Ernesto Neto at Park Ave. Armory

We went to see the Ernesto Neto installation (“anthropodino”) at the Armory drill hall last Saturday. Warning: photos, while I’ll offer some here for some context, are futile. What completes this piece is, for one, the smell of spices hanging from spermatozoa-like sacks, which also seem to correlate to different color zones in this gossamer being. Another dimension is the play spaces that the structure accomodates, although it seems more useful to children than anyone else.

The pictures might tell the story of the craft and beauty of anthropodino. But there’s just something about Neto’s new work that leaves a lot more to the imagination, wanting for better engagement with the space. The vocabulary is reminiscent of the Jurassic, with overlays of hippie smoke-outs, Whole Earth Catalog shelters, temporary Burning Man structures and such. But It comes across as more comical than chemical.

In this new age, once again, of U.S.-sponsored torture and war, something like this seems almost self-satirical, not to mention nostalgic. The processes of free-flow social cohesion, boundless love, and cultural protest that such an architecture was once supposed to have ring naive. Children have a field day with the installation and that seems to be the strongest critique of its futility and overall sterility. I don’t mean to gloss-over the details. I was impressed by looking upward and being under a vaguely pornographic cloud of goo.

If only the Armory—a building type shown by Robert Fogelson to be repressive surveillance machines—would get taken over in secret, one night, for god-knows-what… We could race go-carts around and into the anthropodino; have disco playing on synchronized boom boxes while rollerskating; feed the homeless; educate people about the experience of waterboarding; wear dino outfits and make movies; play war anthems; cook and eat; shoot the spices through cannons; post it all on the internet…

I just couldn’t help but think again about the current state of the San Francisco Armory on Mission Street. As a counternarrative to Neto’s space, the one Kinky Armory at least harbors a program that is often seen as more threatening and less secure for society. In the Neto piece, the artist statement handed at the door promised a “resonant experience of the body”, and to also challenge “the division of inside and ouside.” If only! (By the way, an interesting juxtaposition to Neto’s statement is this post on Subtopia).

In short,what seems to happen to good artists that try to work with architectural spaces is that they sever the physical aspects of the piece from the social uses of it. How would one deal with inside and outside if not through a simultaneous challenge to the social conventions that co-make each one of these cognitive categories? What anthropodino calls for is a rescue, like a beached whale on a coast. Take it out of the hands of the Upper Westsiders. All they want it for is to bring the kids between the hours of 9 and 6. Call in the kink-dot-commers and they’ll show you a few things about inside and outside.

A detail of the fabric skin and skelletal structure of anthropodino.

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