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We Fishing the Time densidades e buracos de minhoca is an installation that fills an entire room. Originally designed for installation at Tate Liverpool on the occasion of the 1999 Liverpool Biennial, the work was titled to reflect the fact that it was made in England by a Brazilian, whose English has grammatical idiosyncracies. Neto, a native of Rio de Janeiro, coupled Portuguese with English by splitting the title in two and exchanging parts, so that in the English version the title’s second half appears in Portuguese, and vice versa for the Portuguese version. The title is derived from two images: Neto’s memories of seeing fishermen casting their nets; and the poetic visualisation of the infinite space of the universe as a skin beyond which there are fissures and a network of worm holes and passages leading to other levels and densities. The title of a related work made shortly after We Fishing the Time... for the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas – Nhó Nhó Nave – relates similarly to the burrowing of a worm (in Portuguese nhó nhó is an onomatopoeic sound to imitate the burrowing of a worm through the earth).
We Fishing the Time... is composed of a lycra fabric normally used to make pantyhose. Above head-height, three joined rectangular lengths of semi-transparent material are stretched horizontally, through lacing to hooks all around the walls, and vertically, by upward projecting tubular stockings of varying shades of cream and peach that are anchored to the ceiling. Large round lace-edged holes cut randomly in this horizontal membrane are pierced by twenty-three larger hanging tubular nets or sacks suspended from ceiling hooks. The nets are closed at their lower end and contain large volumes of powdered spices – turmeric, curry powder, black pepper and cloves – distending the ends so that they hang at varying levels, in some cases as low as the floor. Their aromatic contents emit a fine coloured dust, forming powdery circles on the ground and colouring the net. Where the circular holes meet the upper ends of the tubular sacks, they are edged with lace and joined with ribbon. The rectangular lengths of the ceiling membrane are finished with lace and buttons that fasten together. The structure as a whole depends on vertical and horizontal tension for its form: gravity pulls the swollen spice sacks downwards, while the fastenings on walls and ceilings stretch the fabric ceiling taut and hold the weight in space. The visitor may walk between the hanging columns of fragrant and richly coloured spices in an environment that combines evocations of stalactites in a cave, columns and aromas in a chapel and animal and other biomorphic forms.
Both the structure and materials of We Fishing the Time are typical of Neto’s work since the late 1990s. Tension, balance and the relationship between vertical and horizontal have been central to Neto’s practice since the late 1980s, when he created minimalist sculptures comprising elements in relations of mutual support. In the early 1990s he began filling stockings with such materials as ball bearings, lead particles and Styrofoam pellets, later progressing to the use of powdered lime and aromatic powdered spices. At first the filled stockings formed distended sacks lying on the floor. Others, filled with graphite or other pigment and thrown violently at the ground, lie in a dust circle expressive of the action’s energy, which such titles as Piff, paff, puff ... puff, poff puff, piff ... piff, paff 1997 (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York) onomatopoeically reflect. The artist has commented:
My environment is very important to the development of the work. Rio is a very complex city ... a city of the eternity of the mountains and the infinity of the sea. I feel the horizontality of the sea hitting the vertical brutality of the mountains has a lot to do with my work. The notion of the limit is important ... Rio is like a river, the city grows wherever it can, pressed by the mountains, the rivers, the lakes. The pressure makes the relations between people very close too.
(Quoted in ICA catalogue, p.27.)
Neto’s interactive installations and objects follow the tradition of such Brazilian artists as Lygia Clark (1920-88), Lydia Pape (1929-2004), Hélio Oiticica (1937-80) and Cildo Meireles (born 1948), who aimed to break down the barriers between the artist and the spectator, incorporating the viewer’s body into their art. The Neo-Concretist movement founded by Clark and Pape in the late 1950s was based on the introduction of a multi-sensorial approach to the art object. Neto’s naves – an ongoing series of structures made of lycra tulle which the viewer must physically penetrate, pushing aside elastic walls and walking through narrow stretchy corridors – combine sensuality with spirituality through the use of calm white and simple organic form. At the same time they evoke the designs of such modernist architects as Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and Oscar Niemeyer (born 1907). Neto’s aim, for the viewer, is pleasure, prioritising a sense of the body (through smell and touch) over sight.
Ernesto Neto: Naves, Céus, Sonhos (Naves, Skies, Dreams) 1998-1999, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Camargo Vilaça, São Paulo 1999, reproduced pp.6-7 in colour.
Ernesto Neto, exhibition catalogue, ICA London and Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2000, reproduced pp.3 and 14 in colour.
Ernesto Neto: o corpo, nu tempo, exhibition catalogue, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Xunta de Galicia 2002, reproduced p.103 in colour.