herman de vries

the meadow/die wiese

Not far from the house at Eschenau is the meadow/die wiese, a 4000 square metre patch of land purchased by de vries in 1986. A narrow rectangle of uneven ground with rough meadow grasses, mixed shrubs and young trees, it extends into acres of gently undulating arable land from its upper boundary with the edge of a small forest which rises behind it. This is itself but a remnant of the great forest that once covered this area. Once there were many more small meadows around the village, between the forested lands, but the economies of scale determining the farming of the local land, here as in so many other parts of Western Europe, have led to the grubbing out of hedgerows, copses and small orchards, and of the many wild shrubs and trees of all kinds that they sustained in the varied landscape and open countryside in previous times. the meadow was at the time of its purchase simply a demarcated plot continuous with and indistinguishable from the denatured landscape around it.

The agricultural land for miles around Eschenau is now characterless and uniform, the countryside of this part of Bavaria having been subjected, in the universal manner of modern agribusiness, to a reductive regime of highly managed, high-yield, cash-crop production. The large bare fields that surround the meadow are heavily fertilised and treated with pesticides, enabling the farmers to harvest at least three separate cuts of a monocultural commercial hay in the course of the year. de vries observes with some asperity: "the land [around] ... is [liquid] manured and fertilised. it's a strange word, 'fertilised', because fertility is something different from what you achieve with artificial or chemical manure." The grasses in de vries's meadow are cut once a year, and the land is not treated, and 'in becoming poorer it [becomes] richer in plants' as the taller grasses are mown and cannot succeed and eliminate the less robust meadow flowers and herbs.


An entry in the 'eschenauer journal' records, in de vries's hand, individual field names in the locality taken from old maps and the memories of an old farmer (the meadow was called köhlerin - denoting a female charcoalburner - indicating its origins as a cleared woodlandplot). The only other text piece in the entire journal repeats the one word unity in many colours, recalling the natural unity that existed in the diversity of the old landscape, in which no field was the same as any other. It also comments, by implication, on the agronomic unification of the landspace in which every field now looks the same as every other, and their names and identitites and the subtle differences they signified, are forgotten in a single-minded reduction to an impoverished utility. de vries insists that unity in diversity persists, whether or not it is recognised or respected.


the meadow/die wiese, 2012

the meadow, as a work, similarly fails to conform to any preconceived notion of beauty or order; it is a piece of the world, what de vries calls a terrain vague (see the page on 'sanctuaries'), not a garden planted and landscaped for the eye. It is not art but nature: "i hate art in nature!" is the title of a de vries text: "nature is sufficient unto itself ... what we can still find around ourselves of nature (i speak of being aware, not of possessing) requires no human intervention. it is itself ..." Later, he wrote: "when i said 'nature is art' (adding: 'but it doesn't need this label'), i could do this because i see nature as a conscious process which is experienced through the senses..." - which is to say, not through the eye alone. "The world is round around the round being", wrote Gaston Bachelard. That 'roundness of the world' is experienced through all the senses, as simultaneous light space, temperature, atmosphere and texture, it is our complex element it is where we live. the meadow is a microcosm of that complex all-around-us reality.

The natural succession of plant life-forms, in which the stronger overwhelm the weaker, until their own success is modified by other circumstances (fire, the grazing of animals, the increase of shade at ground level, etc.) is the primary ecological feature of any unregulated stretch of terrain. In the meadow this progression is held in check by the very particular human intervention I have described and discussed. In the fullness of time, it is de vries's intent that the meadow plot will be allowed to revert completely to the natural cycle, and what is now a beginning, still less than twenty years in development will ultimately climax in forest and this little spur of land will become an admonitory natural extension to the artist's beloved Steigerwald.


die wiese / the meadow
herman and susanne de vries & marion reissner (concept & photography)
published by Peter Foolen Editions & Lecturis, Eindhoven.
320 p. (24 × 16.5 cm); hardcover, bound in linen
edition of 750 copies and a special edition of 34 + 2 copies, signed and numbered with two editions with dried leaves from the meadow.

bibliographic references

Michael Fehr, 'herman's wiese. ein museum', originally published in Daidalos 46 (1992) 34-39 [online] (2003) [accessed 17 March 2011].
Translated in English as 'herman's meadow. a museum' (1992) [online] (2003); [accessed 17 March 2011].

Passage from Mel Gooding, herman de vries : chance and change (Thames and Hudson : London 2006) 72-75, 82. © Mel Gooding; courtesy Mel Gooding.

fig. below: ... meadow, no longer meadow, 2012 [Photo Lilian Seegers, Amsterdam]