Tree of 12 Metres was made by scraping away the wood from a felled tree, which had first been roughly sawn into a beam, to reveal its internal structure of narrow core and developing branches. Penone's aim was to return the tree to the form it had had at an earlier stage of its growth, making visible natural processes which are normally hidden. He made the first of his Albero or Tree works in 1969. In 1970 two Trees of 12 Metres were made as performances in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and at the Aktionsraum, Munich. These early Trees were still partially attached to the industrially-sawn beams into which they had disappeared and from which they now emerged like sculptural reliefs. In this semi-emergent state they were supported horizontally or propped diagonally against the wall in the space in which they were exhibited. With experience, Penone was able to work on increasingly thicker beams which contained the tree's entire core and to cut all the background support away, freeing the tree's centre so that it could stand vertically on its own. In the early 1980s he began to leave short lengths of the beams untouched to provide free-standing bases, from which the forms of the younger trees arise. In this version of the Tree of 12 Metres the artist has left top and bottom ends still trapped inside the beam. A cut at the vertical mid-point has converted it into two pieces, each of which stands on a base formed by the remnant of the beam. The top part of the tree is thus inverted.
What most intrigues me, a constant concern of my poetic vision, is the relationship between the real time of growth and the personal time of 'flaying'. The curiosity of discovering a new tree, and hence a new story, every time, and the stimulus in this sense that comes to me from the imaginative quality of every door, table, window, or board - all of which contain the image of a tree - explain the motivation and urgency of my recourse to this kind of operation, which is not repetition, but a new adventure every time.
(Quoted in Celant, p.55.)
Although he lives and works in Turin, Penone grew up in a farming community in Garessio, Northern Italy, and bases his practice on the physical relationship between man and nature on which agriculture is founded. For him the process of chiselling away layers of the trees' growth is a form of archeological excavation which leads to the resurrection of the younger tree. To date he has made around forty Trees of different sizes and ages. He has exhibited them in groups at several different museums, titling the installation Ripetere il bosco or Repeat the Woodland. An inverted full-length Tree of 12 Metres was installed vertically in the central space of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1982. Another Tree of 12 Metres 1987-91 (private collection) is a bas-relief in two parts which lies cradled in the original beam.
Germano Celant, Giuseppe Penone, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol 1989, reproduced p.126
Giuseppe Penone: 1968-1998, exhibition catalogue, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela 1999
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Arte Povera, London 1999, pp.146-53