Piet Slegers: Earth Sea (1982)

Aardzee (1982), Piet Slegers. Foto: Jordi Huisman
Aardzee (1982), Piet Slegers. Foto: Jordi Huisman

On August 23, 2015, Feiko Beckers gave a performance in Aardzee as part of the program Land Art Live. Read more about Being surprised is admitting you were wrong

With its five hectares, roughly as large as the surrounding plots of farmland, Aardzee (Earth Sea) is one of the biggest artworks in the Netherlands. The artwork can be accessed by means of two footbridges. Sheltered by the gently sloping embank- ments that spread across the landscape like rolling waves, there are paths covered in blue-grey shells_ a reference to the sky and surrounding water. The trees, seemingly planted at random, emphasize the sense of shelter.

Aardzee feels like an oasis of tranquillity in the open polder. It lies amidst the flat fields like a frozen movement of the seabed. The water surface of the pond is the only horizontal surface amidst the sloping surroundings. Slegers’ landscape artwork refers to the transformation of the wild Zuiderzee into the serene polder landscape and the dialogue between the elements of earth and water.

Accessibility:

Ambassador Jaap Lodders

Jaap Lodders. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen
Jaap Lodders. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen

Jaap Lodders is a member of the Provincial Executive of Flevoland. He lives in Zeewolde next to the Land Art work Aardzee by Piet Slegers.

“As I always say: Aardzee is practically my back garden. I only need to walk down the path behind my house to get there. I cycle a lot at Aardzee, my daughter rides horse in it and I often walk over with friends and family. The curious thing is that a lot of people don’t realise that such a beautiful work is located here. This is mainly because the work is not that visible for its size. It is partly included within a small nature area. Hence Aardzee, despite its huge size, is sort of withdrawn into the landscape.

But from the air, you can see it very well indeed. The other day I flew over the work and then you see how the waves of Aardzee somehow resemble the straight lines of the polder. The work represents of course the situation here before the impoldering: recalling the waves of the former Zuiderzee. In Aardzee you can actually walk through that former sea: through its rough and fierce waves. At the edges of the work, suddenly fields of grain emerge and you can see how the polder was born from the sea. It’s here that the polder literally and figuratively rises to the surface. Once at the end of the work, you can see how Aardzee merges with the landscape, like a wave that dies out. Yes, I think it’s a magnificent work. I really love the polder anyway. The space.

I also really appreciate if you can interpret a work in different ways. I visited Aardzee many times, but every time I’m surprised again what I find behind a hill or where a path leads me. This work really invites you to look further: to discover what’s behind the next bridge or hill. That intrigues me again and again.

Aardzee is not only a place where you continuously discover new things, but also a place that can unexpectedly come to life. In 2013 Suburbia played Blind Date by Theo van Gogh at Aardzee over the course of a few weeks. This play is about a couple of which the relationship is severely damaged by the loss of their child in a car crash. They grow apart, but keep contact via personal ads. Then they have a few dates in alternating settings. This play was performed throughout the entire landscape of Aardzee. So at one moment the actors appeared via this path and then they disappeared again via that one. For the next date they returned over here, but then they played it from a different angle. At some point in the play their deceased child returns in their dreams. Then the parents commit suicide. For this scene the actors walked to the end of Aardzee to fade into nothingness behind a far hill. During the act the whole work became a stage and the landscape played along. Even the traffic lights at the far-away road further broadened the stage. That was utterly fascinating.”

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Aardzee (1982), Piet Slegers. Foto: Jordi Huisman
Aardzee (1982), Piet Slegers. Foto: Jordi Huisman

Aardzee by the Dutch artist Piet Slegers (Mierlo, the Netherlands, 1927) is situated in the middle of the vast Flevopolder. Measuring five hectares, which is as large as the surrounding plots of farmland, Aardzee is one of the biggest artworks in the Netherlands. The artwork can be accessed by two footbridges. Aardzee feels like a private oasis of tranquility in the middle of the open landscape of the polder.

Sheltered by the undulations, which roll through the landscape like pushing waves, there are paths covered in blue-grey shells - a reference to the sky and water. The poplars that are seemingly planted at random strengthen the sense of shelter. When the wind blows, the silver-grey leaves of the trees rustle like the murmur of the waves. (1) Zigzagging between the slopes, now and then a glimpse can be caught of the extensiveness of the surrounding polder. Only when you're standing on top of one of the hills you can experience the vast endlessness of the polder landscape in all its intensity. As the stilled motion of the sea bottom Aardzee sits in between the flat fields. (2) At one spot, Slegers has punched a hole in the dike that encircles the work. This made water from the adjoining canal flow into Aardzee. The water surface of the pond is the only horizontal surface amidst the slopes. With this work, Slegers refers to the transformation of the wild Zuiderzee into the serene polder landscape and to the dialogue between the elements of earth and water. With Aardzee, Slegers wants to give expression to the force of the water. The artwork is related directly to nature and the location's history. (3) With its stilled waves, Aardzee reminds us of the Zuiderzee that could be found here half a century ago.

For Piet Slegers, Aardzee was the crown on an extensive oeuvre that he worked on since 1947. Many of his artworks, often made of stainless steel, are inspired by nature but are frequently situated in the urban landscape or along the motorway. Slegers liked to confront nature and culture with one another. Important themes in his work are light, water and earth, which he ties together in a poetic fashion. An example of this is the Sfeerproject (Sphere Project, 1980-1981) that he designed for the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where the elements of water, wind and sun determine the work's appearance. Or Landschapsontmoetingsscupltuur (Land Encounter Sculpture, 1978-1992) in Lelystad, where two landscape shapes made of stainless steel rise up from the ground and meet each other in front of a complex of office buildings. The sun is reflected in the stainless steel as a 'breakthrough of light'. (4)

Location: Vogelweg (corner Lepelaarstocht, between Ooievaarsweg and Reigerweg), Zeewolde
Materials: earth, water, concrete clinkers, clay shells, blue shells, white poplars
Dimensions: 100 x 500 metres
Proprietor: the Municipality of Zeewolde. Eart Sea is located on the grounds of Het Flevo-landschap, who take care of maintenance.

Notes:
(1) Jaap Bremer & Alex de Vries, (2004), Piet Slegers, p. 86
(2) Ibid., p.82
(3) Ibid., p.86
(4) Ibid., p.78