Placed within a framing alcove above a formal staircase, a small sapling appears to grow out of a block of wood. Penone’s ‘To Repeat the Forest’ miraculously resuscitates a young sapling from a piece of commercial timber in which it has been entombed. Time has been stripped back and the facts of early genesis exposed. In this singular work alone, Penone demonstrates his lyrical interest in the irrepressible transitions that underlie all living and material forms.
‘Maritime Alps’, first made during the 1960s, documents how Penone retreats from urban life to photograph his physical encounters within the forest. With precision, he marks out where his body has touched the tree, using wire and nails embedded within the living bark. Elsewhere, the photographs record the action of installing a cage placed over a young tree which will ascend, in tandem, towards the light. Nature here expresses a primal response to human intervention. In the most pronounced gesture, he attaches a cast of his hand to the point of original touch oand subsequently documents how the tree grows around the tightly clinging hand. This ambivalent reaction appears both nurturing and suffocating. More recently, he subjects this invasive presence to radiography to create an eerie suggestion of disease, and the tree’s ensuing strategy for recovery.
‘Space of Light’is a hollowed trunk in which Penone strips out early growth leaving a vacuum filled with ambient light and a residue of resin as if the juices of the tree had pooled together in mortal exhalation. Richard Long’s ‘Stone Print Spiral’ shares the same room, a familiar unfurling circle on the floor harvested from a Danish river, which appears more assertive, leaving less room for dialogue between fact and invention than Penone’s investigations of similar natural forces. Long’s work, simultaneously shown in adjoining galleries, is more insistently concerned with the application of superimposed mathematical and linguistic systems.
Penone also exhibits a remarkable new series of large drawings that extrude over paper backed by canvas. Titled ‘Skin of Graphite’ these subtle works suggest patterns found on the surface of membranes, plants or rocks. The faint, silvery sheen of shapes made in pencil gradually emerge from the dark paper beneath and lock together in harmonious irregularity. These ambitious drawings serve to amplify Penone’s symbiosis of human culture and Nature, a dialogue of interdependence, control, impotence and renewal.