An Edition of Two (2014)
die wiese|the meadow & juniperus communis
(The artist always lowercases his name — to avoid hierarchy.)
Box folder of 36 postcards & box folder of juniper berries. Edition of 216, of which this is 189. Acquired from Peter Foolen Editions, November 2014. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
February and November 2013
This “edition of two”, as Peter Foolen has termed it, gives the reader/viewer slices of two much larger works. The first was a 320-page hardback edition of 750 copies, also entitled die wiese / the meadow but involving Marion Reissner for the concept and photography. Two copies of the special edition, signed and numbered, also included dried leaves that de vries selected from the 4000 square meters — the meadow — that is one of de vries’ most important works of art. In the Steigerwald near Eschenau, Germany, where they live, he and susanne de vries, his wife, started this work of nature’s sculpture in 1986. A peninsula anchored on the forest and surrounded by farmland, the meadow boasts a barrier of cultivated aspen and hedges. Within, a variety of shrubs, trees and wildflowers abound. A work of art in and of itself, it is also the source and palette for smaller works made of selections of leaves, arrays of briars and pressed vegetation. The dried juniper berries in juniperus communis signal that aspect of his art.
In small, juniperus communis reflects another important aspect: exhibitions and installations.
infinity in finity (2013)
infinity in finity (2013)
H166 x W210 mm. Edition of 1000. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
In the Books On Books Collection, infinity in finity occupies a mid-point between die weise|the meadow and argumentstellen. Whereas die weise|the meadow draws its art directly from nature or the artist’s interaction with nature, argumentstellen draws its art from the artist’s interaction with a book of philosophy and his visual translation/illustration of it through the book arts. Except for the photo of herman de vries as naturalist-cum-naturist, infinity in finity belongs more to that side of his work that focuses on wordplay and the book arts.
The single photo and the phrase “infinity in finity” point more toward intangible, abstract nature rather than the tangible nature of a meadow and handful of juniper berries. The strand under the artist’s feet and the repeated phrase evoke the lines of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour
Grafix Centrum Poligrafii (Gdańsk, Poland) has precisely executed the genius of the design that aligns the repeated phrase across the double-page spread, into and out of the gutter, and sends it off the top, bottom and fore edges. The meaning of the words and form of the book align perfectly. The reader/viewer holds infinity in the finite form of a book held between two hands.
argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (2003)
The first date 1968 is the year the artwork was conceived and drawn; the second date, the year it was published. H296 x W210 mm. Edition of 1250. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Argumentstellen (German for “arguing” or “making an argument”) roots itself even more in abstraction, allusion and the book arts than infinity in finity. Other than the title and colophon, there are no words in argumentstellen. Still, the little text on which it relies looms large.
The Dutch naar and French de translate as “after”; so argumentstellen is “after Wittgenstein — tractatus — 2. 0131 …” Here are English translations for the text from section 2.0131 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
From Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
Side-by-Side-by-Side Edition, curated by Kevin C. Klement, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts – Amherst
Unlike most paintings and prints entitled “after [fill in the blank]” — but like many instances of reverse-ekphrasis in book art — argumentstellen is simultaneously a visual translation and interpretation of referenced text, not another artist’s visual work. Rather than the ekphrastic text/poem that proceeds from the visual or sculptural work of art, this is visual book art that proceeds from philosophical text. On each rich, thick, white page, the black dot (the “point in space”, full stop or period?) appears once but in different places from page to page. Against the texture and color of the page, each black dot almost performs a trompe l’oeil that surrounds it with ghostly text — implying that it marks the space or place where a statement or argument occurs, which differs from place to place, from perspective to perspective.
In the same year as the drawing for this work occurred, so did that for the lines (1968/1995). De vries’ comments on the lines shed light on argumentstellen as well as return our thoughts to walking into the ocean or through the meadow:
the position of a single line in the surface determines our experience of these surfaces, so that with another position of the line, an extension or a shortening, our experience of the surface is changed. like every primary picture element, the line has its own unique effect. a point, for example, determines the space around it, creates an area of tension out of it. a line does that too, but it is clearer that the line divides the area. lines are like dams in water. the eye must overcome it like an obstacle. but it can also go around, flow. Another option is to follow the line, walk on the embankment and notice the changes in the area. because the place where the eye is located is a point of perception in relation to the surface. in this way the line is a series of 'arguments'. Walking along, around or over here means changing your perspective and viewpoint. — herman de vries. Accessed 30 June 2020.
At which William Blake and those other Romantics — those ambler poets — John Clare, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth must be nodding and smiling.
“Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. More on reverse-ekphrasis.
“Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. More on reverse-ekphrasis.
Fehr, Michael. herman’s Meadow. A Museum (1992). Accessed 29 June 2020.
Gooding, Mel. herman de vries: chance and change (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006)