Marinus Boezem: The Green Cathedral

The Green Cathedral by Marinus Boezem. Photo Vincent Wigbels
The Green Cathedral by Marinus Boezem. Photo Vincent Wigbels

Ambassadors Rianne Makkink and Jurgen Bey
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On August 25th, 2013, artist Melanie Bonajo gave a performance in The Green Cathedral as part of the program Land Art Live. Read more about Biosphere Above Nations

Squarely set within Flevoland’s geometric polder, is a ‘gothic’ cathedral. No sky-high stone vaults, metre-high stained glass windows with divine scenes or echoing corridors, but a cathedral formed by a group of Italian poplars. Artist Marinus Boezem developed the idea for this Gothic Growing Project in 1978. In 1987, upon the invitation of the engineers of the Rijksdienst IJssel- meerpolders (RIJP), he planted 178 poplars (Populus Nigra Italica) according to the ground plan of the Notre-Dame of Reims.

Between the trees, concrete paths have been laid out, reminiscent of the ribs of the cross vaults. The circles of shells around the trees refer to the sea that covered this entire area only half a century ago. Much like the Gothic cathedral, Boezem sees the creation of the Flevoland polder on the bottom of the former Zuider- zee as the pinnacle of human achievement.

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Ambassadors Rianne Makkink and Jurgen Bey

Rianne Makkink en Jurgen Bey. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen
Rianne Makkink en Jurgen Bey. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen

Architect Rianne Makkink and designer Jurgen Bey lead Studio Makkink & Bey in Rotterdam and the Noordoostpolder. As ambassadors, they underline the importance of more art in the polder.

RM: “Marinus Boezem was a teacher at the TU Delft in the eighties. He taught spatial design. Boezem was the first to teach me scale, who made me think big. This is also visible in De Groene Kathedraal. The Land Art works in Flevoland are no modest works; instead they have a large, beautiful size.”

JB: “Personally I consider De Groene Kathedraal to be the best Land Art work in Flevoland. Just because it is literally about that what a cathedral is: the beauty of constructing space. The work does not give this immediately away, but constructs a beautiful image. The joke is: I have never been there; but as goes for fairy tales: they do not need to happen to be lived. Same goes for this work. It strongly appeals to the imagination anyway.”

RM: “I’m also curious how many people have looked at the work digitally: how many visitors does the work have then? The focus is now often only on physical visitors. But you can also visit the De Groene Kathedraal in a book or on the Internet. In a similar way a maquette may give you a feeling of scale and it’s an experience at the same time. Boezem once taught me that horizontal scale is something different than vertical scale. The realisation that you can also experience something within a different reality is really fantastic. If you think about it, it’s weird that that so many things are perceived by us only within a physical reality.”

JB: “De Groene Kathedraal also shows that there was still room for a cultural perspective in the polder in the eighties. It shows this simply by taking up space. It would be a start to have more of such work in the Flevopolder. Whichever way you look at it, there is still a lot of space in the polder. Especially in winter the land is almost empty. I’m convinced that there are still many options here for Land Art. But sadly at the moment very little is possible, because this polder is strictly seen as economic land. That’s an inverse logic. First you make a promised land, one that you sketch and implement by a cultural and economic plan. Subsequently it becomes protected land, heavily ploughed in the name of economics without considering a cultural vision or long-term perspective. It should all be about the two-fold beauty of this area: the land itself and its cultivation.”

RM: “Sixty-five years after its reclamation, the Noordoostpolder really asks for a new vision. You cannot let everything merely be decided by economics. At the moment there is only a heritage report and wishes, but there are no guidelines: nobody is in charge. While this polder was born from rigid regulation. It was a true state polder, strictly managed until the nineties. Even the grey colour on the doors was dictated.”

JB: “The polder is par excellence a place for pioneering. It’s high time that we start to pioneer here culturally too. So that it may always be the land of innovation.”

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De Groene Kathedraal van Marinus Boezem. Foto: Vincent Wigbels
De Groene Kathedraal van Marinus Boezem. Foto: Vincent Wigbels

In Flevoland's geometric polder, in Almere Hout, a 'gothic' cathedral can be found. No sky-high stone vaults, immense stained glass windows with divine scenes or echoing corridors, but a cathedral that is formed by a group of Italian poplars. Artist Marinus Boezem (Leerdam, the Netherlands, 1934) developed the idea for this Gothic Growing Project in 1978. In 1987, at the invitation of the engineers of the Rijksdienst Ijsselmeerpolders (RIJP), he planted 178 poplars (Populus Nigra Italica) according to the ground plan of the Reims Notre-Dame (1211-1290). Between the trees concrete paths have been laid out, reflecting the ribs of the cross vaults. The circles of shells around the trees refer to the sea that could be found here only about half a century ago.

The transparant walls of the almost full-grown trees rustle in the polder wind. Looking through the tops of the poplars one can see the endless blue sky that the medieval people tried to imitate with their gothic vaults. Gothic architecture has organic origins. The stone columns, the cross-ribbed vaults and the adorned capitals refer to tree trunks, branches and foliage. (1). De Groene Kathedraal is transformed to its original source of inspiration. This cathedral symbolises the desire to ascend towards divinity, leaving earthly matters behind like a modern day Icarus. In the same way that the artist longs to remove himself from tradition. (2).

Although De Groene Kathedraal does not have a religious function and does not occupy a center stage in the city centre, Boezem's cathedral is part of Almere's cultural life. Wedding ceremonies and spontaneous music performances are staged here on a regular basis and in the summer it is a popular spot for picknicking. Boezem considers the gothic cathedral a milestone of human capability, just like the creation of the polders of Flevoland on the bottom of the former Zuiderzee. Whereas in Almere the architecture rapidly appears on the horizon, De Groene Kathedraal is a construction that grows slowly and organically. Boezem gives the new city a contemporary cathedral: not one that is built in a hundred years, but one that grows along with the city in a few decades.

In contrast to the 13th century French cathedral that was built for eternity, the cathedral in Almere has a temporary symbolic function. The specific poplar was not only chosen because of its dead straight, slender and stylish silhouette and fast growth, but also because of its life span of approximately thirty years. When the trees reach Reims cathedral's height of thirty metres after a few decades, decay will set in slowly. On the plot parallel to De Groene Kathedraal, Boezem has left open the outline of Reims cathedral in a forest of oak and hornbeam hedges. While De Groene Kathedraal decays slowly, the hedges around the 'negative' cathedral grow to their full size. Within this thick and silent enclosure the memory of the transparent and rustling Groene Kathedraal is kept alive.

Although De Groene Kathedraal is considered a Land Art project, Boezem is also known as 'an artist of ideas'. He wants to transform ideas into shapes as quickly as possible and to achieve this he doesn't limit himself to a certain style or material. This fitted in with the development of the international visual arts in the 1960s, including Conceptual Art, Minimal Art, Arte Povera and Land Art. In 1960 he let visitors take place on folding chairs on the dike overlooking the constructed polder of Asperen. In doing so, he declared the polder itself to be art. (3) In 1969, as his contribution to the much talked about exhibition Op Losse Schroeven (Square Pegs and Round Holes) at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Boezem hung bedding from the windows on the first floor. He literally brought a breath of fresh air to the museum galleries. He trades in the traditional values of aesthetics and originality for the repetition of clichés and unorthodox material. For Boezem, the cathedral is a spiritual logo and its shape regularly recurs in his work. (4) For instance, the work Kathedraal (Cathedral, 1999), which is constructed of tree trunks, can be found in the Crown Estates of Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn and on the dike at Neeltje Jans in Zeeland he made a cathedral of boulders (Abri, 1994). (5)

Read the NRC-article De geest wil vliegen; Gesprek met Marinus Boezem over zijn Groene Kathedraal

Location: Kathedralenpad (to be reached via Tureluurweg), Almere Materials: poplars, shells, concrete, granite
Dimensions: two parts, 150 x 75 metres each
Commissioned in 1987 by the Municipality of Almere. Thanks to: Mondriaan Foundation, the Province of Flevoland, Rijkswaterstaat directie IJsselmeergebied.
The Green Cathedral is now owned and kept by the Municipality of Almere. The maintenance of the grass and trees is done by Tomin Groep. The surrounding grounds are owned and kept by Staatsbosbeheer.

Have a look at the Hollandse Meesters documentary on Marinus Boezem:

Notes:
(1) Edna van Duyn, Immateriële Architectuur. De Groene Kathedraal van Marinus Boezem (Immaterial Architecture. The Green Cathedral by Marinus Boezem), p. 30, in: Antoinette Andriesse & Lia Gieling, (ed.), (1999), Landschapskunst in Almere (Land Art in Almere), Museum De Paviljoens.
(2) ibid., p.30
(3) Marinus Boezem interviewed by Jaap Evert Abrahamsen, p.139, in: Martine Spanjers & Annick Kleizen (ed.), (2007), De Collectie Flevoland (The Flevoland Collection), Museum De Paviljoens.
(4) Edna van Duyn, Immateriële Architectuur. De Groene Kathedraal van Marinus Boezem (Immaterial Architecture. The Green Cathedral by Marinus Boezem), p.30, in: Antoinette Andriesse & Lia Gieling, (ed.), (1999), Landschapskunst in Almere (Land Art in Almere), Museum De Paviljoens.
(5) A complete overview of the work of Marinus Boezem can be found in the publication Boezem (1999), an oeuvre catalogue by Edna van Duyn and Franzjosef Witteveen. Also in Almere is Boezem's work Tussen het water / De Fonteintjes (Amidst the water / The Fountains, 2006).