Los Angeles

Charles Long

Playing on the famous ’70s feminist book Our Bodies, Our Selves, Charles Long’s recent exhibition “Our Bodies, Our Shelves” takes as a starting point his own body and significant childhood experiences. The intentionally bad pun of the title announces Long’s investigation of the connection between corporeality and identity, between body and self. The show was divided into two groups of work: anthropomorphically rounded blobs (bodies) in a variety of high-tech plastics and tactile rubber and flock shelves (selves) that bent and curved so as to belie their functional roots. The origin of the blobs can be traced to Blob Job (all works 1996)—a translucent rubber mold of his torso which he filled with porno tapes and mags. From this mold three other works were produced in a variety of materials—from enamel-covered fiberglass to flocked plastic. These reveal that what distinguishes Long’s work is his ability to imbue the high-tech with a homey goofiness.

While the blobs scattered across the gallery floor had the look of post-Minimal or process art, Long gave each a unique identity by filling them with different objects. Taken together, they construct a somewhat obscure portrait of his childhood. Inside the enameled rubberiness of Photo Album, which looks like a giant balloon that has been tied off at the end, is a cache of family photographs the artist could bear neither to throw away nor to look at. From inside the hard fiberglass shell of Family Outing, a projector casts a seemingly unremarkable snapshot of a picnic on the gallery wall. This slice of ’70s Americana, complete with period haircuts and Brady Bunch clothing, takes on a whole other aura when you discover that this was a very particular outing—the one when Long learned of his father’s transvestism. Gene Genie, an egg-shaped wood-and-fiberglass structure in which a mound of long abandoned toys is visible through a slit in its surface, refers of course to David Bowie’s eponymous album and provides a key to Long’s oeuvre. Like Bowie, who created a new character for each of his albums in the ’70s, the decade of Long’s own adolescence, Long seeks to reinvent himself with each body of work, while maintaining a consistent formal language.

From the first, Long has emphasized the abstract, freestanding mass, a predilection that can be traced to his fascination with the postwar “braze and weld” sculptors, especially Theodore Roszak and Seymour Lipton. In Long’s view they sought to isolate and present the object, and Long, too, rejects the universal in favor of the autonomous and the specific. From the early cast-popcorn pieces through the Eduardo Paolozzi–inspired bubblegum esthetic of the Amorphous Body Study Center, 1995, Long has privileged the particular object, one with an intense and immediate style, over the transcendent concepts that underlie much of Modernist art. Yet beneath the surface style, there has always been a distinctly personal aspect to Long’s work. As he says, “The presentation of an abstract, freestanding mass reinforces the impression that we exist as selves in and apart from the world that produces us.” This disjunction between surface and expression creates a tension in the sculpture that is heightened by Long’s suppression of explicit representations of the body. The current series is therefore both a continuation and a significant departure, since Long has used materials such as plastic, rubber, flocking, and Styrofoam in the past; with the shelves, however, he has abandoned the freestanding mass in favor of relief, and in the blobs he has filled the absent body implied by his earlier work with his own literal and metaphoric presence.

Andrew Perchuk