3 | Humanoids Family, 2001

A group of sculptures of different size stand on the floor and seem to belong together. There is something human about them, even though they are relatively abstract. Perhaps the soft surface or somewhat sad expression incites us to experience them as resembling ourselves? Like over-sized soft toys, they stand and wait for someone to play with them.

Play is indeed what Ernesto Neto invites us to do with these humanoid creations. He asks us to cloth ourselves with them, almost as if they were T-shirts; there’s a hole for our head and two for our arms. Wearing a sculpture, we can walk around, we can sit down, lean back and become one with the soft, round form. The soft sculptures also have a gendered identity. Through a hole in the back you can feel your way forward to abstracted male or female genitalia. Some will perhaps feel this kind of penetration is overly intimate, but Neto wants to emphasize the significance of a childlike curiosity and thirst for knowledge. He generously allows us to get personal with the sculptures and thus also the underlying thought-process.

But there are many ways to approach these works. Neto believes you must establish an intimate relationship with them in order to gain a complete experience of them as artworks. This process takes time: you first establish a relationship with the work from a distance; thereafter you probably see someone integrating himself or herself with it; then you yourself take the final step to fully engage with it.

Neto’s humanoid sculptures can call to mind a series by the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica. About 1965 Oiticica created works called paragolés, which consisted of colourful textiles that had to be worn by someone in order to be fully experienced. They were used in different contexts, for example when dancing, but also in connection with political actions. Neto’s humanoid sculptures carry on Oiticica’s legacy but are less related to concrete political events. Instead, Neto invites us to physically experience the sculptural process – for him, this is never far removed from life itself, and playing and the joy of experimentation are always close at hand.