Giuseppe Penone. Rovesciare i propri occhi

Rovesciare i propri occhi, 1970
series of 16 black and white photographs, 20 x 27 cm
courtesy the artist

Over the past 45 years, Arte Povera pioneer GIUSEPPE PENONE is concerned with perception, sculpture, as well as our relationship with nature, movement and more generally with life. He is best known for his work using trees although he also uses bronze, clay and stone and uses traditional techniques such as casting or carving.

In the early 1970s, PENONE used his body as his principal subject, projecting images drawn from the surface of his skin on to plaster casts of his face or on to wall surfaces. Rovesciare i propri occhi (To reverse one’s eyes), 1970 depicts the young italian artist wearing mirrored contact lenses he had custom made, rendering him blind and offering the viewer his sight instead. The sensitive corneal surfaces cease being “windows of the soul” to become instead convex screens for the traces of what exists beyond.

My work is based on simple elements and it is above all a sculptural practice. My work is not a work on representation: it is a work related to materials. This work evolved from a concept during the 1960s, at a time in which many social, artistic and poetical values were questioned, as well as conceptions of reality that stemmed out of 1800 and prior to that. The debate surrounding values, and the craving to understand the new worldview after the war, lead to an absolute reduction of values and a desire to begin from the most elementary and basic forms. During those years, artists dealt with this in different ways. Minimal Art also did this, starting from the essential form of things and starting to build on these. I began by focusing on ‘touch’ and ‘sight’ in an elementary way, starting from the idea that when you actually touch something, you leave an image—not a cultural image but an animal kind of image. This is an image that anyone can leave; it is only the elaboration of this image, which brings meaning to the image itself and thereby becomes a work of art. On its own and in itself this initial image belongs to everyone, not to the artist. It is an animal image, automatic. Breath is analogous: when you breathe you release a different volume of air, which is itself a sculpture. The meaning of sculpture is exactly this: to introduce a form with space. Breathing therefore is creating sculpture automatically. I use breath as an example to further underline the elementary aspect of this gesture. My work stems from these considerations, simple things and actions, such as the act of touching, opening the eyes and by defining the body itself as a sculpture. – GIUSEPPE PENONE in conversation with KARLYN DE JONGH

And good news: GIUSEPPE PENONE‘s work (including Rovesciare i propri occhi, 1970) is currently part of the exhibition Arte Povera. The Great Awakening at Kunstmuseum Basel on view until 3 February 2012.

Additionally the first comprehensive monograph dedicated to PENONE –  Giuseppe Penone: Forty Years of Creation – is going to be released by the end of November 2012.


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