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herman de vries ‘documents ot a stream- the real works 1970 to 1992'

Two Festival exhibitions focus on the art of nature featuring the work of Andy Goldsworthy and herman de vries. Miranda France talks to the artists about order and chaos.

ost artists work with nature at some point in their careers but Andy Goldsworthy and herman ; de vries have given a new meaning to the term. The difference is that they are concerned with more than merely how nature looks; they are intrigued by how it works and in discovering beauty in processes, which at school we learnt to dismiss as mundane, with labels marked geology, botany, physics and chemistry. You might expect this preoccupation to put people off their work, adding to the difficulties faced by all contemporary artists, but in fact the very close relationship with nature tends to fascinate art lovers and cynics alike. As the magnitude of nature inspires awe, so someone who can seem to interpret the chaos, perhaps even control it, becomes a sort of alchemist. This is particularly the case with the philosphical Andy Goldsworthy.

Goldsworthy is younger than de vries (who rejects capital letters as too hierarchical), and a good deal better known. He grew up working on the farms and countryside around his home, and studied art in Bradford and Preston. Since then he has made sculptures out of rock, twigs, leaves

‘I thinkthat in nature there’s a key to understanding: lite is never lost, but somehow laid down in time.’

geography of each peak, each soil structure, from these drawings. But then he maintains that anyone can

‘read’ the drawings. ‘People coming new to

the work should know first of all that it’s a snowball, then that it’s earth or stone that’s been mixed with the snow. Then they should

i try to decide where the snowball began to melt, that’s the heart ofthe drawing. Then

they can read the flow, the journey the

' snowball took. Once you understand that then you can really begin to read the

drawing in relation to the landscape, and see how they are landscapes in their own right. The evidence is all in the work.’

Bearing in mind the extensive effort that goes into making these images, it is hard to accept that Goldsworthy’s intention is not

actually to make visual art, but simply to

create ‘markers’ in his eternal journey

; through the soul of the landscape. ‘The

. exhibition is a way ofdrawing together what I’ve discovered and sharpening my perception of what I’ve made, but the most

important thing is what I do with the land and that’s between myself and nature.’ This

philosophy is best illustrated in his = ephemeral ice and snow works.

At the Royal Botanic Garden, where both Goldsworthy and de vries have exhibited, the notion that art may be a means to a philosophical end, rather than an end in itself is more palatable. The gallery here is not only one of Britain’s foremost

3 contemporary art venues, but uniquely

combines art and science and, more

; importantly, has a large audience for it.

and thorns, and he is particularly known for his work with ice and snow, made in the Arctic and photographed for exhibitions around the world. In the 1989 show, Snowballs in Summer, at the Old Museum of Transport, Glasgow, eighteen snowballs mixed with twigs and other natural materials were left to melt over five days, until all they left was a ‘shadow’ on the paper underneath. Goldsworthy’s present show at the Fruitmarket Gallery is an exhibition of Ice and Snow Drawings. In each case the ‘drawings’ have been made by taking snowballs, collected from hills in Yorkshire or in Dumfriesshire where he now lives mixing them with earth, clay, peat or berries and then letting them melt on to a large sheet of paper. The result is much more intriguing than you might expect; the colours are bright, the shapes interesting, and the difference in textures between one picture and the next quite pronounced. Goldsworthy, who knows the hills like the : back of his hand, can recognise the

Goldsworthy exhibited here in 1990, and de

; vries is here now, with documents of a stream ; the real works, 1970—1992, very much a


In the basement, there is a neat display of

hundreds ofnatural, herbal remedies,

collected by de vries in India, Senegal and Morocco, complete with a pharmacist’s directory of their uses (one is for use ‘when

I toilet comes too strong’). Upstairs in one

room there is a carpet of lavender and in another bowls of spices. de vries’s wall

7 works are collections of whole families of I leaves, or twigs, some from Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden. His intention is constantly

to remind us ofour surroundings, and ofour relationship with nature. On a gallery wall downstairs, the artist has written the names of 170 vanished Scottish forests. In the basement, again, there is a framed paper

S drenched in his own blood he has his blood let twice a year for health reasons.

Some of this sounds a bit cranky and, with his flowing white hair and beard, de vries

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does have the look of a wise wizard about him, although he is in fact a scientist and a philosopher of international standing. In conversation, de vries talks about the ‘randomness and chance’ of nature and it is no coincidence that he collaborated with Joseph Beuys, the legendary German artist

who wanted to tear down barriers between man and nature.

Goldsworthy has also talked about how nature’s state of change is ‘the key to understanding’ and he emphasises the spiritual dimension to his work. ‘I’ve been thinking recently that ifI had to describe what I work with, it would be time: the layering of life upon life, season upon season, these are deeply engrained, they are nature.

‘The idea of things being ephemeral unnerves people. When they ask me if something I’ve made is going to fade, what they really mean is “are we going to fade?” Death is a difficult thing to come to terms with, but I think that in nature there’s a key to understanding: life is never lost, but somehow laid down in time.’

Andy Goldsworthy’s Ice and Snow Drawings are at the F ruitmarket Gallery until 12 Sept and documents of a stream are at the Royal Botanic Garden until 27Sept. The work of Goldsworth y and de vries will be discussed at the ‘Order, Chaos and Creativity’ conference, 29—30 Aug. Phone 031552 7171 for details.

Andy Goldsworthy- sand throws into evening sky

The List 28 August 10 September 199213