Ernesto Neto: SunForceOceanLife

Hanging nearly 30 feet high in Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is Ernesto Neto’s immersive SunForceOceanLife, an interactive installation that thoughtfully evokes the ocean and inner stability.

Yellow, orange, and green plastic balls tightly wrapped in netting create the suspended pathways splitting and joining in spiraling paths before ultimately combining in the center. The hand woven netting is sewn together in spiraling patterns surrounding the pathways and is necessary to use for balance as visitors enter the work.

Guests are encouraged to experience Neto’s piece first hand; walking barefoot through the nets creates the sound of waves and cause the piece to ebb and flow like the tide — it’s as easy to get lost in the installation as it is to get lost at sea. Pathways split into threes and meet in suspended rotundas before finally leading the visitor out of its labyrinth.

At nearly 30 feet x 79 feet x 55 feet, walking through Neto’s SunForceOceanLife forces visitors to focus on their own balance and stability. In an interview with MFAH Neto says his work, “directly engages the body as does a joyful dance or meditation, inviting us to relax, breathe, and uncouple our body from our conscious mind. The sensation of floating, the body cradled by the crocheted fruits of our labor, brings to mind a hammock: the quintessential indigenous invention that uplifts us and connects us to the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors.”

SunForceOceanLife is about fire, the vital energy that enables life on this planet. Every time we complete one crocheted spiral with the polymer string used in this work, we burn both ends with fire in a gesture that evokes meditation, prayer, and other sacred rituals. I hope that the experience of this work will feel like a chant made in gratitude to the gigantic ball of fire we call the sun, a gesture of thanks for the energy, truth, and power that it shares with us as it touches our land, our oceans, and our life.”

Although not the intended message of the installation, Neto’s choice to use plastic balls as the pathways served as a powerful comment on pollution. Every step in his beautiful ocean made of fire and culture was filled to the brim with plastic. It was difficult to find internal balance while navigating multicolored microplastics spiraling upwards 30 feet. In a way, visitors walked the path of their culture and ancestors but paved with modern pollution. It was a message difficult to ignore.

Visitors lined up by the dozens to experience Neto’s incredible feat of art and engineering. SunForceOceanLife truly was a spectacular sight to see and a powerful message to experience.

Ernesto Neto’s SunForceOceanLife is on display through Sunday, 26 September, 2021 in Cullinan Hall of the Caroline Wiess Law Building at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Learn more at their website here.

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