Niel de Vries

– Acres of Care 2023

Niel de Vries takes the agricultural landscape of West Flanders as a starting point for his project. On many fields in West Flanders, and also in Watou, the main crop is corn for livestock feed. As one of the first domesticated plants with a meaningful cultural history, de Vries feels this crop is ideally suited as a framework for questioning the relationship between man and the earth.

Corn originates from Central America and has been grown in Europe on a large scale since the middle of the 20th century. The use of synthetic fertiliser and modified seeds has problematic long-term consequences for the earth and its ecosystems.

De Vries relies for his installation on a viewing platform such as built by the Hidatsa, a North American indigenous people from what is now known as North or South Dakota. They cultivated mixed fields without pesticides or herbicides. Instead they built towers next to the fields to be able to monitor them. To them, corn was like a child that needed to be cared for. They spent long days on these viewing platforms, they sang to the plants and made sure neither birds nor humans could steal their harvest.

De Vries’ platform is located on the village border and is half sunk into the ground. From ground level you can access the excavation and explore the ground layers of times gone by. Here we can see the earth that nourishes us. Looking out over the cornfield we see the bottom part of the corn stems, where the plant emerges from the soil. Nothing else grows there. No weeds, no grass, no flowers. Just corn.

The different depths and heights invite us to grow along with the corn. A ladder takes us to the first viewing platform just above the cornfield. This is the height of the plants early in the season. The second platform is as high as the height of the corn plants later in the season.

By first lowering and then heightening again, building a platform in an excavation is a paradox in and of itself. De Vries feels this also goes for industrial farming. By examining methods from the past and/or a different culture, he tries to say something about the present. At the same time the podium is activated during the festival by using it as the staging location for a program of meetings on subjects such as sustainable farming and care for the planet. The meetings also take a closer look at the theme of the festival itself, Composition. That is why no specific poet was assigned to the project. Space is given to different voices.

1994, NL

In his projects, de Vries seeks dialogue with the natural and historical landscape. He explores vertical stratification and positions his work within it. From an ecological and communal perspective, he creates site-specific projects, often in outdoor spaces.

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