Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022

Sweet, warm, and woodsy, clove evokes wintry comfort. Spicy, nutty, resinous, and bittersweet, the pungent aroma of cumin can be polarizing. Mildly aromatic with hints of orange or ginger, turmeric magnifies the latter’s subtle spiciness. The multifaceted aroma of black pepper teases us with nuances citrus, grass, evergreen, and sweetness. Some people say white pepper has a funky scent, but its intense warmth should come across as more subtle than its less mature counterpart.

Inhaled together, this spice blend – massive amounts of each encased in multi-colored cotton string crochet orbs hung from the ceiling from varying lengths – is intoxicating, challenging our olfactory prowess and drawing us into a sensual, spiritual space. Our sensory journey evolves as we ponder the textures, shapes, and purposes of pebbles, wooden hooks, expanded clay, terracotta pots, soil, plants, water, bricks, lavender, chamomile, and mulch, all emitting more scents to magnify our desire to discern what exactly is stimulating the human sense most closely linked to memory.

Ernesto Neto’s lifecommunity (2022), a site-specific installation that takes over a full room on the second floor of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, is on view through June 16. The exhibition, Between Earth and Sky, transforms the entire two-floor Chelsea gallery into an inimitable immersive multimedia art experience.

The intricacies of the dangling orbs and the sculptural garden is juxtaposed with four monumental The birth of phyto age panels (2022) made of cotton knit fabric, button loops, and nails. People were invited to plant the garden during a special presentation, inviting a dialogue between viewer and environment and weaving a narrative about the human relationship with nature.

The world-renowned Brazilian artist has, since the 1990s, been exploring space, volume, balance, and gravity, informed by sensuality, energy, and spirituality. Neto borrows from biomorphism, Arte Povera and Minimalist sculpture, along with Neo-concretism and other Brazilian vanguard movements of the 1960s and 1970s, incorporating organic shapes and materials that rely on our five senses. Inspired by Brazilian avant-garde artists such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, as well as the Modernist abstraction of Alexander Calder and Constantin Brancusi, and the natural world, shamanism, and craft culture.

Seeking shelter from the rain, a crowd poured into the gallery for the May 14 opening, folks sighing “oh, wow!” as they huddled under the canopy of cotton knit fabric with knotted drawings, to take in the luxurious marriage of bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and mint, to experience earthtreelifelove (2022), which incorporates pebbles, sand, soil, and wooden hook. Spirals comprising the cotton crochet carpet behave as the earth and the ocean, while the sculptural canopy stands in for the sky and falling leaves, reminding us of nature’s fragility and constant evolution.

Neto’s immersive environments indulge our senses and provoke us to contemplate natural and social worlds in innovative interior architectural settings. We’re encouraged to explore, become part of, and gaze at his creations from many angles, as we question our interactions with nature and other people and the artist’s relationship with his work. As so-called immersive art gains popularity, Neto’s environments cannot be confused with massive spaces where bluechip artworks or trippy imagery is projected, often offering nothing beyond self-absorbed opportunities for dynamic selfies. Neto enables us to deepen our understanding of our surroundings and our roles and responsibilities within nature and society.

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