• [...] The first [sanctuary] (1993) is situated on a grassy knoll of unused ground at a busy road junction in Stuttgart the rich city of Mercedes and the motor car, and consists of a circular enclosure of pointed steel stakes, each resembling a Roman spear with a gold spearhead. In this protected space the ground is safe from the city maintenance department whose task it is to tidy up and destroy 'weeds'. Such plants and wild flowers as will colonise the little sanctuary will be left in peace, such trees as will seed themselves there will grow to the height that natural circumstances will determine. What happens in this untouchable little domain is visible to all who cross the road and care to look; to those speeding by it will be as insignificant as any other piece of waste ground glimpsed from a car window. It is a tiny nature sanctuary, an exemplary demarcation and protection of what de vries calls terrain vague.
  • sanctuarium munster
    fig. 1 sanctuarium münster, 1997
    In a 1999 text with that title, de vries has summarised one important aspect of the philosophy that underlies his concept of the sanctuarium; a sanctuary not for humans to escape to but within which nature itself untroubled by human intervention might renew itself, and in doing so - visibly - present the reality and the image of its cycles and successions. The text presents a vision of the modern city that is continuous in certain respects with that of the mechanised farmland of Eschenau and the deserted hamlet of Roche-Rousse: to many, terrain vague means uncultivated/wasteland, empty lot fallow, disorder, which must be done away with quickly, but the terrain vague shows the viewer who can see, who wants to see, something else: it is a niche, which nature swallows in its own way with a succession of life forms. i always admire the wonderful world revealed on unsupervised property at the edge of the city or between buildings. first come the so-called weeds, pioneers that revitalise the land destroyed by humans, which make the land inhabitable for many living creatures. the process lasts for years, and if nobody interferes, after a period of successive plant communities, the area would become a forest: forest - the most complicated living community that once almost completely covered our earth.
  • a park: a culturally impoverished nature: imagine the possible, enriching experiences that might exist if nature were allowed to develop freely here. or aspect of my utopia. 'the wild park' and terrains vagues everywhere, too, protected from destruction; park services are limited to removing the coca-cola and beer bottles that have been thrown away. wild boars plough up the park ground. the beauty of blossoming thistles ... new life would grow on left-over rubble, blackbirds and nightingales sing evenings and mornings, butterflies and wild bees are there, we hear frogs and toads croaking from the damp ruins of cellars. freedom has returned. the scent of flowering elderberry bushes penetrates houses through open windows, inviting us to realism: the television is tuned off, superfluous.
  • terrain vague is the future of cities; new worlds of experience, which guide our consciousness to a different order, away from the chaos of planning. the terrains vagues are the avant-garde of nature [cited in herman de vries, 'terrain vague (1999)', in exhibition catalogue No art - no city! Stadtutopien in der zeitgenössischen kunst = No art - no city! Urban utopias in contemporary art (Ostfildern 2003) 156-157]
  • de vries's second sanctuarium, built for the second decennial Skulptur Projekte in Münster, in northern Germany, in 1997, is a perfectly circular brick wall with no entrance to the inner sanctum, which is visible through four oval oculi, piercing the wall at eye-level at the cardinal points, the directions of the winds. Writing in the catalogue for the Projekte of this work de vries emphasised the specifically spiritual dimension crucial to the concept of the sanctuarium: '[the word] comes from the latin sanctus: "sacred, holy, venerable", "inviolable, untouchable, exalted"...; sancio: "to sanctify, i.e. to make inviolable through religious consecration ...' The ground in the sanctuarium is not, then, merely protected against human interference, a haven for nature itself (as in the English term 'wild-life sanctuary'), but a holy ground, a place to be revered.
  • The [fourth] sanctuaire at Roche-Rousse encloses with gold-tipped pointed railings the crumbling ruins of the farm, at one point passing through an original masonry wall, preventing any further access to them, allowing them time to complete their ruin without human intervention, and protecting the plants that will grow without disturbance within the palisade. What distinguishes this sanctuarium from other works in this genre (if that term may be considered appropriate) is the richness and complexity of its natural, historical and artistic context. For it constitutes the central thematic statement within the total ensemble of works and actions centred on Digne, a body of work that has a complex intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic coherence. It might be seen as providing material for what Joseph Beuys called 'social sculpture', by which he meant the structured thought, discussion and actions in everyday life of political and cultural ideas embodied in art objects and actions. 'Sculptures', wrote Beuys, 'are not an end product themselves but focal points around which ideas are built and transmitted.'
    Passage from Mel Gooding, herman de vries : chance and change (Thames and Hudson : London 2006) 96, 124-126. © Mel Gooding; courtesy Mel Gooding.
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sanctuary Stuttgart (1993)

sanctuary Münster (1997)

de vries's second sanctuarium was built for the second decennial Skulptur Projekte in Münster, in 1997, a perfectly circular brick wall with no entrance to the inner sanctum.

sanctuary Zeewolde (2002)

herman de vries created a sanctuarium in Zeewolde in the context of the temporary art project 'ARTificial NATURAL NETWORKS' (2000-2001).

sanctuaire de Roche-Rousse (2003)

sanctuary roche-rousseThe sanctuaire de Roche-Rousse encloses with gold-tipped railings the ruins of a farm, preventing any further access to them, allowing them time to complete their ruin, and protecting the growing of plants.

sacred space - Baldrockistan (2005)

For the State of Sabotage territory in Baldrockistan (Australia) herman de vries created (2003-2005) a sacred space, a spiritual spot, which could be discovered just with the intensity of the place and the person himself. In the territory various text inserts are engraved into rocks. Everything stays in the state of nature.

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