Ernest Net
Works from the exhibition "Cura Bra Cura Te" by Ernesto Neto Photo: Levi Fanan

Few artists manage to update the radical nature of Brazilian artistic production, where the body was part of the work, in the 1960s and 1970s, like Ernesto Neto. This can be seen in the show. Blow, on display at the Pinacoteca do Estado until July 15th. In his works and in an original way, Neto manages to bring together both the proposals of collective experiences by Hélio Oiticica (1937 – 1990) in his Penetráveis, when he sought to create spaces for coexistence, as well as the activations of the body through experiences with different materials, such as proposed by Lygia Clark (1920 – 1988) in her Relational Objects.

However, while 50 years ago these practices sought to reformulate the foundations of art, Neto, now freed from this burden, has been working on a more current and necessary agenda: a “project for the indigenization of life”, as defined by Els Lagrou, anthropologist and professor from UFRJ, in the exhibition catalogue.

At the Pinacoteca, this practice is embodied in the installation of the octagon, which hosts five participatory activations open to the public throughout the exhibition period. The next ones take place next Saturday, June 1st, and then on June 29th and July 13th.

The artist's relationship with the indigenous issue has been the subject of debate in recent years, especially when he participated in the Venice Biennale two years ago. The controversies boil down to the question: What is the legitimacy of a white artist to appropriate the discourse of other peoples and cultures? Understanding the place of speech is currently one of the challenges of any type of discourse that seeks to “represent” the other. It is certainly a bit strange when artists portray themselves as Indians and sell or exhibit these paintings without any major commitment to the issue. We are here in the realm of mere representation, and it was exactly against this type of posture that Oiticica and Clark rebelled.

Since 2013, however, Neto has engaged with the Huni Kuin people in Acre in an engaged way, participating in their rituals and incorporating them into their shows, in Brazil and abroad, as in Venice.

At the Pinacoteca, this participation takes place in the octagon, in the activations around a large trunk “that needs to be cured” and, for that, it is swallowed by an immense pendant.
“We are children of three continents, but we know of one, they only teach us one, we only value one”, writes Neto on the walls of the exhibition, explaining the fascination with the European culture of the “Brazilian rough”, as Christian Dunker brilliantly defined it in a text for ARTE!Brasileiros.

“We are children of three continents, but we know of one, they only teach us one, we only value one”, writes Neto on the walls of the exhibition.

“The time has come to listen to the spirituality of our land, of our plants, rivers and trees, it is time to listen”, defends the artist. It is here that the indigenization project is made explicit, since the so-called peoples of the forests seek the intrinsically relational quality of every being, human and non-human, which Lagrou defines as “Amerindian relational aesthetics”.

“The time has come to listen to shamans, babalorixás, yalorixas”, preaches Neto, and the program of activations covers these silenced voices in the history of Brazil, but which in recent decades has been gaining ground. Being now in the Pinacoteca is not only a proposition of the artist, but a consequence of the struggle that these peoples have been undertaking. Sopro, however, goes far beyond the octagon and, in the different spaces where it takes place, it is revealed how the poetics he defends now makes sense in Neto's career.

This syntony with an indigenist cosmogony, where human and non-human are seen as part of a whole, after all, it is central in its various installations, which ask for the presence of the other, which contaminate the environment with odors, which provide the meeting, which touch, caress and envelop.

The plasticism that can be seen in the works from the 1980s to the first decade of the 21st century is dazzling: in shapes, materials, volumes and dimensions. There is an organic structure in his language that is comfortable for all the senses, which is even rare in contemporary art. But the maximum power now arrives in this “indigenist project”, politicizing once and for all what was discreet, and transforming Ernesto Neto into a kind of shaman in the times of cholera.

Ernesto Neto: Breath
Pinacoteca de São Paulo – Praça da Luz, 2, São Paulo
March 30th to July 15th



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