Ernesto Neto: The Edges of the World

Laura Cummings

Down the Thames at the Hayward Gallery, the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto has installed what can be truthfully described as a swimming pool on the roof. A plush pink bubble that undulates when you nudge it, filled with warm blue water, and available (pre-booked) to 16 people at a time, it is the endpoint of a ravishingly luxurious journey.

Neto has filled the gallery with a spectacular installation of gauzy Lycra that floats, drifts and stretches in tunnels and pavilions, caverns and pleasure domes, magical and undeniably sensuous. The fabric plunges and dangles, weighted down with glowing bulbs, gathered up in tubes, scented with camomile and lavender, shimmering blue and gold, pearl, pink and purple.

It is an ethereal dream, but not without a past. The biomorphic shapes speak of Joan Miró; the hazy ceilings, through which one may climb to raise one’s head above the clouds, run right back to Gaudí and Blake and before that renaissance utopias. Heaven only knows how it was conceived, but its execution is a feat of nylon, silk and the most delicate of embroidery.

People become a spectacle to each other as they walk within it, visible through the semi-transparent layers. You may find yourselves united in the pool, with its glass staircase, or in the glowing red cell at the heart of the show, where Neto has supplied drums for a pulse. You may find yourself noticing the flow as an echo of the Thames outside.

Naturally, there are associations with less idealistic entertainment – the pool, the beach, the helterskelter and the bouncy castle. Anyone bent on finding spectres might insist that the plywood structures were strangely bone-like, but that would be stretching the point. The show is a heady, out-of-body experience made to draw us together in its gorgeous embrace. It is one of the most uplifting trips you could have in a gallery.

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