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 picnicking.
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)
A prolonged life for De Groene Kathedraal (The Green Cathedral) in Almere
Update: February 2019
After the January storm of 2018 had toppled several of the trees of De Groene Kathedraal, an investigation of the state of the trees was launched by the municipality of Almere, Staatsbosbeheer, Province of Flevoland and Land Art Flevoland. In September 2018, after having visited the land art work, Marinus Boezem expressed his wish to restore the work of art, instead of letting it decay slowly as was the original plan.
The 178 Italian poplars (Populus Nigra Italica) were planted in 1987 according to the ground plan of the Reims Notre-Dame. 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. The idea at the time was to let the poplars live their life span of approximately thirty years and then embrace their slow decay, while the hedges around the 'negative' cathedral grew to their full size.
However, the artist has indicated that he would like De Groene Kathedraal to be maintained because the context of the artwork has changed: "Time and process are important aspects of De Groene Cathedral. It is also a work that mirrors its environment. This environment, the context, is therefore also a substantive aspect of the work. Now that the environment of the work has changed, the function of De Groene Cathedral with regard to its context has also changed." The new Oosterwold district, just behind the artwork, gives the cathedral a new function, as does the fact that since 1987 more Land Artworks were built in Flevoland and De Groene Kathedraal is now part of the collection Land Art Flevoland. This prompted Boezem to envisage a longer life for the land art monument.
Read and see more:
Read the NRC-article De geest wil vliegen; Gesprek met Marinus Boezem over zijn Groene Kathedraal
Watch Omroep Flevoland's episode with Jord den Hollander about The Green Cathedral (Dutch only)
Facts and figures:
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.
(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).