BY DIANE DINUZZO  / Understanding and connecting with a piece of art that is not necessarily a figurative object might be difficult sometimes for those who are not part of the art world. The cold structure of an installation quite often can leave the common viewer with distant, skeptical feelings about a work. Fortunately, that is not what you experience with the art of Ernesto Neto, no matter where it is encountered. The biomorphic quality of the objects he offers up to be touched and walked around/in/underneath immediately make us curious about his sinuous, organic universe.

For those yet unfamiliar with Neto’s practice, now’s probably the time to pay him full attention. For the occasion of his first solo show in Barcelona, currently on view at BlueProject Foundation, he’s created a unique installation with a clear, universal theme, suitable for both adults and children. His renown minimalism assumes the shape of a knitted net, irregular in shape and full of colour (whilst many of his works have been realised in white elastic material), letting viewers connect ideologically with his country of origin, Brazil.

The work Um dia todos fomos peixes fills an entire room, which viewers are encouraged to actively discover, with the pattern of Neto’s netting acting as a vague reminder of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Visitors are asked to remain present inside, slowing down and entering a more playful, softer atmosphere — submerged in a blue dream of swirls, spirals and massive cascades of material scented with aromatic spices.

On opening night, Neto could be found leading by example, busy meditating. Others, following his lead, sat down and abandoned themselves for a few pleasant moments inside the rich sea-like realm. Read on for questions I was lucky enough to pose to the artist, originated during my own encounter with his most recent work…

For you, what is the role of art in this moment of history?
Neto: I see art as a mediator, art as the in-between, as the ‘Linha Organica’ from Lygia Clark or Brancusi’s ‘kiss’, all over the net of subjectivisms around us, moving, blowing…art…art…art, everywhere and nowhere. In this scientific, productive and objective society, where our time and knowledge have been sliced apart, art is the subjective space, the invisible, it fills the spiritual void. Museums have become the new temples and culture the new muse, but we are nature. There is a gap between the mental and the spiritual dimensions, and this is affecting art. In this pluralised, cultural word we live in, art represents the multicultural shock that ties it all together, acting as a medicine, curing, healing.
But I’m afraid that as in Western medicine, art is nowadays treating only the symptoms, representing the symptoms that art in fact can cure and heal through the cultural body. One day we may take a further step, who knows, arriving in a moment in which we all would be an artist; I believe in the possibility of homo erectus, homo sapiens, homo modernus… and finally… homo artisticus, a time when we all would be an artist, when art would be completely integrated (weird word) into our self and daily life, poetry would be in every gesture, every step.

Can you tell us more about the title of the show? It is a reminder?
Neto: This title connects us to our ancestors, very far away in time, connects us to the deep blue ocean and to nature as a whole — from the microbes to the stars — to show us that, beyond our cultural differences, there is unity between us. Perhaps we are facing a time when it will be more delightful to pay attention to, to feel, more of what is common among us, rather than our cultural differences. This is a spirituality; the question is posed to be answered by our heart, not by our mind, seems to me, and I’m not alone in feeling that we have the answers in our heart, when we get free from our dialectic mind activity, by meditating, singing, dancing….
And if we have the courage, or if you prefer, the simplicity, the humbleness to listen our heart, to feel love inside of us and in-between everything around, from the atom to the big bang, we receive the light. There is a fish inside of us, there are many fishes inside all of us; it is time to listen to our planet, Mother Earth, through our heart. Books can help, but light shines from inside the deep multicolour blue that belongs to us all.

In consideration of the title of the work built around us, do you think we still have time enough to embrace nature and follow its lessons?
Neto: Well, I feel there is no way out, the time is now, nature can teach us… it’s already teaching, there is a soft transformation going on, there is a blue on this green, a yellow on this orange, a purple on this red, spreading smoothly into our cells, through our DNA. A new era is coming, that’s why so much brutality and ugliness goes screaming around, they are feeling that their time has gone, love is gonna win, and love is nature.

Your installation at the BlueProject Foundation has been made just for the people visiting the show; what are you inviting them to do? I saw you meditating inside it, is it a mindful tool you’d recommend?
Neto: The sculpture I’m presenting is a skin, a layer in the air, hanging from the ceiling, landing down on the ground, spreading some smells, inviting the people to come in and to slow down. A body to be penetrated by our own bodies, full of air, its floorplan has the form of a fish. ‘One day we were all a fish’ is its title message. Hanging from the fish net body on the ceiling there are some connecting organelles meant to be interacted with; people can sit or lay down on the hard and cold concrete gallery ground and close their eyes, breath, meditate, ‘lose their time’ and, who knows, get connected our ancestors’ time, and/or with anything that this idea may suggest. Yourself, family, art, the planet, the heart is the portal, silence is a voice. Meditation is a path. It allows time to slow down, breathe and feel, and the blue fish is there to give us a hand and to give us a breath, to blow some air into our spirits and heal us.

The element of water and the metaphor with the sea…what do they represent to you?
Neto: Water is our mother, we all came from the water even before we were a fish. In our mother’s womb spaceship, we were in the water, we are made by water. I love to drink water, water mama, mama water. Water is life beyond culture; God water, love water, sea water, rain water, river water, earth water. Sea is the mysterious, the deep blue inside of us, salt sea, salt sweat, inside ocean, inside us…

And what’s your take on climate change?
Neto: We need to reconnect with nature, strongly and deeply. We and our ‘culture’ are becoming a poison, there’s too much greed, ego, vanity. We need the feminine force and energy to balance the subjective, we need our feet and fingers to counter-weigh the power of our mind. We need our body, our roots. We live in a multicultural world, but Western values are in power.  Development, economics, science — these forces are very much objective and masculine, very respectable forces, but we are in a spiritual body, beyond the power of our mind. This spiritual intuitive energy became atrophied, yet this consciousness is the boat needed to deal with climate change. It is time to listen the people who are extremely connected to the planet, the monks and especially the indigenous peoples, they are nature’s voice.

Text, photographs and interview by Diana Di Nuzzo & @dianadinuzzo