herman de vries: documents of a stream - the real works 1970-1992

16 August - 27 September 1992

The development of the Royal Botanic Garden over 300 years into a focus for the investigation and description of the world’s fauna, has been mirrored by a progressive and (by now) almost complete mutual estrangement of the arts and sciences at a time in our history which, more than ever before, needs their collaborative and joint contribution to human consciousness and understanding.

In recognition of this, we continue to develop our association with art informed by nature, presented within the dual context of a uniquely appropriate garden and gallery (Inverleith House, from 1960-1984 home to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) with significant exhibitions during recent years by Sjoerd Buisman, Chris Drury, Andy Goldsworthy, Rory McEwen, Peter Randall-Page and Margaret Stones. On the occasion of art and science conference ‘Order, Chaos, and Creativity’ it is our great pleasure to present the first major British exhibition by the artist, scientist and natural philosopher Herman de Vries.

It was the creation of the abstract, white and random works in the 1960s which established his association with ‘Zero’ art, which continues to this day. The ‘real’ works presented here began with the collection of 25 shells in August 1970 on the island of Mahé in the Seychelles; their variation in form a presentation rather than a representation of reality.  Later collections incorporated the variety of natural objects (flowers, leaves, stones, earth), the sound of streams and observations of human relationships with nature, the largest being natural relations (1989) – a collection of several hundred herbs and herbal substances purchased in markets and shops from Morocco to Senegal and India, or gathered in the countryside around the artist’s home in Bavaria.

His view of our relationship with nature is beautifully expressed by his rejection of capital letters, which he has not used for over twenty years “it is a kind of anti-hierarchical expression. it’s the same in nature; every part of it has its own function, so why should a tree be more important than a diatom?”

From the viewpoint of an organisation which actively undertakes research into both, I must agree.

Paul Nesbitt

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

August 1992

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The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)