This summer, the Fondation Beyeler is presenting Ernesto Neto’s immersive work GaiaMotherTree at Zürich Central Station. On view in June and July is a monumental, brightly colored sculpture in the shape of a tree, made from knotted cotton strips. Visitors and commuters alike can walk in the installation, which reaches above to the height of the station. A variety of public programs, performances, tours, and workshops will take around the work.
Whitewaller caught up with Neto about the encounters he hopes the audience will have this summer.
WHITEWALLER: What is the inspiration and starting point behind GaiaMotherTree?
ERNESTO NETO: When I went there, to visit Zürich Central Station, a wind blew into my heart and spread out through my eyes the drawing of the mother tree. Sometime later I realized that I had seen it in a vision during a Huni Kuin ritual at the cupixawa in Parque Lage, in a night of heavy rain, conducted by Txana Ixã Sabino and Isairewe, but it is never just an inspiration; it’s a continuity from the works we are doing for a long time. In every work, we have our whole ancestry, or whole history, if you prefer. My whole life will be there.
WW: Why was this work a good fit for this summer’s installation at Zürich Central Station?
EN: I don’t know, but I think it’s a good question to be answered by the audience. As I tried to say, I didn’t think about summer or anything. The contact with the air at the station brought it, and when the spirit whispers, we do not discuss it. I think that it is time to feel what we’re doing on this planet as we are inhabitants, what we want to leave for our grandkids. Summer is the time that nature calls us to feel the light and the heat, to swim to be immersed, to hear the atmosphere, breathe the air, recover to begin again a new year, and who knows? To open our hearts to a new time, with peace in our spirit, gentleness and love, to feel the spirit of the planet, the Gaia spirit, to listen to Mother Nature, to feel gratitude for being alive.
WW: In such a heavily trafficked area, how do you hope the public will engage with GaiaMotherTree?
EN: I hope GaiaMotherTree can open time in their busy lives. The art that comes to me always is a dance with the nature of the materials and the gravity, the nature in between the protagonists under the gravity, their relationship, how one acts over the other. It’s always an experience, so let’s see what the reaction of the public is going to be.
When we go to an art gallery, we are expecting everything, anything, will be called art. At the station, we don’t know. I like this lack of expectation.
WW: GaiaMotherTree is made entirely by hand. Why is that central to the feeling of the work?
EN: We have fingers, and fingers teach us; fingers play with us. This is the kind of work we are open to touching, so there is a continuity in the process from where it came from to where it goes. There is an exchange of energy. There is also a collective process. Many people working together, in each knot, in each lace there is a prayer; there is a time; there is a life. I don’t know if this is a central point, but in this machine age we are living in, our spirits are being dominated by our minds, but there is a wisdom hidden in our bodies. A sculptor touches the art, touches to feel. I like to touch trees, people, stones, earth. Touch is good. When we crochet, we touch, we count, we meditate, we pray.
WW: What kind of materials did you want to work with?
EN: A sculpture is made by dreams. Dreams are the material, air, open the free the spirit that wants to sprout. I mostly dream with fabrics, textiles, the spirit of the skin, what is in between. Most important is the relationship, in continuity. I just want to breathe and let it blow and grow, to spread like a smell, subtle, whispering in our ears. It’s Mother Earth. She blows.