Domenico de Masi, an Italian sociologist and thinker of the condition of work in the 21st century, defines the hammock, in Portuguese “rede” (a word which also means ‘mesh’ or ‘network’) as the symbol of idle time.
This piece of soft furniture is actually quintessentially Brazilian. Invented by the Amazon Indians, the Portuguese colonisers soon appropriated it and replaced the natural fibers by cotton and added lacing to match the Portuguese baroque style.
- Indigenous hammock from Bakairi Tribe, made of tucum, a kind of reed found in the southern Amazon basin region
A hammock is neither a bed to sleep in, nor a chair to work in, but can function as both. It is not a swing to play in, but you can swing in it. As a topological shape (as opposed to something fixed and rectilinear), it adapts to your body shape and cradles your body, making you feel safe and comforted. Perfect for reading and napping.
Beyond comfort to a new way of seeing
In Brazilian contemporary art, the hammock was seen as a material, symbolic and conceptually rich element of Brazilian culture that was explored in different ways and in different contexts, but always as a way to engage the body in viewing or relating to the art piece. Helio Oiticica makes us swing in hammocks and turn our gazes upwards to images of Jimi Hendrix and cocaine in a lull that changes the way we perceive the images on the wall. Brazilians think lying down, so art should also be seen lying down and not in the museum-like upright position – is one of the many readings of this piece.
Lygia Clark used “rede” as a mesh which engulfs and traps people in one more of her ‘relational objects’. In these works, she created structures, situations and performances where the artwork facilitates the relationship among individuals rather than being a sculpture in and of itself – perhaps a sculpture to live in, although she would dismiss the term ‘sculpture’ altogether. She proposes a different kind of experience with the work of art, a “work” which has dissolved into the performative aspect of the proposition, thus turning artwork into experience and viewer into participant.
In the ‘tangle’ below, we see an evident use of the structural as well as the symbolic aspect of the mesh which both unites as well as traps and engulfs bodies. For me, this is an apt metaphor of our relationship to information and social media today and how intertwined, tangled and meshed we are around this info-mesh-plasma.