The art of walking in the woods

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The art of walking in the woods


Woods are enchanting. They cast a spell to which no one is immune. The worlds of art and literature are influenced by this spell since the beginning of time. In modern times, however, the woods and the forest cannot be considered just a space where you narratives are set, or where supernatural beings exist. Thanks to the work of the latest generations of artists and designers, the wood has become a place of inspiration, experimentation, research and reflection.

woodTournai Workshop, Woodcutter, 1465


Walking in the woods has become a performative act, that Giuseppe Penone – leading exponent of the “Arte Povera” – has embraced: his interest in the natural elements, trees in particular, has led him to interact with them directly. One example is his 1968 work, set in a wood in Garresio: the trees there, “remembering the places he touched” (for example, the brass cast of his hand), swerved as they grew, twisted and intertwined because of these performative acts. The same trees later became the base of his sculptures.

Alpi Marittime_Giuseppe PenoneGiuseppe Penone, Alpi Marittime, 1968


And, if you move on from Turin to Vittorio Veneto and jump in time to the Twenty-first century, you can notice how also the multi-faceted and versatile artis Nico Vascellari was attracted to the wood at the beginning of his career. His tireless searching for nests in the forest was poetic – collected, then taken apart and finally placed on display as if they were in a science museum, as a tribute to a person he once loved.

Nico Vascellari_Nido_2010Nico Vascellari, Nido, 2010


And we will never know if Ana Mendieta – the Cuban artist who passed away prematurely in 1985 – would still be carrying out her forest explorations in search of ravines, reed-beds, ponds, a blanket of leaves where to hide or leave a visible mark. What we do know is that from 1972 until her death, many of her performances were set in the forest. She personally stated: «I’m looking for the shape of my body in a tree.»

Ana Mendieta, Albero della vita, 1976Ana Mendieta, Tree of life, 1975


Furthermore, trees can also live – dematerialised – on a wall for the whole duration of an exhibition: this is what occurred at the experimental exhibition curated by Flash Art magazine in 2012 at the construction site Bosco Verticale in Milan, where building is still underway. Entitled “Anatomy of the vertical woods”, it consisted of a skyscraper transformed into an art gallery that expressed a dialogue between architecture, art, interior design and nature.

Johannes Vogl_TreeJohannes Volg, Tree, 2009


And once again it is an exhibition that leads the public to discuss the role of the forest as a source of a material that has become ubiquitous in our lives: “Wood: the cyclical nature of materials, site, and ideas”, on display until August 10th, 2014 at the Het Nieuwe Istituut in Rotterdam. It explores the connections between wood, design and architecture, focusing on economic, cultural, political and natural cycles triggered by the production of wood objects and their use in our everyday lives.

Wood_exhibitionSequoia National Park, California, 1910


A discussion that seems to spark the enthusiasm of Marco Iannicelli, independent artist and designer. His collections of limited edition lamps are indeed noteworthy: created with artisanal approach, starting from his reconnaissance missions in search of dead branches fallen from trees. Nothing more that a performative act in the name of design, that links nature to those who plan and create. The choice to live in harmony with nature brings Iannicelli to avoid altering the collected branch, working on it the bare minimum. This is how two of his collections, simple but striking, come into being. Firstly, Happy tree friend, a floor lamp that revamps the iconic task-light invented in 1933 by British car engineer George Carwardine. Originally designed as a work lamp, movable in all directions, and inspired by the anatomy of the human arm, the task-light transforms into something new through to the work of Marco Iannicelli.


Happy tree friend_Marco IannicelliMarco Iannicelli, Happy tree friend, 2011/12


Then, in 2013, it’s time for Little tree friend: another step forward, an even more radical choice with respect to the previous year. The branch is left entirely whole, unaltered. Inside the branch, in a groove, you have an LED light. No switches are necessary – the lamp turns on by moving the top branch. Nothing more than a “ready made” product of the forest, modified just the right amount so that it may carry out a new function in a new environment.

Little tree friend_Marco IannicelliMarco Iannicelli, Little tree friend, 2013


Nothing more that nature at the service of design. Nothing more than the forest at the centre of the project analysis of a young designer whose creations – like those of other artists and designers after all – are the result of contemporary reflections, of deep critical thinking which seeks to rediscover and awaken the senses by putting them in contact with the surrounding natural environment. The same environment to which we can turn for inspiration and, perhaps, to defend and preserve..

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