A Tree in the Wood

Giuseppe Penone’s solo show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, A Tree in the Wood, is his biggest to date in the country.

Penone says

the tree is a spectacular creation because each part of the tree is necessary to its life. It is the perfect sculpture

and yet visitors to the Underground Gallery are immediately confronted by a brutal intervention.  By making a steel cast of his hand and forearm and attaching this to the trunk of a young sapling, Penone has impeded the growth of the bole at that point.

  Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto)  2004-2016, bronze   To retain 6, 8, 12 years of growth (It will continue to grow except at this point)

Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) 2004-2016, bronze

To retain 6, 8, 12 years of growth (It will continue to grow except at this point)

Trees feature repeatedly in Penone’s practice. There is a poetic feel to many works, counterbalanced by an undercurrent of menace.  In To breathe the Shadow the cast of the artist’s hand, set against a wall of laurel leaves held in cages, is pierced by a bronze cast of foliage.

  Respirare l’ombra (To breathe the shadow)  2008 metallic wire, laurel leaves, bronze and terracotta

Respirare l’ombra (To breathe the shadow) 2008 metallic wire, laurel leaves, bronze and terracotta

The materials he uses, which include stone, bronze, thorns, drawings, films, are not all immediately associated with the lightness of touch he achieves.  Associated with the Arte Povera movement early in his career, Penone has continued to explore the links between man and nature and to use durable materials rather than technology.  Penone is not completely resistant to new technologies but favours materials which have stood the test of time and will not become obsolete as culture moves forward. He is nonetheless aware of the changes that his chosen materials will undergo over time, such as the patination of bronze.  He also considers the universality of the materials he chooses.  He uses materials to illustrate the transience of human life and by inserting a trace of himself in the work also highlights the effect of human activity on nature.

The most spectacular work in the Underground Gallery must be Matrice, a 30 foot tree trunk meticulously hollowed out following the line of a single growth ring.  At one end, a bronze cast of the interior of the tree in the round reminds us of the tree’s past as a living being while alluding to the human body and more particularly to the vascular system, challenging the boundaries between man and nature.

  Matrice (Matrix)  2015 Fir tree wood and bronze

Matrice (Matrix) 2015 Fir tree wood and bronze

There is so much to take away from this exhibition, the deceptive simplicity of the works, the considered use of materials and the use of scale and the overriding frisson of dread while I wallowed in the restrained beauty of the works.

Size does not necessarily equate with emotion. If you see a small flower alongside a large sculpture, you might dwell on the flower.

I was bowled over.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 26 May 2018–28 Apr 2019