CHARLES LONG: CATALIN AND PET SOUNDS: THE CONTEMPORARY AUSTIN, TEXAS
Charles Long’s practice might be compared to that of an alchemist: the blending of art, science, and spirituality, encompassing a plurality of form and technique, driven by a sincere pursuit of answers to existential questions, and imbued with a healthy dose of imagination and play. Long is not only an artist but also an inventor, tinkering with ideas and elements like a mad scientist. He is also an academician, exhibiting a sponge-like absorption of modern philosophies and an array of scholarly pursuits, particularly those related to the intersection of art and nature. In his polyvalent practice, he utilizes a range of media—including installation, sculpture, film, video, audio, architecture, and found materials—to expand upon, tweak, and subjugate notions of sculpture. Long’s aesthetic leans toward the abstract and biomorphic, in the lineage of Surrealists such as Jean Arp, Joan Miró, and Yves Tanguy (kindred spirits of the psychological and unconscious), taking the shape of fantastical, anthropomorphic forms, rickety yet poetic assemblages, or seductive blobs, blips, and oozes. Much of his work exhibits a decided organic “softness,” even when it is hard to the touch, recalling Eva Hesse’s latex and fiberglass sculptures, Claes Oldenburg’s outsized, droopy re-creations of everyday objects, or Franz West’s wildly colorful, irreverent sculptures resembling papier-mâché sausages. In postmodern fashion, Long’s sculptures and installations embrace porous boundaries between object, environment, and viewer. Three-dimensional forms morph and blend with their pedestals and surroundings; likewise, the artist’s practice often engages collaborative methods and interactive intent.
For his winter/spring 2014 exhibition at The Contemporary Austin, Long manifests a transformative installation at the Jones Center, turning the space into a mysterious and mystical Gesamtkunstwerk, a Wagnerian hybrid environment of sculpture, film, music, fragrance, theater, performance, and grand spectacle. Titled CATALIN—after the trademarked moniker of an early form of plastic material developed in the 1930s Art Deco period from formaldehyde that was fugitive and, ultimately, toxic—the exhibition is a cacophony of sensory stimulation haunted by an ethos of impending doom. For this project, Long takes inspiration from Timothy Morton, a leading thinker on ecology, philosophy, and aesthetics whose writings often expound upon the inevitable demise of our ecological environment and art’s reflection of this reality. In characteristic collaborative spirit, Long has worked with local organizations and artisans and will engage the second-floor space for films, lectures, theater, and community events. Complementing this downtown installation, the artist’s Pet Sounds, 2012, is installed outdoors at Laguna Gloria. Titled after the 1966 Beach Boys album of the same name, these playful sculptures in bright, candy colors begin as railings and morph into luscious, playful blobs that engage the viewer with murmurs, vibrations, and strange sounds when touched. With CATALIN and Pet Sounds, Long walks the line between humor and gravitas, treachery and seduction, and formalism and existentialism, putting forth questions—without definitive answers—about the human condition and the fragility of our physical and psychological worlds.