Black Dog Publishing, £24.95
As Giuseppe Penone's year-long occupation of the Whitechapel Gallery comes to an end, it seems timely to consider him in the context of an excellent new book...
Celant emphasises Penone's rural background: whereas American land art created a ‘mediation between the wild landscape and the super industrialised civilisation’, Penone integrates himself with the landscape, recognises its traces of human history – from farmer’s to hiker’s – and cedes control of the outcome of his work to ‘the growing of the tree or the interweaving of the branches, following their rhythms and flows' to produce 'an art that continues to happen’. In so doing, he ‘transforms the sculptures into an essential form, which takes shape naturally and expands the sculptural process by introducing a natural dynamic.’ Penone says that he wanted to work with the elements he knew most deeply – the river, the wood, the forest – ‘with which I had a strong relationship when I was a kid’.
Like a priest, Penone uses traditional materials (more so than is typical of Arte Povera) and is keen to explore their life: ‘bronze, marble, earthenware, wood… it is true that these are materials which have been used in sculpture for centuries, but I use them in a different way.’ Less traditionally, he uses resin as the ‘perfume and blood of the tree’, a phrase illustrating how the artist is at his best when explaining the thoughts behind his works. Let’s take three of his major series.
Penone works across a wide range of natural forms, including notable use of leaves and thorns as well as several streams of work which use the fundamentals of the tree in a very direct manner. 'The Hidden Life Within' discusses and illustrates these works effectively. a partial checklist of which might be as follows:
Trunks with channels, filled with sap-redolent resin, cut into them. Instead of carving around the sapling in the core of the tree as in ‘To Repeat the Forest’, the negative of the form within the tree is revealed and filled with resin – as if to illustrate Penone’s assertion that ‘the two perfect states, liquid and solid – a totality of image – produce sculpture’.
The Whitechapel installation cast an empty trunk with golden bark on the inside and the artists fingerprints standing in for the bark on the outside.