Giuseppe Penone's works closely mingles the action of the artist, as a creator of form with the action of Nature - the creator of forces. Penone's oeuvre is a confluence of earth interventions, performance and body-art, which embodies the definition of Arte Povera as a poetry of raw material and of nature's streams of energy.
From 1978, Penone crafted a series of Soffi (Breaths) in which a sense of elemental respiration was imprinted in clay. According to the artist, the Soffi took their origins from ancient myths: "Prometheus, son of Japet and Climenae, gave man his form using mud and water, and then Athena blew life-breath into him. According to another myth, the creator of man was the god Knoüm, traditionally portrayed as a potter who models man on his potter wheel. The hand that modelled man left prints on him, prints that are filled up by air and water every time he moves. When air fills in the hollows of the print, it reproduces the skin of the original craftsman." (G. Penone, quoted in G. Celant, Giuseppe Penone, Milan 1989, p. 90.)
Soffio simultaneously evokes both such a sense of primal creation and the form of the human body. In this work, Penone, who literally left his body impression in the clay, fashioned a subtle metaphor of both man and Nature's fecund belly. On top of the anthropomorphic shape, which mimics the shape of the human lung, Penone has rendered a mouth in order to indicate the fact that breath emanates.
In addition, the material with which Penone articulates this remarkable physical invocation of breath, is central to the work. For Penone, "Clay is a solid element that has always been linked to the idea of fluidity because inherent within its plasticity is the element of water. The circular movement with which the potter spins his wheel generates a fluid spiralling motion within the clay. The speed of the potter's movement also creates an accumulation of air within the hollow of the vase. Breath, respiration, is the equivalent of the air that penetrates the spinning clay, and breath, through speech, is also the equivalent of the word. The word, so rich in symbols, has within it the power to create an image, which paradoxically, seems to have manifested from nothing." (ibid., p. 90.)