“Tactile perception brings us closer to the present.” Giuseppe Penone
Laurent Busine notes: “There is no gesture more intensely Giuseppe Penone’s than the fist: that is, the quantity that a hand can grasp, or that a hand can squeeze and crush, that a hand can hold and keep, or that a hand can stroke and caress.” The works presented in both exhibitions (the titles of which refer to past, future and present) reveal that for Giuseppe Penone human gestures and tactile perceptions are connected to individuality and time: “A form without a human gesture is a collective present; with a gesture, it is an individual present.”
The London gallery presents works emblematic of Penone’s interest in the metaphysical relationship of his body to the living ecosystem. Installed on the lower gallery, Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) (2004-2016) is a primary example that illustrates how central the contact between the body and its surrounding environment is to his practice. In 1968, Penone attached a bronze cast of his hand to the trunk of a young tree. 6 years later, he cast this tree in situ, and again at years 8 and 12, recording the growing symbiosis of his hand and the tree enveloping it. Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) comprises these three casts made in the past 12 years. While the artist’s grasping hand hinders the natural growth, each tree adapts to the constraints of the metallic touch, subsequently embracing and absorbing the hand. Here, both the human body and the tree are simultaneously metamorphosed to become one inseparable entity. Its sculptural identity continues to organically evolve and link its past, present and future.
Respirare l’ombra (2008), a wall installation consisting of cages of laurel leaves, will cover one of the main walls in the lower gallery and perfume the space with its scent. While tactility is central to Penone’s practice, the sense of smell is employed to further transform our experience of the world around us. A forest of interweaving bronze branches supporting terracotta casts (Terra su terra, 2014/2015) and a group of marble and bronze tree sculptures (Indistinti confini, 2012) will populate both gallery floors. Like Respirare l’ombra, these works recreate an environment similar to the woods of Garessio, Italy, where Penone had immersed himself during his formative years. The man-made parts of the works - the cages in Respirare l’ombra and the marble that encases the roots of Indistinti confini - at first appear to interrupt the natural progression observed in forest-like environments, but eventually surrender to the organic force that searches for harmonious unity through gentle transfiguration.
In the lower gallery, Penone returns in full circle to his theme of ‘touch’ with his body of work Corteccia (1986), representing his daughter Caterina in a series of terracotta portraits. Certain areas are painted with majolica glaze to emphasize the artist’s touch, which goes beyond serving as a tool but as an object itself for the sculpture. Gianfranco Maraniello states in his essay ‘Giuseppe Penone: the Possibility of Sculpture’, “The hand itself is the first mould for every form with its imprint transferred to the material to be shaped, thus initiating a constitutive negative dialectic.”
The Paris gallery presents a selection of works where the artist makes the human body’s relationship to the natural world palpable with the clear and resonant print of his hand. In Germinazione (2005), a series of six hanging wall sculptures in acrylic resin, the imprints of the artist’s hands are preserved in casts of tree trunks and branches. The body of work entitled Avvolgere la terra (To unfold the earth) (2014) combines terracotta with distinct materials such as engobe of quartz color, resin, leather and aluminum. The terracotta shape originates from a simple gesture of the artist’s hands: “the action of unfolding earth with the hands, containing it”. Emblematic of Penone’s wider oeuvre, this gesture underlines the intimate, complex connection between humans and nature. “It is the form impressed into the material by the fluid movement of the universe. In a simple handful of clay we have the synthesis of a universal form.”
Playing on the relation between the container and the contained, Il vuoto del vaso (2005) brings together solid terracotta pots and x-ray plates. While the pots bear witness to the pressure applied on clay, the accompanying x-rays reveal the gestures of the artist’s hands, making visible an invisible and fleeting process. A series of black and white photographic negatives Geometria nelle mani – 4 aprile (2004) show Penone’s hands holding small geometrical wooden shapes. On each image, the hollow space appears as a bright void, leaving our imaginations to fill the space left by the artist’s hands, the future space of a sculpture.
Giuseppe Penone follows his exploration on the limits of seeing and touching with Pugno di grafite - palpebra (2012), a large graphite drawing on black canvas depicting the texture of an eyelid, adorned with a single handful of compressed graphite. For the artist, the closed eyelids give “the exact definition of the boundaries and space of thought “ and “reflect the fact that one’s body is present inside space”.
Penone’s new and iconic sculptures are currently on display in the Rijksmuseum Gardens in Amsterdam (until October 2nd, 2016). The Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (MART) has just presented a major survey exhibition. Penone’s work has also been recently exhibited at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2015); Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne (2015); Beirut Art Center (2014); Musée de Grenoble (2014); Kunstmuseum Winterthur (2013); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013). Giuseppe Penone presented his large-scale sculptures in several prestigious gardens such as the gardens of the Château de Versailles (2013); Madison Square Park, New York (2013); Giardino di Boboli, Forte di Belvedere, Firenze (2014); La Venaria Reale, near Turin (2015).
Giuseppe Penone was born in 1947 in the small town of Garessio, in Piedmont region, Italy. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Turin where he lives and works. In 2014 Penone was awarded with the prestigious Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award for Sculpture. In 2007 he represented Italy at the 52nd Venice Biennale.