The art of Ernesto Neto (b. 1964, Río de Janeiro) was created in order to be penetrated, inhabited, felt, and even smelled, allowing spectators to experience their own bodies, feelings, and minds through interaction with his works of art.
Neto wants viewers to feel free to play and experiment, while also asking that they treat his art with responsibility and respect due to its fragile nature; just like the human body, it should be treated with sensitivity and care.
Access to certain rooms will therefore be limited, and visitors are asked to follow instructions, which allow for the best experience of the art without endangering its conservation.
The following didactic unit addresses the biological vision of Neto’s art.
BIOLOGICAL VISION OF ART
The Falling Body [Le corps] female (from Léviathan Thot) (O corpo que cai [Le corps] fêmea [de Léviathan Thot]), 2006
Polyamide tulle, tube, and stocking, Styrofoam pellets, and sand
“In my work it is all about relationship. Every time you have one thing related to another thing, who is related to another thing… and when they have this relationship.. the show the intimacy… It is a dance and when you dance you show up yourself.” 1 —Ernesto Neto
Ernesto Neto’s (b. 1964, Río de Janeiro) artistic approach is a continuous flow of materials, organisms, emotions, feelings, and ideas. He is interested in connecting people with the space and the space with emotions. According to Neto, this interconnection of elements is precisely what happens in the world we live in, a world that instinctively stretches to reach the limits in order to expand.2
The expansive approach of Neto’s art summarizes ideas that are currently emerging in the field of neuroscience and the biological study of the brain. Everything is interconnected through signals that set organic gears in motion, from the molecular level to complex associations influenced by the environment. The brain’s neuronal structures, which are the basis of our perceptions, emotions, and actions, are extended throughout the space, propagating like a soft vine that is intricately interwoven through a thick tropical forest. Neto’s installations can be seen as a macroscopic vision of this neuronal architecture, becoming powerful metaphors for representing the concept of flow and plasticity.3
His art generally refers to living organisms that expand and interconnect, creating a continuous movement in which the spectator is also caught up in the current. His pieces are not sculpted or painted, nor are they fixed images, but rather the contrary—his art is in a continuous state of process.
The Falling Body [Le corps] female (from Léviathan Thot) (2006) is an installation consisting of an enormous web of different-sized gauze and panty hose with Styrofoam balls inside. The stockings hanging from the ceiling take on a tubular shape due to weight and gravity, forming bulbous shapes on the end, suspended like pendulums that swing around and above our heads. This piece transforms the entire museum’s Atrium space, which is no longer a mere container, but rather an emotional space where the artistic experience becomes a multisensorial event of smell, sound, and touch.4
When we move through the installation, our intimate feelings become interconnected with the emotions of the other people sharing the space. The Atrium, like the spectator, becomes an active part of the work of art—not as something foreign or interfering, but rather an integral part, an extension of the work of art.
Neto sees his art as continuous movement since it depends on the force of gravity. At times it tends to fall down due to the weight, while other times it swings due to an external force. Weight, counterweight, tension, balance, and gravity are all important elements in these pieces.
Neto proposes a utopian biological construction, both in terms of sculpture and architecture, establishing an interconnection between bodies and the space. Our bodies are also sculpture, architecture, and landscape.6 For Neto, the skin takes on a special meaning in this interconnection since it is the boundary between the external and internal realms of our bodies. This line compresses the fight between the inner and the outer, between our internal nature and our external culture. All these relationships begin with one skin making contact with another. Artistically, as he comments, it all happens through the skin.7
1 About Intimacy exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, September 7, 2010 http://vimeo.com/12637509
2 Ernesto Neto, The Edges of the World. Interview, SouthBank Centre, June 19–Sept. 15, 2010.
3 Raphaela Platow, “The Body that Carries Me” in Ernesto Neto: el cuerpo que me lleva, exh. cat. Bilbao: Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2014.
4 Ibid., p. 2.
6 Ernesto Neto, The Edges of the World. Interview, SouthBank Centre, June 19–Sept. 15, 2010.
Observe The Falling Body [Le corps] female (from Léviathan Thot) (2006)) and describe the elements it contains. What materials do you think were used? What are the properties of these materials? What sensations do they transmit? Use adjectives in your description. What does the web’s shape remind you of? What do the pendular shapes remind you of?
Neto’s art starts at the ceiling of the museum’s Atrium and propagates through the space, connecting with the building’s architecture. The Atrium is an ample space flooded with curved volumes and large glass curtain walls that connect the inside and the outside, and it’s often used as a meeting point. How might this artwork change its use? How does the work of art influence the Atrium? And how does the Atrium influence the art?
Think of another space where this installation could be located. Describe how this work might influence that environment.
According to Neto, everything in the world is related. What relationship do you see between the web and the pendular shapes? List their similarities and differences.
Imagine that these shapes are inspired by humans. What parts of the body would you associate with them? If, on the other hand, these forms were a landscape, what type of landscape would it be? Express the emotions you would feel there.
Weight and gravity are very important elements in this piece. How would you imagine these shapes’ movements as you walk around it?
The skin in Neto’s art is the place where the relationship between two elements begins. It is also what separates the inside from the outside, and vice versa. Reflect on the importance of skin in The Falling Body [Le corps] female (from Léviathan Thot) (2006). Imagine that a different material was used instead of panty hose (nylon gauze). Make a list of possible materials to create the sculpture that have the possibility of changing conditions in response to external forces: movements, pressure, light, etc. How is the selection of components important in a work of art?
I Am the Landscape
Ask students to take photos of a part of their body, like an arm, a leg, a hand, hair, nose, etc. Expand the images with photocopies or using the zoom function on the camera so that the photographed body part loses its frame of reference as much as possible.
Ask students to paint a landscape on the expanded image print. The final result will be a landscape where the body and nature are interconnected.
Weight, Gravity, Tension, and Balance
Using different sizes of stockings, experiment with the ideas of weight, gravity, tension, and balance. Put different materials like dirt, stones, rice, cotton, etc. in each stocking. Hang them up and establish counterweights by tying two different stockings together. Observe how these pieces behave in terms of the different materials used.
To experiment with balance, place each stocking on a piece of cardboard. Draw or trace the stocking’s silhouette as it is pressed against the cardboard and cut it out. Try to establish a balanced connection between the different shapes, fitting the pieces into each other by making small incisions or slots in order to connect them all.
Neto’s work has been compared to Giovanni Anselmo, Jean Arp, Constantine Bancusi, and Richard Serra. Research one of these artists and compare and contrast their work to Neto’s.
Watch a Neto video about Intimacy, an exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, September 7, 2010, at http://vimeo.com/12637509.
Group the students into pairs. Each student should draw the silhouette of an object on a cardboard and then cut out the shape. Each pair will fit both shapes into one stocking, creating different orientations (avoiding flatness, which would cause an empty space). Ask each pair of students to observe how these two shapes connect. How do the two relate and interact? By doing these types of exercises, students are able to materialize the space of interaction or intimacy between two shapes. When two elements join together and connect, we are witnessing the intimacy or relationship between those two materials.
Hang all the objects made during this activity from the classroom ceiling or other high places that provide good visibility from various perspectives, and move around between the objects. Observe the different spaces that are generated depending on the shapes used and the distance between the shapes inside the stockings. Reflect on the new space that is created in the classroom due to the stockings’ interference and move around among them. Try stretching some, twisting them, and pushing them. How do the pieces react? How do students feel in the space?
Biological: Relating to life or living organisms.
Macrostructure or macroscopic vision: Structure that can be seen with the naked eye, without the use of a microscope.
Neuroscience: A branch of science that deals with the nervous system and how its different elements interact, leading to the biological bases of behavior.