Hanging Around with Ernesto Neto: A Q&A

Because of the somber Holocaust-mindedness of Christian Boltanski's current installation at the Park Avenue Armory, it may be hard to recall just how joyful Ernesto Neto's inaugural commission for the building’s art program was when it debuted last spring as a scented playground. Composed of a 190-foot-tall tulle structure that the Brazilian artist and his assistants had carefully stretched into a vast network of tunnels, lounge areas, and romper rooms, it was ornamented everywhere with dangling fabric pendants loaded with spices: clove, black pepper, red pepper, cumin, and turmeric.

For Neto, this environment of alluring stalactites was the most gargantuan in a series of increasingly dramatic installations created over the past 20 years of his career. Now London’s Hayward Gallery has recruited him for a new installation, “The Edges of the World.” Set to open June 19, it will fill the gallery's upper levels and outdoor sculpture terraces with an immersive new work. 

ARTINFO discussed the new commission with Neto as he readied plans for the installation, touching also on his burgeoning interest in architecture and the unusual locations he one day hopes to be able to create art.      

What do you have planned for the Hayward Gallery?

There are going to be two big rooms with a corridor in between them, and three terraces around it. We’re also going to have sculptures, including one you can stand on top of. There is one part that's going to be a little bit of a surprise, which I can’t say right now, and there will be different colors of textiles throughout the space — a rainbow of colors going from red to purple.

So people will be able to walk through and explore it?

Yes, you’re going to be able to go through corridors and up a staircase and take a look at what is going on. Also, there will be a platform in the biggest room, where you can go out and see what is going on elsewhere, and there is going to be a room where you can rest. You will also walk through an interesting hallway — it will be the only way out — with lot of changing colors, and there are going to be awesome pieces in the middle of it.

Do you think your work has been getting more architectural recently, as in the work you showed at the Armory?

I think so. This will be only a little bit smaller than the Armory, though. If you put everything together, it would be almost the same size, but you won’t have the same sense of scale that you had in the Armory. What I’m very interested in is how we can have a lot of things going on in a small concentration of space.

People tend to think of your work in those very formal terms, like space or material. What else are you thinking about in approaching the Hayward show?

The works have a lot to do with urbanism. The world we live in is so deeply populated. Just think about the Internet. I’m also thinking about a space full of things, like a forest, or like a cell phone, or like a photograph machine — a kind of space where you have to put a lot of things together in a really small space. This is the kind of space we are living in today. Everybody is full and busy. Our time becomes so short, and we have to divide into many little spots of time for everyone we work with and live with: our family, our friends, and our business partners. I’m asking, “What can we do in this confined area?”

The spices that you used for your Armory show were unusually memorable. What are you thinking about in terms of ingredients this time?

I’m not sure yet if I’m going to use spice. I’m going to use some flowers and other organic things, but I don’t know about spices yet. There is also going to be a sculpture that you can put your hands inside of with gloves. You can put your hands inside these gloves and move things. There will be a book inside the box that tells the story of the whole event, like the DNA of a cell. It will be the DNA code.

How is it going to relate to the architecture of the gallery?

We’re going to light the architecture, and we’re going to discuss the architecture. The Hayward Gallery has some very peculiar architecture, so I’m very excited to see how the art alters how people see the inside and outside of the building, and how the different heights of the ceilings affect things and the people inside it.

Do you have any interest in creating permanent buildings, taking up architecture or landscape design like Vito Acconci or Robert Irwin?

If someone invited me, I might get interested. I would love to make a building one day, and I think my work is going more in that direction. If you think about the work that was at MoMA a few months ago, [Navedenga (1998)], that was my attempt to create a gallery within a gallery. And I made that almost 13 years ago. One day I’m going to build something, but I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it.

What are things you would consider building?

I would love also to put a sculpture floating in the space between the Earth and the moon, which might only be visible with a telescope. It would be very expensive to do, but it would be cool. If you have to write a poem, why not do it in the sky?Also, I always wanted to make a sculpture under the sea. I never made it, I don’t know why.

Getting back to the Hayward show, what else should people be aware of when visiting the installation?

[Laughs] I think you know that what I am saying to you about the exhibition is very superficial. There are layers and layers and layers to the installation I have planned and the sculptures I am working on. Many pieces need to come together. This is going to be a kind of palimpsest of my ideas about time and space — and, of course, human contact and relationships.