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Herman de Vries (b1931) was educated as a horticulturalist and natural scientist and his work focuses on natural processes and phenomena, directing viewers’ attention to the diversity of the world around them. He seeks to encourage people to be alive and aware, and his guru, he says, is a squirrel, because this creature “is always awake”.
De Vries has spent a long time working in Venice preparing for the Biennale and has published a book, From the Laguna of Venice – A Journal, which is essentially a travelogue of his observations and collected material. His exhibition in the Dutch Pavilion brings some of this notation – written and photographed – and some of the flora into the gallery setting, “a place for observation”. This includes a central circle of Rosa damascena buds, creating a sensory experience through their colour and scent, and large chunks of charred acacia trunk, collected from the summer solstice bonfire in the village where he now lives in Germany.
Alongside the pavilion exhibition, de Vries is also displaying a series of posters –with texts including natura numquam errat (nature never makes mistakes), natura mater (nature is the mother), veritas existentiae (the truth of existence) and natura artis magistra (nature is the teacher of art and science) – across Venice. These short dicta sum up the artist’s philosophy and work. His succinct pronouncements can also be found in plaques dotted among the overgrowth on the abandoned island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, the site of a former hospital, where plague victims were nursed.
Studio International spoke to de Vries before taking a boat trip out to explore this sanctuary in the Venetian Lagoon.
Herman de Vries: to be all ways to be
Dutch Pavilion, Giardini di Castello, 30122 Venice
9 May – 22 November 2015
Interview by ANNA McNAY
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY