"One Day We Were All Fish and The Earth's Belly" is Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s first solo exhibition on the African continent. Arriving at a time of great political and environmental turbulence across the globe, Neto’s exhibition offers a grounding perspective on the nature of life and the value we should attach to its miraculous occurrence.
At the center of the exhibition is Neto’s large-scale immersive sculpture "Um dia todos fomos peixes (One Day We Were all Fish)". The installation, which was originally commissioned for the Blueproject Foundation in Barcelona, fills the main atrium of the gallery in a knitted blue net scented with aromatic spices, inviting visitors to be present and relax into the atmosphere created by the work.
As the title and aesthetic of the sculpture suggests, "Um dia todos fomos peixes" draws much of its inspiration from the ocean. For Neto the ocean has been a point of fascination since childhood, making it the perfect source material for his ongoing inquiry into the continuity between the human body and natural landscapes. The netting of the work itself is an abstracted representation of a giant fish, an idea which struck Neto during a ceremony in Brazil lead by the spiritual leader Álvaro Tukano.
‘He said in the beginning the Tukanos were fish, just a spine immersed In water,’ says Neto, recalling the experience. The teacher went on to describe how this was the origin of life on earth; a fact Neto saw echoed in our scientific understanding of the world, representing for him a continuity between these ‘two different fountains of knowledge’. Inspired by this realisation, Neto created Um dia todos fomos peixes as a ‘metaphor and a desire to encounter our own ancestry and absolute connection to nature, the nature that we are.’
By creating an immersive space that evokes the flow of the ocean, Neto’s installation reminds us of our inextricable connection to water and the ocean, encouraging audiences ‘to get in breath, meditate and reconnect, like a vortex, to the time we all were fishes.’
"The Earth’s Belly" is a new series of fabric works by Neto occupying the side rooms of the gallery. These works also take the form of a sculptural environment, which Neto describes as ‘resonating with the vibrations and energy of the earth’s soil’ and complement the rest of the exhibition by stimulating ‘the plexo, hara and root chakra’ – the three grounding energy centers of the body.
The fabric works that form part of "The Earth’s Belly" are made from traditional African and Brazilian textiles. In bringing these different materials together, Neto’s installation suggests how cultures develop and transform through globalisation and exchange, while still maintaining an inherent connection. By further interweaving organic shapes out of this fabric, the artist mimics the network of roots, soil and animals: lives which exist beneath the earth’s surface and bring to mind the energy of the earth, ‘from a historical, mineral, biological and spiritual point of view’.
Describing the experiential quality of this work, Laura Olea Lopez, curator from the Blueproject Foundation writes, ‘Neto devotes his art to creating new rituals that bring us closer to that nature that emerges from us through touch, by feeling attentively, breathing deeply and paying close attention to our bodies.’