Foto: Goethe-Institut São Paulo

Talk on Ernesto Neto’s “A Sacred Place”
Huni Kuin: existence as a work of art?

Can existence, in and of itself, become a work of art? This is one of the question asserted in the work of Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. In collaboration with the indigenous Huni Kuin, - Ikuani, inawa inu, Siariani, Tadeu siã txana hui bai and Zezinho yubē – he brings to the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia an indigenous ritual from the Amazon.

A Sacred Place is a hybrid work, a mix of installation, sculpture and performance, that aimed to bring to the here and now, in the time-space of the exhibit, the power of an ontology and of an epistemology anchored in magical thought. Since the beginnings of modern art, Western art has experienced a fascination for primitivism. Now, contemporary art seems to have learned that there is a need to examine its own frameworks through the paradigms of other systems of knowledge. Dialog and/or the impossibility of dialog between such diverse ontologies and epistemologies run through Ernesto Neto’s oeuvre and the life of the Huni Kuin people.

The questions are many: What criteria to use to understand this art beyond stereotypes and without fear of the inevitable misunderstandings? To what extent is the work part of the art system? How to understand it aesthetically? Departing from the notion that the work, as a mode of expression, does not exist autonomously, nor is it separate from the life of the Huni Kuin people, how does it “resolve” this paradox? Can we consider it a unique contribution from the South?

The Goethe-Institut announced its participation in the production of the work A Sacred Place during the week of the opening of the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Ernesto Neto, alongside Ikuani, Ninawa inu, Siariani, Tadeu siã txana hui bai and Zezinho yubē and five Txanas of the indigenous Huni Kuin, participated in the event with specialists, partners of the project Episodes of the South and the public.

Questions addressed included, among others, the status of contemporary art, exoticism, the appropriation and commercialization of indigenous culture and practices, the complex fusion between life and art and the intersections between ritual and performance.

Jochen Volz 



He is the General Director of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo and curator of the Brazilian Pavilion for the 53rd Biennale di Venezia. He was the curator of the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo in 2016. He served as Head of Programmes at the Serpentine Galleries in London (2012-2015); Artistic Director at Instituto Inhotim (2005-2012); and curator at Portikus in Frankfurt (2001-2004). He lives in São Paulo.

Candice Hopkins 



She is one of the documenta 14 curators and former Chief Curator at The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has held curatorial positions at the National Gallery of Canada, the Western Front, and the Walter Phillips Gallery at The Banff Centre. She is co-editor of the book Recipes for an Encounter (Western Front).

Alex Flynn 


Great Britain

He is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University, UK. His current research focuses on contemporary art in São Paulo, specifically on the production of knowledge, artistic interventions with activist connotations, and ethico-aesthetic practices.

Leigh-ann Naidoo

Researcher and activist

South Africa

Currently a Master’s student in the Wits School of Education. Her research is focused on the formation of a movement of South African students and on the role of education in the construction of political movements.

Laymert Garcia



Professor at Unicamp, he was the Director of São Paulo’s Biennial Foundation (2009-2010). He is active primarily in the following disciplines: biotechnology, technology and contemporary art. He currently coordinates the Laboratory of Culture and Network Technology.

Ernesto Neto



With a degree in Visual Arts and active since the 1980s, Neto's work is situated between sculpture and installation. In 2007, he created the monumental art intervention Leviathan Thot, in Paris. Solo exhibitions include Anthropodino (Drill Hall, New York, 2009), A sculpture can be anything that can stand upright (Elba Benitez Gallery, Madrid, 2008), among others. The artist is one of the directors of A Gentil Carioca gallery, in Rio de Janeiro.