A conversation with Ernesto Neto
“Whenever we speak of nature, we exclude her from ourselves”
It was my friend Cayetano Limorte (Ernesto Neto. El cuerpo como lugar común, Ediciones Asimétricas, 2018) who, for the first time, told me about the carioca artist Ernesto Neto (1964, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). His works are places conceived for exchange, where everything is in contact. “Our skin touches your skin”, said Raphaela Platow, referring precisely to that casual friction with the Other, this molecular exchange that results from friction, to experiment with the landscape proposed by Ernesto Neto. His naves provide what David Le Breton referred to, in relation to the senses, the “humanity logics that unite people of different societies in their sensitivity regarding the world”.
π gluon π
Miguel González Diez – In my perspective, in 1992, with π gluon π, you were laying the foundations of the experiments carried out in your installations, converting the physical interaction into the central attribute of your work. Curiously, in the scientific jargon, the concept of brickwork given to the particles of matter that build the world. It may not be a coincidence that you have selected these heavy steel blocks as tensing elements. On the other hand, the gluons, from the English glue, allow the “blocks” to remain united. π gluon π represents those two masses interrelated through gluon. It was possible to think that this work, its title, is a declaration of intentions: your different works are those gluons that work as “glue” between the different users, allowing them to relate to each other, influencing each other. The virtual particle that supposes the gluon, the work itself, allows this dynamic interchange of identities.
Ernesto Neto – Gluon is that credit-particle responsible for glue, as the name implies, but it is a different glue nonetheless – it keeps the particles occupied by exchanging gluons, I like the idea of a declaration of intentions and I agree with you when we realize that the gluon, in some way, is present in all my efforts. I think this work has π as well, which is this magic, infinite number, a coefficient of the circle. We always deal with coefficients in our work: numbers, patterns… Therefore, π could symbolize the blocks you mention. And π gluon π has a detail, it has a limit, if that gets stretched too much, the block falls.
MGD – After 1997, you began to build your first naves, spaces conceived for penetration. Your textile materials quickly became oversized, making π gluon π look like some sort of model, and a series of holes allows one to experience them, now also from the inside. What implied this change, not only of size, but also of your work’s bodily movability?
EN – I think naves are like penetrating a dream, walking, sailing amid a dream, a place to breathe, a stripping of the spirit itself. By the middle of 1997, I wanted to do a “penetrable” work, I had that in my head, but it came in the form of a carpet, which was quite heavy. I travelled to Mexico, I got in touch with Olmec, Toltec, Aztec, Mayan sculptures and pyramids, etc., which forced me to revise the concepts of the history of sculpture and art – the relationship between the figure and the background, full and empty, etc. I had quite a strong journey. I arrived in Rio without my house key, it was Sunday, I went to my mother’s house, it was empty and I invaded it. The following day, Monday, we opened the door to my apartment, I received a boring call, I drank two beers on the street with a friend, I went home and I vomited something white all of a sudden, it seemed Pulca, the indigenous Mexican beverage that I had drunk two days before. I spent a whole week without talking/calling anyone. During those days, I managed to devise the whole nave, the concepts, the drawings and still I found the fabric – everything was simple, easy, as if it had been brought from the other world, a body gallery and its organoid sculptures, a work to be breathed, it came emerged the puff paff poff piff. Such a density of colour, smells and mass! The ships brought me lightness, the will to live.
MGD – The relation that you established seemed quite interesting to me, from the documentary standpoint, between the tiny hairs inside the ear that vibrate with the sound and the people who dance, because, in both cases, it is about an effort focused on deciphering language. How does this dance take place in your works?
EN – To dance is to live, it is healthy, it cures. It is very important. We should dance much more than what we do. African and Amerindian peoples have that sort of wisdom. Dancing is medicine, something quite serious and barely understood, even forbidden in some cultures because it is extremely liberating. New York once had a law, revoked a short time ago, that taxed dancing higher than distilled beverages. It was a racist law. Dancing is life, it is extremely important. My works are about dance, they are always in a balanced dancing reality. Some dances I’ve witnessed, such as the Nicolay Dance Theater, were pivotal. I did a job with Merce Cunningham which was an eternal gratitude. Lia Rodrigues did a transcendental work called A queda do céu, inspired by David Yanomami’s book. We, in Brazil, are devoted to samba. Samba is not about dancing while sitting, clapping the feet and clenching fists. To dance samba, we must stand up and use our butt. Everything is dancing in an infinite cosmic dance. To suppress dance is to repress life. We must all dance to cure, to live and to love.
MGD – Your works represent a form of bonding in which the body has a crucial role. In order to refer to the subjects who experience them, I use the term inhabitant or user, alluding to the active role they have in their relationship with space. After all, it is only through inhabiting/using – individually or collectively – that one can experience the work.
EN – I loved the word inhabitant. Inhabitant/habitat/habitation. That reminds me of Lygia Clark’s Breaking the Frame, when she discovers the organic line that lies between the canvas and the frame, and the painting trespasses both. Likewise, us and the planet reminds me yet again of and her work The house is the body, which was updated to The earth is the body. We are immersed in the earth. Looking at is as a landscape is a bad option, since it leads us to disrupt it with pesticides, monoculture, powerplants and all these atrocities that are creating this senseless disequilibrium. There is an excellent book, from Emanuelle Coccia, The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture that properly approaches that state of immersion.
MGD – You have been working with different Brazilian tribes for some time now. How do tribal practices differ from the artistic experiences provided by your work?
EN – Art in indigenous societies is quite different, it is entirely connected to everyday life, to usefulness and spirituality. Everything in indigenous societies is interconnected, every knowledge. We can’t even say that art is part of that knowledge, since the word ‘part’ is already a separating element even when it wants to convey the opposite, art is that knowledge and that knowledge is art – something quite profound, a great wisdom. Nature does not even exist in the indigenous dictionary. And, whenever we speak of nature, we exclude her from ourselves.
One day we all will be artists.