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Pieter Janszoon Saenredam Project - an account
the beginnings of the Pieter Janszoon Saenredam land art project
In the early eighties I was in my old studio in the Nieuwstraat
in Zwijndrecht, The Netherlands, working on the plaster model for my bronze
sculpture, Brenda, for Amsterdam North. Through
the windows I noticed a small group of people approaching my front door.
I didn't have time for another visit by Jehovah's witnesses, so
I decided not to open the door and, since they couldn't have seen me,
I worked on the other side of the model, so they wouldn't be encouraged
by my presence and go away. But they kept ringing the door bell, so I gave
in and decided not to let them take up my time. I opened the door and the
man, whom I actually recognized from somewhere, shook my hand and asked
whether this was indeed the day that we were to meet. I instantly remembered
- the advisory committee for the arts of the Dutch town of Barendrecht came
to visit my studio. They had called me weeks before and made an appointment
to come and see my work.
The committee had become acquainted with my environmental projects and asked me to make a proposal for a site specific project for a part of their town. It was the Paddewei, which had been built in the sixties according to CIAM's principles of "het Nieuwe Bouwen moderne stedenbouw” (CIAM New Architecture).
I visited the Paddewei area and found a well balanced townscape with daylight, fresh air, free space, open water and greenery. Everything had been planned well and had evolved in the decade or two into a very pleasant living area. There was no room for drastic measures; and it would have been a sin to take them. So I made various studies for environmental sculptural additions which would complement the existing spaces in which they would have to integrate themselves. I proposed serial sculptural elements, studied the possibility of working with the open water, ponds and pools interconnected by watercourses. One green space had room to accommodate for a small environment using Pollard willows. I discussed my sketches with the committee and we agreed that no comprehensive or radical environmental art - let alone land art - should be imposed upon this immaculate housing area. The committee was especially taken in by the idea of working with pollarded willows, and their member, Maarten Ouwens, of Wissing Town Planning and Urban Design, suggested we look at the Molenvliet, a new urban development area – right next to Paddewei. There, everything was still possible, and there it would feasible be to integrate an environmental art project into the Molenvliet plans.
osier culture and tidelands
This area of Holland is especially known for its osier culture, which has existed as long as people have inhabited these wetlands. The area, where Molenvliet was projected, used to be a part of the tidelands of the Dutch delta. As more land was reclaimed, this area came to lie further inland.
The Holland wetlands
I was well acquainted with these tidelands as my parents owned a sailboat and, already as a baby they would take me along on their food foraging crossings into the Biesbos marshes to trade with farmers in the small polders. This was during the last years of World War II. As a young boy, up to my ninth year of age, I played with friends in the tidal area of the Dordrecht Wantij River near our temporary trailer. There were large area’s with one year old willows, which grew like grass, so close together that we could hardly walk through them. In their midst we made a small clearing – two or three meters diameter - and used the cut saplings to weave into the surrounding ones, creating a hut. The smell of cut willows was implanted in my memory at an early age and I love it still.
Dordrecht Municipal Museum (Dordrechts Museum) willow project
During the first months of 1972 the Dordrecht Municipal Museum was organizing an exhibition of ten young Dordrecht artists. I was one of them. We were the first to exhibit in the just completed ‘Waarheid & Vrede’ wing of the museum. The garden and adjoining area had always been nothing more than a green space with age old Plane trees and Beech Trees. We – the artists – were given the opportunity to use the garden for installations and suggest possible upgrades for to accommodate the invited guests for the opening of the new wing and our exhibition. I had not done anything with willows for twenty years (also due to my youth in the united states during that period); but after having made many foot- and boat trips in and around the wetlands and having seen the osier culture and the pollard willows along the levee earthworks, I proposed to make an installation in a clearing between the old trees in the yard. During the late sixties I also paid numerous visits to the studio’s of Cor Noltée - one of the Dordrecht impressionists - who had been a student of Isaac Israels. Before I was born, my parents already had two of his paintings in their collection. During my schooldays in California, they were a few of the things which kept my memory of Holland and its tidelands alive. He had two studio’s in the Biesbos, one on the dike at the Dordrecht Biesbos and another on a remote location – on an isolated polder, surrounded by water, ‘De Dood’. He made many paintings of the osier culture during that time. And I had already acquired two of his pollard willow paintings.
influences - white trees
Another memory which influenced my environmental works
and land art projects goes back to the period right after World War II.
My father had a cigar store and had a list of small scale cigar manufacturers
in the Provinces Noord Brabant and Limburg. On Mondays, when the store was
closed, my parents took me along on their regular trips to the cigar makers
to buy boxes full of them. In 1951 my father traded our Standard Vanguard
for an old 1928 Chevrolet with a cigar maker from Leende in Noord-Brabant. The
boxes with cigars were stacked on the back seat with a little room in the
middle for me to sit. From my higher perch I could see the rows of trees
through which we drove back home, into the night. Sometimes there would
be white objects along the forest roads; they were white bands painted on
the tree trunks during the war, as a visual aid to drivers during the blackouts.
This new development of Molenvliet seemed to open almost unlimited possibilities for me. I wanted to work with water again. In my first environmental sculpture – “terreinplastiek” (Jan Eijkelboom)– in 1969, I had worked with water as a primary sculptural material for the DSW patio in Dordrecht. Also in my Walburg Project, in 1971, I used the existing water course as a linear delimitation of the meandering dike. I had made proposals in Capelle aan den IJssel using the existing reservoir for an environmental sculpture, making use of water, between 1971 and 1975. But that only resulted in a sculpture in the regular sense of the word. So now I was ready to grasp the opportunity to make a grand project using the surface water, which in Holland needs to be collected via a system of water courses and reservoirs.
At that time I became interested in Japanese garden architecture and ancient monuments in Japan - inspiring earthworks - and I was particularly captivated by the Nintoku-ryo Tumulus, the burial mound of the Japanese Emperor Nintoku. It is dates from the fourth and fifth century and is the largest of a group of burial mounds. It consists of a man made reservoir in the shape of a Romanesque window. Inside of this area there is actually a succession of three islands - one inside the other. The outer one has the shape of a frame, following the shape of the reservoir; it encloses a second body of water which contains another frame-shaped island, enclosing the third body of water which surrounds the main island. It has the shape resembling a keyhole. Actually this shape may have derived from the earthenware Haniwa figurines; the circular contour describes the head of such a figure and the tapering shape below it the armor if the depicted warrior. This third island is the actual burial mound. In itself it is quite large (486 X 249 X 33 meters high).
For me the exciting thing about this burial mound is the fact that it is not just an island, but that the whole complex consists of a series of three islands - one within the other. The islands and moats which frame the center island make access more difficult. For me this surrounds this place with mystery - a place where you could be but inaccessible. A land art project which one can enter has more to offer that a sculpture itself. But this place can only be entered with one's imagination, adding a special quality i find.
Pieter Janszoon Saenredam
During the same period I was studying the work of the Dutch seventeenth century painter Pieter Janszoon Saenredam. He was very interested in the architecture of his time and that of earlier public buildings and, in particular churches which had not long before been stripped of their Roman Catholic attributes and embellishments.
I feel affinity with Saenredam as well as with the Japanese way of reorganizing one's surroundings, paying attention to the choice and organization of the materials and elements which are utilized, while, at the same time the respect for nature was not compromised. In this way there is a marriage possible between Saenredam's approach and the same contemplated kind of program the Japanese artists avail themselves of..
The idea of an unapproachable island had a certain mystery to it - just enough for me not feel guilty for having detached myself from my rational principles. I like to come to conclusions through reasoning - not exclusively by way of my instincts. Ecstasy only comes after ample reasoning. The music of Phillip Glass is proof of this. It is the ago old controversy between the Dionysian and Apollonian way of reaching one's goal which keeps the idea alive that it must be one or the other. But I think one can not go without the other. idea of an unapproachable island had a certain mystery to it - just enough for me not feel guilty for having detached myself from my rational principles. I like to come to conclusions through reasoning - not exclusively by way of my instincts. Ecstasy only comes after ample reasoning. The music of Phillip Glass is proof of this. It is the age-old controversy between the Dionysian and Apollonian way of reaching one's goal which keeps the idea alive that it must be one or the other. But I think one can not go without the other.
a systematic approach to my art
Organizing the components of the island in a mathematical and organized fashion was my way to get a grip on the concept. In my work I have always had a need for a systematic approach. I felt the need for a certain amount of confluence with the age old culture of the Holland wetlands, Japanese garden culture and Saenredam's Apollonian way of working. The environmental Saenredam Project is related to land art and earthworks as well as being conceptual in essence.
the continuity of the Shinto Grand Shrine of Ise Shrine 皇大神宮
The evolution of the project is a continuous process. The three-yearly cutting of the willows insures their uniform shape, which evolves as they become mature. When one of them dies or is damaged it is to be replaced with a new, fresh one. I compare this to the Grand Shrine of Ise in Japan. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years, so that the buildings will forever be new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013. In this way the eternalness of the shrine in guaranteed. In the same way the willow grid on the island will eventually consist of young as well as old trees. The history will be passed on from one willow to the other, as a never ending process.
pollarded willow circle - 1972 - (Salix Alba) and white latex - Ø400 cm - Dordrecht Municipal Museum NL (destroyed by the museum in 1978)
When my willow project which I had made in the Dordrecht Municipal Museum garden was removed, I was given the chance to rebuild it on another location in the Island of Dordrecht polders. During my search for possible locations, I came across a series of small islands in different waterways. A practical advantage of islands is that they are not easily accessible; children like to play with everything they encounter - and newly planted willow stakes look rather unnatural and attract their attention. When the freshly planted stakes start to develop roots, these are very fragile during the first weeks and are easily damaged when young trees are moved - they will break off and the willows will not develop into trees.
So I asked to restore and elaborate on my pollarded circle and be given four of the islands to use for this purpose. And this became my homage to Malevich project in 1982. With it still on my mind,s I combined my conceptual ideas about a project in the town of Barendrecht about Saenredam and was inspired by what I saw of Japanese man-made landscapes and religious monuments, I started what evolved into the Pieter Janszoon Saenredam project. After studying the town's development plans, the idea for the project was born in 1982.
With this still on my mind I combined my conceptual ideas about a project about Saenredam and inspired by my studies of Japanese man-made landscapes and religious monuments, I started what evolved into the Pieter Janszoon Saenredam project. Studying the plans for Molenvliet, I found a projected reservoir along the existing road called Jaagpad. It was planned as an organic shape which had no connection with the original layout of the cultivated fields, which hundreds of years before had been wetlands where osier culture was practiced. So I proposed to have the reservoir follow the direction of the fields which were still there at that time. The shape came to resemble a rectangle, but was actually a trapezoid because of the way land division sometimes followed a radial pattern, which was oriented on the surrounding, meandering rivers and streams.
About the white trunks
Whitewashing trees is very common in various countries
around the globe. Some reasons are:
white color reflects sunlight, in the case of fruit bearing trees it prevents too early vegetation and there is less risk of the buds freezing.
When painted before the winter, it prevents freezing and cracking of the bark..
there is also opinion that it prevents insects from laying eggs in the bark.
Adding some salt and ashes to the lime solution will prevent ants from climbing up the trees; also the color will be whiter.