Ernesto Neto: in the Rio studio

Ernesto Neto interview for Festival Brazil: realm of the senses

The words ‘Do not touch’ are anathema to the Brazilian sculptor Ernesto Neto, whose work is designed to be handled, sat on, smelt and even bathed in. Martin Gayford foresees a challenge to British inhibitions.

By Martin Gayford
Published: 11:06AM BST 28 May 2010

My work,’ Ernesto Neto declares suddenly, ‘is about liquids, about drinking. I love to drink. Drinking is such a delicious thing. When you drink, ahh…’ – he lets out a sigh of pleasure – ‘amazing beer, great wine, fruit juice, coconut milk or water, it is so good. I think we should pray a little bit every time we drink something.’

Neto is not, as his rhapsody might suggest, an alcoholic; instead he is, as he confesses, a workaholic. Nor is his work in any obvious way about drinking; but it is sometimes very, well, fluid. Neto is one of the most prominent artists to come out of Brazil in recent years. Next month he fills the top storey of the Hayward Gallery in London with a flexible, walk-in, sit-down, inside-outside series of sculptures and installations entitled ‘The Edges of the World’, part of the South Bank’s Festival Brazil.

In his studio, in an atmospherically rundown area of the old centre of Rio de Janeiro, large pod-like objects hang from the ceiling or sit on the workshop floor. One resembles an igloo in an orange net. The place is full of his assistants (mainly women) sewing. Neto makes sculpture, but not as we usually think of that art. His work tends to be soft, yielding. Typically, though not always, it is made of fabric. The first time I saw his work was at the Venice Biennale of 2001 when he crammed his country’s pavilion with pods of translucent nylon – a signature material – with a mass of Styrofoam at the bottom. They dangled like body parts, or some form of monstrous forest fruit. Neto did something similar, on a grander scale, in the chilly classical spaces of the Panthéon in Paris, giving the impression that a colony of giant tropical insects might be nesting in the building.

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