Magazine article Artforum International

Plasticine and Heard

Magazine article Artforum International

Plasticine and Heard

Article excerpt

WITHIN MINUTES OF TAKING A SEAT at Bubblegum Station, 1995, I enjoy little epiphany. The centerpiece of "The Amorphous Body Study Center," a collaboration between sculptor Charles Long and soundscaper Stereolab, Bubblegum Station is an enormous mound of plasticine that the viewer if invited to mold and mark. I'm hacking off some pink stuff with one of the scalpels helpfully provided, and this guy gingerly sits at the next stool and starts grinning shyly at me. I take off the headphones (through which Stereolab's soundtrack is piped) and the guy asks, "Are you the artist?" I should have said yes, of course - since the point of Bubblegum Station is to erase the distinction between creator and spectator - but instead I politely explain that we can all participate in this work-in-progress. So the guy fiddles with a nodule of plasticine, then seems to get embarrassed and slopes off to look at the other exhibits.

Separating the irretrievably adult from those still in touch with the inner child, Bubblegum Station was definitely the hit of the several installations in Long's "Amorphous Body Study Center," which showed recently at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York. This plasticine orb was pocked and protuberant with residues of collective creativity - coral fronds and tendrils, etched hieroglyphs, and a few figurative offerings (a dice with nines on each side, a shark, a motorcar). There were pink blobs under each stool, too (Long's original inspiration for the piece was the bubblegum deposited under desks by bored school kids), and somebody had wittily sculpted one lump into an udder.

Stereolab, a London-based outfit whose core is the creative/romantic partnership of Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, composed music to sound right whenever you happened to put the headphones on. There was one soundtrack per installation, with sets of 'phones supplied. For Bubblegum Station it was "Melochord Seventy Five," a typical slice of Stereolab mantra-rock based around a blithe three-note melody and a minimal chord-sequence for guitars heavily phased to sound as pinkly inorganic as the plasticine. (Imagine a sort of Velcro Underground.) With their repetition esthetic intensified by the fact that each track was repeated on a loop, Stereolab abolished time, encouraging you to become totally absorbed in the polymorphous pleasure of palpating the pink plasma. This was big fun.

Bubblegum Station was also the piece that most substantiated the rather lofty concept behind "The Amorphous Body Study Center," in which Long aimed to focus awareness on the body and reaffirm its status, which he believes is threatened by the advent of an information-based culture. There are certainly technology-driven historical forces (the on-line revolution, CD-ROM, the explosion of cable, virtual reality) that implicitly or potentially devolve the human body into what Arthur Kroker calls "geek flesh," i.e., blobs of atrophied muscle 'n' sinew jacked into the cyberdelic domain, their only form of exertion the clicking of the mouse. But there's also a powerful countretrend working toward the intensification of bodily awareness and the exploitation of physicality as a resource. This trend is most obvious in a plethora of therapies, regimes, and rituals: the mania of fitness and working out with weights; body-piercing and tattooing; the unstoppable rise of dance music, etc. …

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