A reflection on the duality between emptiness and fullness as constitutive and material parts of his artistic work, through a precise selection of works that relate the two locations, in a sophisticated game of juxtapositions and references.
“It is a great honor for Cuneo to host an internationally renowned artist like Giuseppe Penone, a native of Garessio and now known throughout the world. For the next few months, the monumental complex of San Francesco will become the ideal habitat for normally exhibited works in places such as the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre in Abu Dhabi ”, comments the president of the CRC Foundation Giandomenico Genta.
“The exhibition is the result of the great work carried out by the CRC Foundation in recent years, thanks also to the collaboration with top-level cultural institutions such as the Castello di Rivoli: the availability of Penone demonstrates the importance and goodness of this exhibition project , one of a kind. Also this year the CRC Foundation is able to offer the Cuneo community and the many art lovers who will come to Cuneo for the occasion to admire with their own eyes a very high level exhibition “.
“Penone’s art explores the fundamentals of sculpture as a way of knowing and understanding the world empirically,” explains the curator of the exhibition and director of Rivoli Castle Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. “His art is based on the principle of embodying a physical, tactile-visual awareness of all the organisms and their transformations.
Penone perceives the world and life in a sculptural way, touching and caressing its constituent parts. Even the act of breathing is a form of automatic sculpture, produced without realizing it. The sculpture concerns the carving, the excavation and the production of voids or, on the contrary, it concerns the fusion, the duplication and the multiplication, through a series of passages, from the positive to the negative, of the form object of duplication or copy. Both addition and subtraction occur through gestures of encounter and, therefore, through relationships of intention between the human and the matter, between the human and the non-human ”.
Penone emerged in the late sixties in the context of Arte Povera, among the most important and innovative artistic movements of the twentieth century at an international level that finds its origin in Piedmont, from which comes an important nucleus of the group of artists.
Arte Povera is generally defined as an art of heterogeneous and “poor” materials and techniques. More important than this aspect is the fact that these artists are interested in creating real energy situations, in which nature and culture are not opposites. Today the Arte Povera, and in particular the work of Penone, enjoys a renewed interest, also linked to the appreciation of that artistic freedom and the interest in nature present in it.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with an unpublished essay and an interview with the artist by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and unpublished writings by Penone. The volume includes a series of unpublished drawings that retraces the chronological and geographical development of the works in a journey, writing for the first time through words and images the story that links them to the two places that host them.
The work of art on show
- Matrix – The central nave of the Church of San Francesco in Cuneo is crossed by the horizontal sculpture Matrice, a true backbone of the exhibition project. Matrix is a fir tree that Giuseppe Penone sectioned longitudinally into two parts, dug the layers of wood following the concentric rings and opened the essence of the plant. The artist has therefore obtained the negative of the tree at a precise moment of its existence. This negative presupposes its positive, which is present precisely through its absence, except in one point, where the form blackened by bronze appears, a positive inside the tree. The recomposed longitudinal sections form a single identity and each of the parts forming the unity of the work carries with it the traces of the process. The perception of emptiness in Matrix is linked to the absence of a presence, recalled by the black “bone marrow” of the fir tree. The latter has anthropomorphic sinuosity and its length, of about 170 centimeters, is comparable to the height of an adult human being. Penone establishes a relationship between human and plant, evident also inside the sculpture, in which it is possible to notice the fingerprints that have shaped the work. This work is based on the principle and time reversal process, showing phases present in the memory of the tree that are not visible otherwise.
- Suture is a monumental sculpture that interacts with the architecture of the apse of the Church of San Francesco. This work is modulated on the shape of the structure of the human skull, divided into four sections by steel blades that connect the end points of the sutures. Penone realizes the sculpture through a fast sign, almost sketched with a pencil. A hatching that imitates cranial sutures, or rather those fixed joints between the bones of the skull. The work is supported by a Y-shaped fork formed by a steel cylinder covered with plexiglass. The Y-structure mimics the bifurcation process that is present in the synapses or nerves of the leaves, one of the most frequent phenomena in nature. Between the two materials, the artist pours a mound of earth, alluding to the sedimentation and stratification of our memory. For Penone, the brain is not a “full” entity. It is rather conceived as a mental space in which the differentiation between solid and soft matter is not defined. The skull is a shell whose conjunctions, which the artist calls “brain leaves”, alter their volume in accordance with potential brain deformations. The skull is solid yet malleable matter. The suture is a junction, a site where two parts come together. However, it is not linear, but it is a complex joint, a meeting in which, however, the two sections maintain their identity.
- The Daphne sculpture dialogues without interruption with the work Matrice. Penone realizes it through the same process, although inverted. If in the Matrix the human imprint is present inside the bronze arboreal section and the imprint of the trunk of the tree outside, in Daphne the human imprint is visible in the outer bark while in the inner one the sculpture reproduces the veins of the laurel wood that served as a model. In making this work it seems that Penone touched, almost caressed, the surface of the tree, wrapping it. The title of the work recalls the myth of Apollo and Daphne. Apollo, enraptured by the nymph because of an arrow shot by Cupid, begins to chase after Daphne, who, to escape her uncontrolled and masculine desire, asks the father-river god Peneus to save her by dissolving its forms. This is how the metamorphosis of the nymph into a laurel tree takes place, a plant that Apollo would have considered sacred from then on and with it adorned his own head, the zither and the quiver. This sculpture takes the title of Daphne because Penone models it on a laurel tree. The story of Apollo and Daphne is also functional to the understanding of a purely natural factor: the laurel is a plant that reacts by releasing an intense fragrance that protects them from insect attacks and animals. In Penone’s case, the techniques, generally behind the scenes in the art of sculpture, come to the fore, in a celebration of every passage of matter, of every transformation in sculpture, from shaping to casting, from wood, to clay, to wax, plaster, brick ovens, liquid bronze. The bronze is intertwined in the life and growth of the laurel trees, so that, as in the myth of Apollo and Daphne, the human and the non-human unite in their different temporalities and evolutions, in the dance of the universe, thanks to the encounter triggered by sculpture.
- In the Vegetal gestures series, Penone proposes a reflection on the relationship between human and plant and on the respective ability to modify the identity of the other through real or potential forms of interaction. Penone covers mannequins with clay, on which he produces furrows with his own fingers. Wax is poured into them and bronze is wax. It therefore obtains a partial wrapping of the shape of these bodies, inside which it can let the vegetables grow. Enveloping themselves in the anthropomorphic sculpture, they modify their connotations and direct their final growth. On the occasion of the exhibition “Incidences of the Void” at the Church of San Francesco in Cuneo, the vegetable gestures interact with the niches of the side aisle from which the light filters, continuing to grow and to knot spontaneously but without living vegetables. To recall the monumental sculpture grafted to the entrance of the Castello di Rivoli, the Identità model is exhibited in the Church of Francesco di Cuneo, along with studies and preparatory drawings. It refers to the large sculpture of a duplicated and inverted tree, set up in the square in front of the Castello di Rivoli. On a level of instinctive perception, one might think that the two sculptures, Matrice and Suture, are respectively the body and the head of a sleeping giant, whose thought takes shape in the model. Giuseppe Penone’s is a reflection on the process of sculpture at work. The work is nourished by the process, by the action of sculpture. So it’s a talking about sculpture. Sculpture has a precise characteristic. The theme of the double, of doubling is typical of sculpture.
- The Identity sculpture is a bronze tree, on which the artist Giuseppe Penone has grafted an albino copy in aluminum that, upside down, seems to dematerialize the wooden physicalness of the plant. Since the two trees are not mirror images, the artist has produced a symmetry of some of their parts using mirrors, embedded in the branches. By producing a refraction of the branches on both sides, the mirrors rejoin each tree with its own reflected specular identity. Mirrors are inserted not in a physical space of emptiness to be filled, but in that ethereal place of specularity, the only one in which there can be symmetry. Welcoming the visitor to the main entrance of the Castello di Rivoli, this sculptural work is inscribed in Penone’s research, with its interweaving of material and diaphanous presences. An exploration of the notion of encounter that focuses on the sense of duality. Here, reflection is embodied matter, liminal space of sculpture, space of the slightest contact of bodies. From the beginning, the image of the tree supports the construction of the artistic building of Penone, directing the contents of its investigation both towards the plant world, with the intent to visualize and modify the processes of natural growth of the elements, and towards the body that has always been the object of his research. The binary aspect of thework takes up the dual characteristic of the whole exhibition project between Cuneo and Rivoli.