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LANDSCAPE AS PROJECT
Lucien den Arend: Landscape as Project Topos European Landscape Magazine, 3/1993 'Designing Landscape'
Lucien den Arends`s conceptional projects have provided the Dutch landscape with striking landmarks.
The artistic development of Lucien den Arend, a Dutch sculptor
and artist who takes the landscape into remarkable consideration in
his environmental projects, began with painting from nature - or even
perhaps with the shelters he made himself of flexible willow rods as
a child. On turning to sculpture in the sixties, he not only made objects
out of bronze, steel and other classical materials but also began to
incorporate elements that he found in his immediate surroundings in
his work, leading on to a development towards his present-day landscape
Den Arend calls his work geometrically abstract, and it is clear that mathematics and a conceptual approach play an important role in it. He is not so much concerned with the final result as with the actual working with materials, with the constructive phase itself. As he wrote in 1988, "I study delineation of form, from the inside outwards: transdimensionally. legible form. delineation of space. scientifically." The years that den Arend spent in the USA as a child and student helped him gain a distanced approach to The Netherlands, his native country, and enabled him to recognize the particular character and potential of its landscape and traditions. As far as his work was concerned, he was aware, however, that he would have to take a different approach in the Dutch landscape, one that clearly bears the mark of man's ordering hand, than in a "natural" situation, where an object of art immediately stands out. He realized he would have to relate his work to other designed forms and that it would have to be extremely forceful in character if it were to gain the same evocation as in a natural setting. This could be achieved, in his opinion, through greater analysis of scale; after all, in a desert a car is as spectacular as a Boeing 747.
Den Arend takes the materials he uses from the surroundings of a given project. Concrete and steel predominate in his technical objects, while earth, trees, lawns, water are used and given new meaning in his landscape works. He is very fond of trees, such as pollard willows, whose rods will immediately take root once they are struck into the earth and which regularly change in appearance in accordance with the osiery tradition. Another tree he likes to work with is the linden tree, which is traditionally found in front of farmhouses in The Netherlands, where it is planted parallel to the facade in numbers in two or three, its trunks banded white with lime.
Unlike town and open space planners, den Arend does not seek to create interesting or beneficial effects with the natural elements he uses; rather his main concern is with evoking the unexpected, and thus he gives hills, shrub plantings, reservoirs and canals the form of curves, semicircles, squares, lines and grids - an exercise in practical geometry. Indeed, he set up a foundation in the small town of Barendrecht in homage to the painter Pieter Janszoon Saenredam (1597-1665), whose objective and scrupulously precise depiction of architecture he admires, coupling it with a project that links mathematics and landscape culture, Japanese inspiration and Dutch tradition at the same time.
The project is to be as transitional in character as both Dutch osier cultivation, where the pollard willows are replaced when they fall apart once they get old, and the Grand Shrine of Ise in Japan, where a new shrine is set up every 20 years in replacement of the old one, which is demolished. In this respect den Arend took one of the reservoirs used in The Netherlands to help regulate the water level and changed its quasi-organic shape to a rectangular one, providing it at the same time with 16 by 16 rows of willow branches in memory of the days when osier beds played an important role in the reclamation of land. Once the branches have grown into mature trees, their closely set trunks will be evocative of the interior of a crypt. In June 1997, the 400th anniversary of the artist's birth, and every twelve and a half years after that, this "interior" is to be whitewashed to increase the association with Saenredam's Calvinistic church interiors. The foundation that den Arend has set up is to ensure that this regular ceremony is continued after his death.
Art in the landscape is public in the best sense of the word. It reaches far more people than the usual works that hang in living rooms or museums. Landscapes and urban open spaces belong to us all, and landscape projects are works of art that can be experienced by everyone, every day. Moreover, projects that include trees are able to grow with the people and age with them.