Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Golden Emptiness: Spazio di Luce

Giuseppe Penone at Whitechapel Gallery, London

The exhibition of Giuseppe Penone at Whitechapel Gallery focuses on one installation Spazio di Luce. It presents a bronze cast of a tree, segmented and laid out horizontally in the exhibition space. The trunk rests on its own branches. 

First of all, the work impresses with the dynamism of its shapes and textures. Golden light lures the gaze inside. Then the viewer's attention switches to the complexity of meanings transmitted. The artist himself explains that the use of gold sheets inside the empty bronze cast refers to the idea of gold as the representation of sunlight since ancient times. The telescopic cast of the tree trunk allows a view through the whole installation, revealing the interplay of light and shadow. Penone has intentionally cut out some casts of the branches to let the light in through resulting holes. 

This way, the tree consists of two surfaces: an inner golden layer, the aim of which is to provide aesthetic pleasure and provoke curiosity, and the external bronze 'bark' that carries the traces of natural growth and artistic recast. 

Giuseppe Penone creates a luxurious object that has an obvious aesthetic as well as material value. But this work is also a result of a collaborative activity of the people involved in making of a wax cast from the real tree trunk. As a consequence, the bark of the bronze tree is covered with their fingerprints. The work combines a strong visual statement with an elaborated philosophic expression of interaction between nature and society. 

Only after becoming a cultural object is the tree eligible for appropriation of the gallery space. It needed to overcome its 'raw' stage to become involved into collaboration between the natural and the cultural and to embody the artist's idea of unity.

The installation Spazio di Luce extends through the ascetic exhibition space. Its inner shine attracts the viewer, while the projecting branches do not allow a close approach; in a way they attack him. This work contains a profound contradiction of the relation between humanity and nature, an eternal struggle between a wish to integrate and a lack of contact.

Photo: Whitechapel Gallery