"My work speaks of the finite and the infinite, of the macroscopic and the microscopic, the internal and external, by the masculine and feminine powers, but sex is like a snake, it slithers through everything."-Ernesto Neto1 Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto was born, raised, and continues to live in Rio de Janeiro, a place commonly associated with pleasure. His installations are made of stretchy, stocking–like material and loose, transparent scrims and are often filled with aromatic spices or malleable Styrofoam pellets. Suspended from the ceiling or attached to the walls at acute angles, Neto's installations cry out like sirens to be stroked, caressed, and entered. Neto explains that he believes in a sensual body through whose movement we connect with the world. A fusion of the mind and the body occurs in his conceptually tight and aesthetically pleasurable sculpture. Although Neto's work can be looked at as traditional sculpture, additional depth surfaces once it is interacted with by the viewer. The work is undeniably sexy. Neto makes objects that exist as sensual bodies rather then just as depictions. He says, "there is a giant force in nature for love. I feel the body is sensuous, and sensuality is beautiful. So I don't want to discuss sexuality like a sociologist, but rather create a sensuous atmosphere in the work." His organic forms are anthropomorphic and inviting. Translucent beings, they reveal their own interior and exterior and satisfy voyeuristic tendencies. Neto's passion, for art, life, love, and knowledge is contagious. He explains, "There is pleasure in being alive even in the most difficult moments. We are alive; there is no way out, so we have got to be alive in life." His sculptures pulsate with this intensity. Most critics place Neto's work in the context of 1960s Brazilian sculpture, specifically that of Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. And, yes, in its insistence on interactivity and the privileging of the corporeal and sensual realm of aesthetic experience, Neto's work updates that of Oiticica and Clark. But the artist himself cites European Modernism as having a prime influence, and also notes looking at the work of Alexander Calder, Constantine Brancusi, and Richard Serra. As for affinities with Brazilian artists, Neto mentions Tunga and Cildo Meireles. Like theirs, his work is monochromatic, minimal, and irreverent. In early works such as Piff, Paff, Poff, Puff; Piff Piff; and Puff Puff, which comprised his 1997 exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, Neto filled small Lycra sacks with colorful and aromatic substances such as chili powder and coriander. The sacks were dropped on the floor in strategic arrangements to form abstract compositions of color, form, and scent. The intensity arose from the powerful mix of scents and the evocative palette. The aroma of the installation greeted visitors upon the opening of the elevator and increased as they rounded the corners and neared the gallery. As in many of Neto's works, the viewer was drawn in through a sense not traditionally associated with art: smell. By giving equal importance to smell and touch, Neto's works challenge the traditional primacy of vision in 20th–century art. In newer works, such as Navedenga (1998) and Nude Plasmic (1999), suspension and weightlessness replace impact and gravity, and penetration replaces spillage. The olfactory has given way to the tactile. Both works are room–size, floating membranes made from synthetic fabric. Ever–changing atmospheres, they are impacted by the barefoot visitors who enter and explore. Visitors experience a heightened sense of their environment while inside of the translucent installation. The forms are altered as visitors step on the fabric, extending the form to meet the floor, and push out on the walls as a way of maintaining balance. By inviting viewers into a world where the relationship between cause and effect is immediate and magnified, perhaps, as critic Dan Cameron posed, the artist is asking us to ponder the ramification our actions are having on our environment. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator 1 Bill Arning, "Ernesto Neto," Bomb, Winter 2000, p. 80. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Katya Garcia–Anton, "Ernesto Neto-Gramatica Jocosa," in Ernesto Neto, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, U.K., and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland, 2000, p. 27. 5 Sylvie Fortin, "Ernesto Neto," Parachute, April/May/June 1999, no. 94, p. 58. 6 Dan Cameron, "Why we ask you not to touch," in Ernesto Neto, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, U.K., and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland, 2000, p. 15. 7 Fortin, p. 59. 8 Lynn Herbert, Ernesto Neto: Nhó Nhó Nave, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, 2000, p. 5. 9 Ibid., p. 6. 10 Ibid., p. 11.