Rio de Janeiro

Ernesto Neto

THE CROSSOVER BETWEEN ART AND LIFE has been a defining feature of much of the art from Rio de Janeiro that has gained international attention in the last few years. The Neo-concrete art of Lydia Clark and Hélio Oiticica in the '50s and '60s explored encounters between geometric abstraction on the one hand and the body and daily life on the other. Since then, artists here (among them Artur Barrio, Cildo Meireles, and Tunga) have connected art and reality, thematically and conceptually, in different ways—through politics, the everyday, and the body.

Ernesto Neto's work is very much part of this Carioca tradition and is particularly indebted to Clark. He invites the viewer not only to touch, but also to enter his voluptuous and corporeal sculptures. (It is important to note that they are above all sculptures, rather than installations or environments.) Neto has drawn inspiration from biological, chemical, and physical models and processes. One key notion has been that of fusion—of bodies, atoms, cells. His most recent exhibition project, “O Casamento—Lili, Neto, Lito e'os loucos” (The wedding—Lili, Neto, Lito and the mad ones; all works 2000), connected art and life in an unprecedented way, suggesting new conceptual and formal associations with the notion of fusion. On December 16, 2000, in Rio's Museu de Arte Moderna. Neto married Lili, who was eight-months pregnant with their son Lito. The celebration of their wedding inside one of the artist's famous “Naves” (Ships)—tentlike sculptures made of stretched, translucent, skin-colored polyester stockings—was more than a mere pop spectacle by an artist turned performer. Fusion here was evoked in several ways: through the union of Neto and Lili; through the fetus carried inside Lili, a concrete, physical manifestation of a sexual encounter (the closest human beings can get to fulfilling that age-old desire of amorous fusion); and by the unborn child's name, Lito, which is formed by the last syllable of the artist's name and the first of his wife's.

The exhibition itself consisted of sculptures that had particular functions during the wedding, as well as an edited video of the performance/ceremony. Descaminhos de Lili (The roaming of Lili) was a sculpture resembling a tunnel, through which the bride entered the exhibition space. Útero Capela (Womb chapel) was the giant sculpture in which the actual ceremony took place. Corpos, corpos, corpos (Bodies, bodies, bodies) was a large cushion on which the bride rested after the ceremony. Real-life elements were rendered conceptual and took on new meanings here: The skin, its membranes, their porous regions and areas of exchange and contact were all alluded to in the sculptures. Also at play was a parallel between museum and church. The point was not to render sacred or transcendent the artist, his wife, or their child, let alone to give art status to marriage, an ultimately ordinary celebration. The purpose of the project was to relate elements of daily life and the body to sculpture. Finally, “The Wedding” was also pertinently site-specific: The museum where it took place had once been the site of lively events and performances in the Carioca tradition of joining art and life. Neto brought new life to the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro.

Adriano Pedrosa