Friday, June 10, 2011

To repeat the forest

Richard Long and Giuseppe Penone both came to prominence in the late sixties making art in the landscape, and their most recent work is currently being shown together at Haunch of Venison in London.  I went along last week keen to see Long's new work but equally interested in Penone, whose installations, sculptures and interventions have involved trees, leaves, rivers, earth and stones. I remember really liking his Breathing the Shadow - a room lined with fragrant laurel leaves containg a small gilt bronze lung - which we saw in 2000 in the old Tour de la Gache of the Palais Des Papes in Avignon.  This new exhibition is full of trees and starts with To repeat the forest - fragment 28, part of a series Penone has been making since 1969 where the trees hidden inside mass-produced lumber are liberated by carving away the pulp to reveal 'the way the tree rose into the sky, from which side it absorbed the southern light, whether it was born in a crowded forest, in a meadow or at the edge of a wood.'  Several works connect the skin of a tree to the touch of the artist - a wall drawing where rings propogate out from a finger print and photographs of like It Will Continue to Grow Except at This Point (1968-78) where a tree has been growing round a cast of the artist's hand.  One room is shared between Long and Penone - a stone spiral and a block of wood.  'Here Penone has chosen to show a wood work in which he has carved into the block following the rings of growth.  Long's sculpture in river stones is a spiral which echoes the expanding rings.'

The Richard Long exhibition is called 'Human Nature' and in addition to the expected text pieces, photographs and floor sculptures it includes a small room with objects that hint at the peopled landscape generally missing from his work - North African tent pegs, scrap metal from Niger and driftwood from the river Avon.  The final room includes a huge mud work called Human Nature (2011) which has a 'human' side made from clay with a Chinese blue pigment and a 'natural' side where Long has used a red clay from Vallauris in France.  Moor Moon (2009) is also a work in two parts, a 39 mile walk 'from one metaphor to another', pairing landmarks on Dartmoor with landmarks on the moon. I have listed the locations below as I think they each have their own poetry.  There is something poignant in the way an airless grey plain of basaltic lava on the moon has been named Sinus Iridium, the bay of rainbows. Here it is matched with Raybarrow Pool, described on Dartmoor Walks as a dangerous mire, 'an enclosed and isolated place'.

Visualising Richard Long striding through the landscape I could't help having the rather banal thought that all the walking has certianly kept him fit.  Fibonacci Walk, Somerset (2009) is a text work recording 'continuous walks on consecutive days' in 2009.  These increased in length according to the Fibonacci number sequence: 1 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89.  89 miles?  So he walked 89 miles in one day?  After walking 55 miles the previous day?  Maybe it just seems extraordinary because I spend my days walking something more like a Kolakoski number sequence (1 mile, 2 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile...)  Long now has a lengthy backcatalogue of walks that he can return to, re-trace and reinterpret. Two Continuous Walks Following the Same Line, England (2011) for example matches a straight walk northward across Dartmoor with another straight walk northward in 1979. Not much seems to have changed - a pair of buzzards, dead sheep, gorse, ponies... some larksong this time, foxes last time.  You could probably write a whole article on the different ways in which land artists have returned to those places they once made into artworks (for another example see the Simon English project I described last year). Giuseppe Penone too has gone back to the woods in order to photograph the trees he first came upon back in the early Arte Povera days; at Haunch of Venison, It will continue to grow except at this point - radiography (2010) shows the trace of the young artist's hand on a tree, in the form of a ghostly x-ray.

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