by herman de vries seems as indivisible as the current of a river. his books are simultaneously part of and a record of his output. individual publications echo each other like reflecting wave patterns [16. see leonardo da vinci's words quoted by herman de vries in tutto, eschenau summer press publication 44, 1999. cf. catalogue raisonné n° 88] in a pool of water as ideas and concepts circulate from book to book regardless of style or preoccupations associated with any period in his production. (certain photos in his recent les très riches heures de herman de vries resonate strongly with pictures published in his 1968 portfolio de lijnen.)

together with time and space, natural forces are omnipresent in herman de vries' work. sometimes this is explicitly the weather [17. his exposition complète de luang prabang poster announces "[...] the exhibition is open every day come wind or shine (...)"], the elements [18. it is only a short semantic step from the 'elements' (generally harsh climatic conditions) to the four 'elements' of earth, air, fire and water which seem to correspond with much of his published work: air (- niggenkopf-serie -), fire (ashes and the book of ashes. collected 1990-1999 as well as bernard aubertin's essai sur le feu published by herman de vries in 1980 as part of his eschenau summer press & temporary travelling publications collection), earth (including many books with 'from earth' in their title) and water (eg. about the flood I-II-II, water - the music of sound I, chance & change processes & situations, morocco 1973, stream (water reproductions) 1986, filmnotes 1979, tutto, watergoed kop van overijssel)] as for example referred to in the effects of the hailstorm of the end of july on our apple tree. collected 11 8 1978, eschenau. time can also be expressed as remembrance of things past, reliving them in the present. such was the case of flora incorporata in which herman de vries listed from memory [19. he also wrote down from memory the long bibliographical list appended to the text 'über die 'asiatische & eschenauer texte', since he adds the proviso "as far as i remember"] all the types of plants he had consumed since the winter of 1987. under the work's title the sentence 'ich bin was ich bin' [i am what i am] reminds us of the present relevance of all these foodstuffs.

in an as yet unpublished book, in memory of the scottish forests [published in 2007 - CS], he provides a list of forests in scotland that have disappeared, on every page printing each forest's name in plain style letters framed in block like funeral announcements. these two works share a characteristic doubling of remembrance, imprinting memories in the mind as well as on paper. a similar process of reliving memories occurs in his ash and earth 'rubbings' books (ashes, the book of ashes. collected 1991-1999 and in other works with the words 'from earth' in their titles), all based on the idea of leaving a record or memory behind.

therefore time and space in the context of this work must be understood in a multitude of guises; area, environment, journey, distance, experience, to mention a few.
several books herman de vries produced in the sixties and seventies dealt with space in an extremely concrete manner directly within the confines of their pages.
vlakvolumen v 68-216, a portfolio produced in 1968, features black paper rectangles or squares stuck in various positions dictated by a random selection procedure, on each of the first six pages. the seventh page reunites all the rectangles and squares still in their original locations but now all on one page. vlakvolumen from 197l uses the same principle of repeated black rectangles though this time a new rectangle is added on every page to create an accumulating series. every other page of chance-fields, an essay on the topology of

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randomness (1973) similarly exploits this principle of accumulating rectangles, first 1, then 2, 3, 5, or 10, their size and location determined by chance procedures.
herman de vries began contributing what he called 'textfields' [20. although close in style to concrete poems or even visual poems, the text fields remain different and the label herman de vries deliberately chose was his way of distinguishing them from this type of poetry. emmet williams' omission of de vries from his 1967 anthology of concrete poetry, therefore seems totally justified even though many of the artists herman de vries had been publishing in his review integration (during the mid-sixties) figured in the williams' collection; eg. paul de vree, dom sylvester houédard, carlo belloli, hansjörg mayer. (herman de vries wrote my poetry is the world in 1972 but it was only later on in the seventies with works like the dust of some roads and a leaf from a tree that he began considering his works as genuine forms of concrete poetry] to a number of publications from the mid-sixties onwards [21. catalogues and notices produced for exhibitions, plus reviews such as integration, de tafelronde, egoist and subvers]. his text fields were either based on words chosen randomly from books (the eye is based on a book of the same name by hugh davson) or from short extracts of selected texts {notably two statements from ludwig wittgenstein's tractatus logico-philosophicus; "die welt ist alles was der fall ist" [the world is all that is the case] and "alles was wir sehen, könnte auch anders sein" [whatever we see could be other than it is] [22. ludwig wittgenstein, tractatus logico philosophicus, tr. pears & mcguinness, pub. routledge & kegan paul, london, 1969]. in these works, the words are ordered and reordered [23. the statements from tractatus were reconstructed letter by letter, their position on the page and their size being determined by random according to a set procedure] on the page according to their meanings as well as following random sorting procedures. the text fields could be considered a form of typography [24. occasionally, herman de vries proves his skill as a genuine typographer, for example in the designs he made for the covers of integration and nul = 0 journals] in the sense that typography involves combining a range of heterogeneous elements (letters, words, lines, signs or empty spaces) so that together they make sense on a page. ironically what is called empty space is almost always nothing of the kind, being generally referred to by typographers and page-setters as a fill, block or if between lines of text, leading.
most of the text fields were published separately. perhaps the most complex and accomplished text field - published in book form was noise in 1974 (temporary travelling press publications n° 1) [25. despite the fact that herman de vries has never referred to this work in terms of a text field, it seems natural that it be considered the apogee of such work (it has only been followed by two others, in den feldern der erfahrungen, deutsche pflanzennamen 199l and ex libris john janssen in 2000 both of which significantly different in form)]. four words, 'white', 'choice', 'noise' and 'random' are repeated in various forms and patterns, both in english and nepalese on and across pages, thus breaking the mould of strict linearity inherent to all writing and by extension language itself.
a similar procedure was used in his next book, to be all ways to be (temporary travelling press publications n°2), consisting of a single page inserted into a cover made from a sheet of paper folded in half. the words 'to be' were printed on both back and front inside covers, 'all' was printed on the front of the inserted sheet and 'ways' on the back of the same sheet. the title in its entirety 'to be all ways to be' was printed on the front cover, simultaneously a label as well as the essence of the publication itself. fragments of this reality can be glimpsed by examining the inner pages in different ways. turning the central page one can read successively 'to be all' / 'ways to be' and since the central

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page is unattached one can reverse it so that turning the pages again we now read 'to be ways' / 'all to be'. removing the central page altogether uncovers 'to be' opposite 'to be'. physically, to be all ways to be' is a multi-faceted philosophical conundrum, proof that herman de vries prefers all ways rather than always. providing combinations [26. variations, combinations and permutations all imply movement, and in many of his books and publications herman de vries frequently sets signs, shapes and ideas in motion. apart from noise mentioned above, one could include such works as random structured semiotics fields, work number v 71-194s, look out of any window (subtitled chance & change situations) and this (eschenau summer press publications n°37), not to mention futura magazine number 23 as well as portfolio v 72-26 - semantic chance semantic change - change of semantics of change. chance of semantics of chance] in this manner upsets the apple cart of linear reading order and introduces something more akin to a spiral or circular method of apprehending the work, one where there is no beginning or end, or at least possible beginnings and ends that need never be the same twice over. chance for change, published in 1971 also plays with this idea, the book being bound with metal rings with no indication of a starting page [27. during one of our conversations at eschenau, herman de vries evoked the idea of a calendar when referring to the circular nature of this book]. two other works also function on a circular principle; when you receive this is different and here & everywhere [28. it is worth remembering that the word 'mandala' signifies 'circle' in sanskrit. the two works mentioned here were printed using rubber stamps and herman de vries frequently prints when you receive this is different on his mail like a postmark. postmarks serve to record time and place. among works connected with the post particular mention should be made of postal messages and about the flood I-II-III. more examples are given in anne françoise penders' magnificent book en chemin, le land art, vol. 1 partir, pub. la lettre volée, brussels, 1999].

"a book is a book is a book ... the form is perfect and there is not much that can be changed. we can fill it with signs of our ideas or conceptions and we can empty it of all ideas and conceptions. the book remains a book [...]" [29. in het boek en de kunstenaar exhibition catalogue, stadsgalerij, heerlen, the netherlands, 1988].

space and time are intrinsic to all books. locked in the space of their pages is the time needed to read them, the 'book's time' [30. for herman de vries, books involve time spent making them, the mundane process of binding pages (a fascinating photo taken in 1967 shows him kneeling in his studio contemplating piles of pages waiting on the floor to be assembled to make issue number 7/8 of his review integration (see to be, cantz verlag, stuttgart, 1995, pp. 38 and 39. but above all, there is the vital period required for the book to come to fruition, working with time (eg. october, february, june and collected in time I & II) or when the passing of time is an implicit physical element in the book or essential to its completion (the making of his 'rubbings' books for example took time and herman de vries is caught, trapped in the present moment of the act itself)] or duration, and this may explain why herman de vries so obviously finds the book form suited to his own concerns. he has broadly used it to document processes (chance & change situations v 74-12 from 1974, - niggenkopf-serie - from 1975, october, february, june published in 1977) as well as using processes as the basis of the book's construction (vlakvolumen v68-216 from 1968, change. an essay from 1970, research serie XXVI from 1978), always playing on this element of duration.

herman de vries began producing printed works in 1960 (if we count scientific papers of his that were published, he began in 1953), and from then on has been the author of texts

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and books he has published himself or had published by others. he has also been the editor of the eschenau summer press & temporary travelling press publications (with 51 titles in this imprint to date) [31. the collection includes work by himself as well as that of other artists. it is noteworthy that his self-published books are more incisive and effective than others. this may be due to the style of the collection, inaugurated in 1974 with two books, noise and to be all ways to be; small-sized formats, reduced number of pages, or in his own words 'modest' publications. the unity of the collection as a whole, its rigorous homogeneity, comes from the close affinity herman de vries had for those other artists and poets he included. indeed for me one of the most successful works in the collection is the book by ewerdt hilgemann called for herman 'random sculptures', torano di carraro 11.00-12.00 a.m. on a day in august 1980. photographs in the book depict quarry lorries laden with marble blocks piled in different arrangements, a subtle evocation of herman de vries' own white works that often exploit chance arrangements too. his response to work by the poet robert lax (avid reader of bashô, wittgenstein and friend of ad reinhardt's and hartmut geerken's) is more discrete and intimate in the four works published so far: circle (the eschenau summer press publications n°38, 1996), more scales (the eschenau summer press publications n°39, 1997), red blue (the eschenau summer press publications n°41, 1999) and notebook (temporary travelling press publications n°46, 20Ol). many of robert lax's poems point to common ground with the concerns expressed in herman de vries' own work. the following extract is only one of numerous examples that could be quoted; "[...] when things are in line they speak to each other / when things are in line they speak to the whole." (from a text read by robert lax in a film by nicolos humbert & werner penzel, why should i buy a bed when all that i want is sleep?, produced by the bayerischer rundfunk in 1999 [...]], the editor of reviews and journals (nul = 0, integration, 'integration' journal for mind-moving plants and culture) and contributed to or participated in many other journals throughout europe (the present catalogue lists almost 200 articles or collaborations of this sort).
his fascination with printed works such as books, magazines or newspapers [32. his statement my poetry is the world appeared in its german version (meine poesie ist die welt) as an insert in the local daily newspaper anzeiger für die stadt bern (n°106, friday 7th may 1976). newspapers in his house in eschenau are piled up with plants drying between their pages. these piles arranged on a shelf form part of one of his works, the bundles 1972-1989] was strong from the beginning and it is remarkable that even his very first artistic publication, manifest van de gecastreerde werkelijkheid [manifesto of castrated reality], dating from 1960, should have been made from pre-printed material, an off-print of one of his own scientific articles published in the journal mammalia [33. the off-print of his aperÇu et nouvelles données sur la réartition géographique de quelques mammifères aux pays-bas [observations and new data on the distribution of several mammals in the netherlands], an article originally published in mammalia, the journal of the mammalian zoology laboratory at the musée d'histoire naturelle in paris. having removed the staples, herman de vries used the inside cover to type his name followed underneath by the title manifest van de gecastreerde werklijkheid. he then turned the cover inside out so that this modified page was now on the front cover and finally stapled the offprint together again].
evidence abounds of his interest in published material and books in general - in which "thoughts and research are written down and printed" [34. herman de vries, 'quelques notes personnelles sur l'art et la philosophie' [some personal notes on art and philosophy] in revue d'esthétique n°44, adding in the same article that he considers himself a "random reader"]. this was particularly visible during the seventies in work he published on language and semantics (the usage of words and their variations). fragments of texts, individual words chosen haphazardly from books on his bookshelf featured in publications such as in der landschaft, permutierbarer text, es fliesst in ein dauernd wechselndes licht or in his contribution to issue 2-3 of the review de tafelronde (i.e. a text based on 5l words randomly extracted from a book by johan huizinga) or for example in his text field work the eye.

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newspapers or parts of them (lettering, clippings from articles, pictures) frequently occur in his work. when he designed the cover for issue number 2 of ptl magazine in 1963, he chose to do it with pages from a spanish magazine. facsimile copies of newspaper cuttings adorn several pages in documents of a stream. schetsboek 1976-81 van herman de vries.
collages [35. herman de vries calls these collages "re-emotionalisierungen"] of photos from magazines form part of portfolio v 72-26 - semantic chance semantic change - change of semantics of change. chance of semantics of chance and again pages from press articles appear in his 1975 portfolio asiatische & eschenauer texte (i.e. on two sheets; die entscheidungen des dichters I and die entscheidungen des dichters II, the first crossed out with thick lines from a black felt-tip pen, the text on the second obliterated with black felt-pen marks so that only a photo can be seen).
that same year his contribution to the anthologie visuele poëzie / visual poetry anthology was die entscheidung des dichters herman de vries, three facsimili reproductions of newspaper cuttings crossed out with broad pen strokes. in - on language -, issue number 8 of the journal subvers published by hans clavin in 1972, herman de vries contributed a text field on page 5 consisting of fragments of articles in 13 languages and using 11 alphabets, garnered randomly from newspapers and magazines, as were the 135 printed letters [36. typography, and signs that convey language, particularly extra-european languages obviously interest herman de vries and two works amply illustrate this; 10 compositions in random structured semiotic fields, work number v 71-1974s, published in 1971 in the town of mahé were made with printers' type in malayalam script; he used 64 different sets of characters to print his famous statement my poetry is the world in the book of the same name published in 2001. yet his other publications are invariably printed in just one font; futura, a letter style designed by paul renner (a way of fixing his books in time - they could never have been printed before the invention of this typeface)] that feature on page 15 (from latin, cyrillic, greek, tamil, malayalam, kannada, marathi, sinhala and hindi alphabets). pages 8 and 9 have collages of photos cut out from der spiegel and bild der zeit magazines and on page 11, herman de vries chose to reproduce an advertisement from the indian newspaper the inquilab.
chance & change - documents comparative communication I-II contains only one concrete element; piles of newspapers assembled and bound together in four volumes. one of these was composed of newspapers herman de vries had bought in kathmandu on the l2 december 1974 and another volume consisted of 27 newspapers friends had bought in bern on the same day. similarly, a third volume contained newspapers herman de vries had bought between the 10th and 31st december 1974 in kathmandu, dacca, bangkok and vientiane, whilst the fourth volume contained 16 issues of the frankfurter allgemeine bought during the same period by a friend in frankfurt.
herman de vries employs newspapers in this fashion as a means to inform and instruct; they signify our contemporary world and its reality. as so often the elements in his work spell out what they are. far from being ephemeral daily rags, together they form dense strata of time passing as well as a comparison of two different parts of the world. the work is essentially based on the simple action of putting elements together.

a simple action was all it took herman de vries to make his first book manifest van de gecastreerde werklijkheid. as we have seen, in this instance the action was extreme and rebellious, and was to be by no means the last of its kind. striking black lines through texts and crossing out articles in books and newspapers are features, for example, of the two sheets die entscheidungen des dichters I and II in asiatische & eschenauer texte and also

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of die entscheidung des dichters herman de vries in anthologie visuele poëzie / visual poetry anthology.
another action is 'rubbing out' (removing yet revealing?), seen for example on one of the asiatische & eschenauer texte sheets, in which he rubbed out ludwig wittgenstein's 7th postulate in tractatus logico-philosophicus previously copied in pencil; "wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" [what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence].
all these actions involve, or imply movement. movements that say yes or say no, the painstaking actions of collecting, patient actions making rubbings with ashes and earth. also the action of writing; actions transformed into lettering in the case of eschenau sutra, published in 2OO2 by lausanne fine arts museum in which every page is filled with a repeated hand-written word (core words such as 'this', 'all', 'different') endlessly inscribed into the book. the time taken to manually mark letters on the page shifts relationships with the work; it could be said that writing alters the writer.

overthrowing convention and literary hierarchy, herman de vries decided in the early sixties fo banish all capital letters from his writings and publications.
the same appealing disregard for rank and order can be found in his house at eschenau where his bookshelves are filled with an apparent disarray of catalogues, artists' books, journals and magazines [37. the seemingly incongruous inclusion of the annuaire général des téléphones de l'afrique occidentale - 1972 [1972 west african telephone directory] among his bibliographic references at the end of the text 'über die "asiatische & eschenauer texte"' [on the 'asiatische & eschenauer texte']. his own productions could be divided into two basic families; first those i would label as 'bookcase books' [38. by 'bookcase books' i do not mean coffee table books or collections of luxuriously bound and sumptuously decorated volumes intended to vaunt their owner's wealth. here i refer to those honest and impressive tomes, sturdily bound for use not for show, books like dictionaries which have been familiar to herman de vries from an early age. most of his own publications could be characterized by the humbleness of the materials he uses and their modesty of means. an illustration of this respect for the commonest and meekest of creations can be seen at the end of eschenau sutra and also in five language manifests - and a poem published in 1975 by the artists' press, bern, in which the poem turns out to be a single specimen of a meadow grass plant (poa annua), perhaps one of the commonest grasses on the planet that grows not only in fields and along country roads but also in the middle of towns and cities - it even manages to sprout unvanquished in the cracks between paving stones in the cour carré central courtyard of the louvre in paris. the physical reality of a grass specimen is confronted with its botanical description (from gustav hegi's flora von mitteleuropa) in another work by herman de vries, von wirklichkeit und sprache (eschenau summer press publications n°27) underlining the alienating effect of erudite language for those who cannot comprehend it] (the book of ashes. collected 1990-1999, ashes, natural-relations I, - die marokkanische sammlung -, natural relations - eine skizze, from earth - gomera, 16 dm² - an essay, the nine volumes of earth notes begun

[page 81]
in 1997 and flora incorporata); secondly those he calls his 'thin' books which include essentially works in the eschenau summer press & temporary travelling press publications edition [39. most of the books published in this edition consist of unattached sheets but since traditional book binding is essentially providing a contiguous layer between the pages we can therefore consider these loose sheets as bound 'books'. the most remarkable part of asiatische & eschenauer texte (50 copies of this portfolio were published) is a simple modest-sized (21 × 31 cm.) sheet bearing on one side a short text in dutch 'een vruchtbare wandeling' and its german translation printed as a footnote. the page is numbered and its jagged left edge suggests it must have been detached or torn from a book. detachment is also the subject of the accompanying text;"an enriching walk. i went into the forest to think, but i forgot to think and felt no need to graft on a conclusion of any kind." a seed of doubt is sown in the mind of the reader as to whether the sheet comes from a book or not, since it differs from all the others in the portfolio with its anonymous text, page layout and paper texture. the words are in fact by herman de vries and the sheet was indeed torn out of a book made from 50 copies of the same page bound together]. his 'bookcase books' represent the stable, unhurried and inwardly-looking side of his work, whereas his thin publications reflect an opposing aspect that is tied up with urgent, outward-bound dissemination of works. both aspects are essential and indivisible components of his production. his books and publications are like a string of events along a line and this catalogue [herman de vries : les livres et les publications. catalogue raisonné - CS] is a record of that line, a witness to a stream in full flow, a current that is "to be continued".

didier mathieu, december 2004


water here
water there
springtime waters


source: Didier Mathieu, 'in the thick of life', in herman de vries. les livres & les publications : catalogue raisonné (centre des livres d'artistes/pays-paysage : saint-yrieix-la-perche 2005) 72-81. Also in French and German.