natural relations

In 1989 herman de vries published natural relations: eine skizze [= a sketch]. The title is not without a gentle irony, for this 'sketch' is a hardcover volume of 797 crowded pages, the exhaustive summation of many years research in the library, in the field and in the marketplaces of the world. Into this capacious portmanteau of a book de vries packed an extraordinary body of information and knowledge concerning the medicinal and psychedelic - 'mind-moving' - properties of plants and their pharmacological derivatives. natural relations draws upon extensive sources in anthropology, philology, botany, ethnobotany, mycology, phytochemistry, folklore, herbal history, pharmacology; on information supplied by shamans, herbalists, holy men and shopkeepers in the markets of India and North Africa; and on the artist's own experience, and that of others, of the effects on body and mind of herbs, plant derivatives and other substances.


There can be no proper understanding of de vries's complex/simple artistic philosophy that does not take account of the centrality to his vision of the cultural significance of the old wisdom of 'natural relations'. At its heart is a desire to reinstate and elaborate the forgotten knowledge and understanding of the vegetable kingdom, from subterranean fungus to great forests, as the home of our human terrestrial life, the provider of all we need to survive, the vital shelter and source of our well-being on earth. The revival of this ancient lore can only be enhanced by the findings of the modern natural sciences: 'within the coherent self-regulating system of nature, the existence of so many diverse vegetable substances is no accident for they have functions within the system, not only for the plants themselves, but even more for the other organisms within this complex system, which [theodor] schwenk appropriately described as "the sensible chaos"'.

de vries's many-faceted understanding of these things, grounded as it is in his history as a professional scientist and also in his personal experience of mind-moving plant and mushroom derivatives and of psychedelic drugs, including LSD, is the mainspring of a deeper politics than that described as 'environmentalism'. For as well as its conscientious concern for material and recreational utility, it comprehends a loving consideration of all the other living things that share this life space, and a consciousness of the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of human life - of those things 'of which we cannot speak' [...].

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herman de vries with Omar Gaye in Dakar, Senegal

Passage from Mel Gooding, herman de vries : chance and change (Thames and Hudson : London 2006) 102-110.

herman de vries with Omar Gaye in Dakar, Senegal, collecting ethno-botanical information for natural relations, 1985 [photo susanne de vries]