On the ground floor of London’s Whitechapel Gallery stands the Bloomberg commission- Giuseppe Penone’s “Spazio di Luce” (Space of Light), 12 meters of hollowed out tree trunk decorated with a gold leaf interior. The trunk balances on its own branches creating the allusion of suspension, allowing onlookers to peer inside and around it.
Giuseppe Penone, born 1947, was a member of the ‘Arte Povera’ movement, a group of Italian artists who attempted to connect art and life by using modest materials for their projects. Penone, who produced his first major project in 1968, used elements of his body for ensuing creations, always seeking to maintain a link between the natural and the synthetic, or civilized world. Given this artistic background, the use of luxurious gold leaf in this piece is noteworthy. It could symbolize the co-existence of the harsh, rich city scope and the delicacy of nature, which is not necessarily a harmonious one.
Talks and events that explore the relationship between nature and the city accompany the installation, which itself could be said to provide a counterpoint to the the urban location of the gallery. The presentation of nature in this way might be viewed as somewhat brutal, as a formerly living organism has been dissected for a viewer to examine its different elements in a controlled fashion. The light is then also able to capture the reflective properties of the internal medium and provide a more ‘man made’ elegance to the piece which overlooks its natural beauty.
The paradox of manipulated-nature can be seen in the piece itself, as the repurposing of the trunk, paired with the use of refined metal on wood, might seem contradictory. However, the concept of “Arte Povera” could be said to be well expressed with this sculpture that combines the organic and natural with the man-made and cultural.
“Spazio di Luce” runs through August, 2013.