The earth museum in the house at Eschenau [now housed at the Musée Gassendi, Digne-les-Bains, CS] holds over seven thousand samples of earth, gathered by de vries or sent to him from all over the world. Begun in 1983 [= 1978, CS], it is a unique collection; it is extensive and diverse, and although it has no scientific purpose it constitutes a compendium in which every type of earth (limestone, sandstone, peat volcanic, marl, ash, etc., etc.) is represented, and which visibly demonstrates the endless variety, beauty and subtlety of the colours of earth. Each specimen is dried into a powder-like consistency, securely bagged, boxed and labelled with its date of collection and its place of origin; each represented in the earth catalogue by a rubbing made by hand on paper, identified by source, and carefully kept in identical Solander boxes
The philosophical idealism that lies behind this is, for de vries, as he would put it 'a metaphysics without the physics'. On the contrary, he would assert that 'the things themselves' - les choses mêmes - speak themselves, have a reality that is concrete. A specimen of earth is not a represented concept, it presents itself as mineral material, its history and its nature are, to use the mot juste, manifest in every handful. Crushed to a powder, reduced to its basic mineral 'suchness', rubbed down with the tips of the fingers into a simple rectangle of colour, the earth itself is transformed not into the sayable abstraction of the word, but into a material sign of its self-ness. It is an important aspect of the work that it declares the method of its making, that its unconcealing is unconcealed. It enters thus the domain of art but an art that speaks of the irreducible actuality of the thing itself.read more »
Passage from Mel Gooding, herman de vries : chance and change (Thames and Hudson : London 2006) 96-100.
herman de vries collecting earth on El Hierro, Canary Islands [photo susanne de vries]