On seeing the wood and the trees

Giuseppe Penone, Tree of 12 Metres, 1980-82

Perhaps it’s down to my preoccupation with forests this week, but I decided it was time to revisit Giuseppe Penone’s Tree of 12 Metres at Tate Modern. The starting point of this sculpture – an industrially sawn timber beam – remains visible at the base of the pieces but Penone has carved it back meticulously and – by following the clues given by the knots in the wood – revealed the wood’s past as a tree.

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A web of enchantment

Lygia Pape, Ttéia 1, C (Web), 2011 (Installation view, Serpentine Gallery)

Perhaps it’s just my preoccupation of the week (or perhaps I’m desperate to make links here, no matter how tenuous), but seeing Lygia Pape’s beautiful installation of gold thread at the Serpentine Gallery put me in mind of a forest. The space is disrupted by thread that sparkles in the space rendering it unnavigable. The thread seems to form beams of light through the darkness, like sunlight penetrating a forest. Though the whole of Magnetized Space, Lygia Pape’s installation at the Serpentine Gallery, is fascinating and though this may be the only work I’ve seen in real life before, Ttéia 1, C is definitely the highlight for me.

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Shadows in the forest

Loris Gréaud, Gunpowder Forest Bubble, 2008

There is something enchanted about Loris Gréaud’s Gunpowder Forest Bubble (currently installed in Palazzo Grassi as part of the exhibition The World Belongs to You). By the light the moon, which hangs low in the shadowy forest, I can see that I am alone. The trees are bare and dark; they loom above me. There is a sense of theatre about the installation, albeit without a predetermined narrative. This is the forest as a fairytale space where anything is possible, and anything – perhaps especially – danger might be revealed. And there is danger here, notionally at least, for the stark carbonised trees are coated in gunpowder. Rationally I might know that the risk is minimal to non-existent, but still: gunpowder! That hardly seems safe.

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Small world

Mariele Neudecker, I don’t know how I resisted the urge to run, 1998

There is something oddly strange about the way the light streams through the trees in Mariele Neudecker’s I don’t know how I resisted the urge to run. But for the uneven ground of the forest floor, I think I’d want to run too. The trees are bare and though their trunks are healthily tall and straight their branches are short and spindly. That all is not well here is reinforced by the eeriness of the atmosphere; the scene is permeated by a slightly toxic-looking fog

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Machines for living

Dan Holdsworth, Untitled (A Machine for Living), 1999

In Dan Holdsworth’s long-exposure photographs the landscape – and the structures built within it – takes on a strange other-worldly quality. This comes in the main from the effect of artificial light, which pollutes the scene giving a strange, toxic glow. Bluewater shopping centre, recorded at night in the bright glow of its own streetlights, seems far removed from the consumerist mecca we might expect.

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Fading away

Bill Jacobson, Interim Portrait #378, 1992

Like all media, photography has its conventions and focus is one of the most firmly entrenched of these. Photographs are mean to be in focus. They’re meant to be sharp. It’s in the rules. But then, as any fool knows, rules are meant to be broken.

Bill Jacobson, then, is a serial breaker of rules.

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Glossy indifference

Gary Hume, Bad Tooth, 2011

Gary Hume’s exhibition The Indifferent Owl is as slick and polished as one might expect from an artist who paints with gloss paint and exhibits at White Cube, but for me, though I generally like Hume’s work a lot, there is something missing. Quite what that something is I don’t know but maybe it’s the indifference in the exhibition’s title seeping out and affecting the way I see the work.

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Size isn’t everything

Anselm Kiefer, Dat rosa miel apibus, 2010-11

There is something extraordinary about Anselm Kiefer’s paintings. The surfaces aren’t quite like anyone else’s and the scale of the work means that standing before one I always feel part of the picture space. The paintings in Kiefer’s exhibition Il Mistero delle Cattedrali at White Cube Bermondsey are less heavily textured than some of his work but the surfaces are still rough and often salty.

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