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Richard Long and Giuseppe Penone: Touching the Earth

June 7, 2011

When the first human footprint marked the dust of Africa, a fascinating relationship began between humanity and the natural world. For as long as humankind has embraced civilisation – from the first attempts at irrigation to the more recent concerns of global warming and the means of sourcing sustainable energy – we have sought to manipulate the Earth and tame its elements to our advantage. With the explosion of Land Art in the 1970s, this relationship between man and Earth came to the forefront of artistic exploration: art escaped from the confines of the studio and embraced the wild qualities and vast expanses of the natural world, which in turn became a malleable artistic medium. The artists Richard Long (British) and Giuseppe Penone (Italian) have long been exponents of this particular artistic approach and their dual exhibition at Haunch of Venison, London showcases a continued investigation of this relationship, drawing on their own experiences to create unique and engaging pieces that explore mankind’s imprint on the natural world.

Spanning the top floor of the building you traverse the gallery space in a generally circuitous fashion. At the top of the grand staircase is a central landing leading off from which are the east galleries housing the works of Long, and the west galleries in which you discover Penone. Whichever artist you choose to begin with, the gallery’s layout means that you will encounter the other before returning again to the landing, your circuit completed. This central landing area acts, therefore, to physically connect the east and west galleries. Fittingly it also unites, by way of the Penone artwork displayed there, a concept at the root of both artists’ practice. Projection (2000) takes the intricate whirls of a fingerprint and reproduces them three-dimensionally in bronze. Initially small in scale, the castings increase in size and magnitude forming a telescope-like shape supported amongst upright branches. It is a clear metaphor for the way man imposes himself upon the natural world; the suggestion of a telescope indicating, given its position at the crossroads of both artists’ endeavours, the scrutiny with which they critique our place in the order of things.

Projection, 2000

Projection (detail), 2000

Long, renowned for turning walking into an act worthy of artistic merit, engages the same topic through his tried and tested concept. Autumn Snowline, Switzerland (2010) is a photograph depicting the furrow created by the artist as he ploughed through a layer of settled snow. Because nature exists in a state of constant flux, works forged from the landscape often hold true to its ephemeral characteristics and, accordingly, the concept of time becomes nuanced in the work. In the case of Autumn Snowline, not only does the photograph document Long’s individual impact on a particular area of wilderness at a particular time, it engages notions of ephemerality as the only lasting record of Long’s act – all trace of his passage having eventually succumbed to the elements.

Autumn Snowline, 2010

Another of Penone’s works in the exhibition succinctly marries the ideas of human impingement and time. In Maritime Alps – It will continue to grow except at this point (1968-78) a bronze cast of the artist’s hand is attached to a sapling that, over the course of ten years, distorts the growth of the tree.

Maritime Alps - It will continue to grow except at this point, 1968-78

Similar conceptual concerns, in so far as they relate to the significance of time, can be found in Long’s textual works. Being at Midday (2011), to cite one example, is a description of a precise moment during his walk in France, superimposed onto the wall of the gallery. Having carefully planned the walk so that he would be in a specific place at a specific point in time, Long alludes to the interplay of the human and the cosmic, of measurement and movement.

Being at Midday, 2011

The conceptual nature of these works requires a considered approach and Haunch of Venison provides a fitting setting for such contemplation. Its vast galleries are quiet; its white walls offer no distraction from the art. Just metres away from the clamour of Regent Street only the soft sound of your footsteps breaks the silence. You feel as you imagine Long must have felt on one of his walks: surrounded by beautiful things, contemplating the world around him and his position within it.

The exhibitions Richard Long: Human Nature and Giuseppe Penone run at Haunch of Venison until August 20, 2011.

Click here for more information.

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2 comments

  1. Fascinating – had not heard of Penone before – will def visist based on your review


    • Thank you. Do let me know what you think of it.



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