The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by the Giuseppe Penone Archives.
Pelle di marmo e spine d'acacia - Sara was created in 2001, and clearly demonstrates Giuseppe Penone's fascination with skin, and indeed with different forms of skin. This work consists of two contrasting yet similar panels: in one, the shapes and contours of a section of skin have been picked out in acacia thorns which stick out from the surface; the other panel is a block of marble in which Penone has painstakingly traced out the veins within the material itself. This lends it a skin-like appearance that nonetheless derives completely from and is wholly suggested by the presence of the dark veins within the marble; Penone recently used this technique to acclaimed effect by covering the floor of the Italian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The fact that Penone has created two panels which have light backgrounds gives them the fleeting visual appearance of a drawing, a notion continued by the fact that the veins in the marble consist of graphite: in both panels, through the veins and the thorns, the 'drawn' areas extrude from the surface itself, Penone deliberately complicating the entire process of drawing.
'Marble,' Penone has explained,
'is a material traditionally used for sculptures, and it's difficult to use it because it is encrusted with significance and art history. Since the nineties I've produced a series of works on the structure of marble, its veining. Traditional sculpture used a delicately veined marble for figures, because it suggested the network of veins in the transparency of the material. In my work I brought out the veins of the marble in relief, making them stand out sharply. It's like a sort of bas-relief, where the veins are sunk in the material, like the veins of the hand, yet emerge slightly from the skin. I want to bring out the idea of vitality and inherent animality in the material' (Penone, quoted in Giuseppe Penone: Sculture di linfa, exh.cat., Venice, 2007, p. 216).
This animality is made all the more explicit by the visual assonance between the two panels, between the magnified portion of what appears to be human skin and the surface of the marble. This work explores and celebrates the similarities between each, the fact that these forms are the products of the interactions of, respectively, the body and the marble with the world at large. There is a great equivalency in the substance from which all is made, a universality that Penone has embraced. At the same time, he has deliberately created a tension between the two, disrupting the tactile quality of the marble by the thorns on the other side. These, themselves the product of the acacia's own 'skin' and here resembling hairs and adding to the verisimilitude of he panel, are sharp enough that they could puncture the skin and therefore introduce a dichotomy, a game of seduction and repulsion in the surfaces. The thorns themselves have been applied to a silk surface whose relative transparency had allowed Penone to see the pattern of previously-drawn skin underneath. Meanwhile this material, produced by silk-worms, ensures that this work unites the trinity of elements: animal, vegetable and mineral.