Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
24 November – 19 January 2019
One day we were all fish and the earth’s belly is Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s first solo exhibition on the African continent. Arriving at a time of great political and environmental turbulence across the globe, Neto’s exhibition offers a grounding perspective on the nature of life and the value we should attach to its miraculous occurrence.
At the center of the exhibition is Neto’s large-scale immersive sculpture Um dia todos fomos peixes (One Day We Were all Fish). The installation, which was originally commissioned for the Blueproject Foundation in Barcelona, fills the main atrium of the gallery in a knitted blue net scented with aromatic spices, inviting visitors to be present and relax into the atmosphere created by the work.
As the title and aesthetic of the sculpture suggests, Um dia todos fomos peixes draws much of its inspiration from the ocean. For Neto the ocean has been a point of fascination since childhood, making it the perfect source material for his ongoing inquiry into the continuity between the human body and natural landscapes. The netting of the work itself is an abstracted representation of a giant fish, an idea which struck Neto during a ceremony in Brazil lead by the spiritual leader Álvaro Tukano.
‘He said in the beginning the Tukanos were fish, just a spine immersed In water,’ says Neto, recalling the experience. The teacher went on to describe how this was the origin of life on earth; a fact Neto saw echoed in our scientific understanding of the world, representing for him a continuity between these ‘two different fountains of knowledge’. Inspired by this realisation, Neto created Um dia todos fomos peixes as a ‘metaphor and a desire to encounter our own ancestry and absolute connection to nature, the nature that we are.’
By creating an immersive space that evokes the flow of the ocean, Neto’s installation reminds us of our inextricable connection to water and the ocean, encouraging audiences ‘to get in breath, meditate and reconnect, like a vortex, to the time we all were fishes.’
The earth’s belly is a new series of fabric works by Neto occupying the side rooms of the gallery. These works also take the form of a sculptural environment, which Neto describes as ‘resonating with the vibrations and energy of the earth’s soil’ and complement the rest of the exhibition by stimulating ‘the plexo, hara and root chakra’ – the three grounding energy centers of the body.
The fabric works that form part of The earth’s belly are made from traditional African and Brazilian textiles. In bringing these different materials together, Neto’s installation suggests how cultures develop and transform through globalisation and exchange, while still maintaining an inherent connection. By further interweaving organic shapes out of this fabric, the artist mimics the network of roots, soil and animals: lives which exist beneath the earth’s surface and bring to mind the energy of the earth, ‘from a historical, mineral, biological and spiritual point of view’.
Describing the experiential quality of this work, Laura Olea Lopez, curator from the Blueproject Foundation writes, ‘Neto devotes his art to creating new rituals that bring us closer to that nature that emerges from us through touch, by feeling attentively, breathing deeply and paying close attention to our bodies.’
Ernesto Neto (b. 1964, Rio de Janeiro) explores constructions of social space and the natural world by inviting physical interaction and sensory experience. Drawing from Biomorphism and minimalist sculpture, along with Neo-concretism and other Brazilian vanguard movements of the 1960s & 70s, the artist both references and incorporates organic shapes and materials – spices, sand and shells among them—that engage all five senses, producing a new type of sensory perception that renegotiates boundaries between artwork and viewer, the organic and manmade, the natural, spiritual and social worlds.
Neto’s work has been the subject of major museum exhibitions worldwide. In 2011, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey in Mexico opened the artist’s first survey exhibition, La lengua de ernesto: retrospectiva 1987-2011, which travelled to Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City in 2013. The artist also presented important solo exhibitions at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (2012), Faena Arts Center in Buenos Aires, which traveled to Estação Leopoldina in Rio de Janeiro (2011-2012), Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre in London (2010) Museum of Modern Art in New York (2010); Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo (2010), Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art (2010), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma in Italy (2008), Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2002), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (2002), among others.
In 2001 Neto represented Brazil at the 49th Venice Biennale, and in 2017 Neto was prominently featured in Vive Arte Viva at the 57th Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel. Neto’s work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions and biennials, most recently the 14th Biennale de Lyon, curated by Emma Lavigne (2017), Manifesta 7 (2015), along with 2017 group shows at Guggenheim Bilbao, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Centre Pompidou-Metz, and a permanent installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. In 2018, a large installation GaiaMotherTree was shown at the Zurich train station, in collaboration with Fondation Beyeler, with a month-long corresponding public and education program that took place inside the work.
Neto’s work is extremely well represented in international museum collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Gallery in London, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Hara Museum in Tokyo, Contemporary Art Center of Inhotim in Brazil, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, among many others.
Neto studied at Rio de Janeiro’s Escola de artes visuais do Parque Lage in 1994 and in 1997, and also attended the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art from 1994 to 1996.
Neto lives and work in Brazil