A forest of spruce trees suffering from Bostrico Tipografo and a beetle that, despite its reassuring name, has been acting as a parasite on spruce trees for years, leading them to their death.
This is the subject of the investigation that Laura Pugno developed for Last Image, a project realised in 2021 for the Fondazione Zegna in Trivero (Biella).

Starting from this pathogenic phenomenon, exacerbated by the new climatic conditions at a time of global warming, the artist develops a speculative reflection on the relationship between humans and nature, leading us to reflect on the forest not as a bucolic and uncontaminated place, but as a product of human visions, choices and actions.

Laura Pugno’s research is a temporal journey that from a reference to the 1930s – the initial moment of the forest regeneration implemented by Ermenegildo Zegna in the mountains around Trivero – and a snapshot of a present in which loss and transformation are the protagonists, opens up to questions about possible future scenarios.



Laura Pugno, Last Image, Fondazione Zegna 2021, installation view. Courtesy the artist





Last Image was created as part of a larger project you carried out in 2021 on the occasion of the exhibition Fading Loss I Cronache dal bosco, at the Fondazione Zegna in Trivero. Can you tell us what this photographic work consists of?


As is often the case in my artistic practice, the first phase of the project involves direct knowledge of the place that, in my own way, I have to narrate. In the Oasi Zegna, I scoured the woods decimated by a beetle, the spruce bark beetle, which feeds on the wood of spruce trees, leaving behind the characteristic tracks from which it derives its name. It is these burrows dug under the bark that interrupt the tree’s lymphatic lines, causing its death. I learnt that the absence of bark is a clear sign of the inevitable death of the tree. For this reason, diseased trees are promptly reported and felled by the Oasi Zegna forestry department. Cutting down the tree is the only way to prevent the parasite from proliferating. It was clear that I was observing a forest on the verge of disappearing. It was important to preserve a trace of it. And preserving the tree’s point of view forever, before its disappearance, allowing it to give us its last glimpse, seemed to me the most poetic and at the same time necessary thing to do.




Laura Pugno, Last Image. Courtesy the artist
Laura Pugno, Last Image_01. Photographic print on Harman direct positive paper, 25×20 cm. Courtesy the artist




Can you explain how you technically produced these photographs?

The incidence of the morning sun in April led me to choose trees in which to place a darkroom. This was placed inside a cavity hollowed out in the trunk at a height of more than three metres.
The photographic process is the same as in the beginning: allowing light to impress photosensitive paper through a pinhole and then developing the result. Of this work, I will remember the waiting time at the side of the tree. The forest was so dark that the exposure time required was over fifty minutes.


Read through a semiotic perspective, the work is interesting. While the image ideally returns the tree’s last glance towards the world, the photograph reverses the viewer’s point of view, offering the possibility of seeing things from a non-human position. How do you approach this theme?


You are right, entering the tree was precisely my aim. To move into a new perspective by removing ourselves from our usual point of view, well aware of all the limitations of the case. I tried to satisfy the desire to project oneself into a complex world, pretending to be able to understand it, at least for a few moments, and feel different.



In Last Image, the concept of landscape as a cultural construction overlaps with the image of the mountain landscape as an artefactual ecosystem. It is not the first time that this type of narrative appears in your research.
Actually, what interests me is that – starting from your way of understanding the concept of landscape as the outcome of a construction and constant rewriting, which you can simply mention – you tell us how in that work you deal with the theme of a forest landscape that has been artefactualised by the bark beetle and is therefore the outcome of a rewriting/intervention of modification on an ecosystemic and then landscape level.

The woods where Last image was born are part of my childhood, and it was always ‘natural’ to enter the dark undergrowth, where light hardly filtered through the treetops. Now it is obvious to me that the woods are man-made. The ones in Oasi Zegna were planted in the 1930s by Ermenegildo Zegna, who took advantage of funds that the Italian state had made available for reforestation of the mountains. This operation must be put into context temporally. The deforestation of previous centuries had given way to meadows for grazing and had dried up the soil. So it was thought that new trees would give vigour to the steep terrain and produce, if cultivated according to conscience, firewood and timber. Those were the priorities then.
Eighty years later, the now mature fir trees are in crisis due to acid rain and, due to global warming, their ideal growing temperature is 400 metres higher than the original planting altitude. Today, new trees are being planted in the Zegna Oasis, with more awareness of biodiversity and the new practices that the climate crisis requires of us.




Laura Pugno, Last Image_03; Last Image_04. Photographic print on Harman direct positive paper, 25×20 cm. Courtesy the artist
Image of the reforestation implemented by Ermenegildo Zegna in Trivero, 1930-1960





Laura Pugno