Something very interesting was already well under way when de vries was first invited to visit Digne[-les-Bains (Haute-Provence)] with a view to creating work in the region around the town and to make an exhibition and a publication. The invitation came from the museum director, Nadine Gomez-Passamar, on behalf of CAIRN (Centre d'Art Informel de Recherche sur la Nature), a vital agency pioneering creative collaboration between the Museum [Gassendi] and the Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence, centred on the promotion of contemporary art as a means to deepen public understanding of the natural world as a whole, and of the ecological richness of the region itself. CAIRN, under the direction of Gomez-Passamar, whose understanding of de vries's life-project is profoundly sympathetic was in this respect a perfect organisation within which the artist could develop a new and coherent complex of works responding to an environment that is in so many ways different from that of Eschenau. In terms of both its informing ideas and practical programme there was a close correspondence with de vries's own personal philosophy and practice, and susanne and herman have continued to work creatively with Gomez-Passamar and CAIRN.
de vries made his first visit to Digne in April 1999. He began at once to explore the mountains and valleys of the Réserve Géologique, collecting earth samples and prospecting sites for possible works. It was on this visit that he was surprised and delighted to learn of Dr Honnorat's close connection with the town and of his scientific researches in the region, for he had already encountered the philological work of the good doctor some years earlier during his first sojourn in Provence. This was when, in 1991, de vries had been a guest of the Espace de l'Art Concret at the the Château de Mouans at Mouans-Sartoux in the hills behind Cannes. Here was held his first one-man show in France, terre, vie et poésie, for which he prepared a journal, and a number of works using materials from the surrounding area.
In addition to the journal de mouans-sartoux (1991), these included (also in 1991) le témoin (the witness) and le lierre par lui-même (the ivy by itself), the former the untreated trunk of an old olive tree placed on a low stone plinth, the latter a framed ivy plant growing on a wall. ('Exhibit the untouched and cherish the uncarved block.') Both neatly encapsulate key ideas. the witness is both that which has seen time pass, and that which stands as a record of its own being, a witness-informant to the processes of its own formation and deformation, a part of the world that is a document of itself, literally a piece of information. The ivy's self-portrait is likewise itself: its realisation as an art work conterminous with its realisation as a work of nature. The photograph of the work is but a trace of the work itself, a piece of information. And unlike a painted portrait this is an image that changed, as its subject changed, with time: like de vries's rasenstücke, it is 'more real' than a painting of the natural object would be (the photograph is the record of a moment - a 'seeing of its being'). The journal de mouans-sartoux contains ferns and fungi, earth rubbings, photographs and other materials, and rubbings of local earth. de vries included in his exhibition an array of stone fragments collected from the roadside near a local chapel devoted to St John, and a collection of the bagged earth samples. As always, these 'real works' are images of themselves.