The big fir tree in Piazza della Signoria: exclusive interview with Giuseppe Penone
The works, his art, the thoughts of this great contemporary artist
We heard from him the day after the inauguration of his large fir tree in the historic heart of the city, in the centre of the square whose boundaries include Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi and the Loggia dei Lanzi. Giuseppe Penone wins you over with his kindness, the perfect regularity of his thought that envelops you and transports you to a living, balanced universe, where man and nature can grow together.
Let's start by talking about the work: it is the largest installation ever exhibited in a public space in Florence, 22 metres of stainless steel fusion for the trunk and bronze for the bamboo canes that rest light and strong on the branches.
"The work in Piazza della Signoria, like the exhibition in the Uffizi, was not conceived in relation to Dante. Certainly the constant, vertical growth of the trees, which is particularly evident in the fir tree thanks to the regularity of its stakes, has a strong affinity with Dante's descent into Hell and his subsequent ascent to Paradise. Our culture is so steeped in the Florentine poet that it is impossible not to trace references and suggestions even in our own time".
Where did your work of studying and confronting nature begin?
I was born in an alpine village. Perceiving trees as living, fluid elements has always been part of my DNA. In 1969, when I started attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin, I immediately sought a personal path, my own language. I began to study trees in relation to human presence, without ever overpowering them and aware that we have a different breath and time, but a growth that can have affinities. These are studies that I began then and that I still continue today, starting with the tree, like the wood and the elements transformed by man. To reconstruct its history. Without ever violating nature, but respecting it, whether it be trees, wood or even marble...
What is the story of the tree in Piazza della Signoria?
I had heard about a fir tree that had to be cut down because it was overhanging a house and could be dangerous. I went to the site and after the tree had been cut down, I asked for some branches to be removed according to a precise pattern, so that those that remained would provide support for the bamboo canes that I wanted to place on top. There are works that have interesting stories behind them and turn out to be banal, for others the opposite happens... they acquire depth at the moment of creation.
Your link with Florence...
I visited it for the first time when I was 14, we stopped off on our way to Rome. I was struck by the human dimension of its beauty, and I immediately loved it even more than the grandeur of the capital. I remember visiting Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine. The figures expressed an authentic, human and real pain that went beyond the stylistic perfection of the work. This being on such a human scale is what I still love about Florence.
The work constitutes a foretaste of the exhibition 'Alberi In-versi', with creations by the Turinese master, dedicated to Dante Alighieri and held in the spaces of the Uffizi Galleries from 1 June to 12 September.