What awaits us after life ends is one of humanity’s greatest philosophical dilemmas, but what comes before our lives begin is much more rarely discussed. b 4 u, artist Charles Long's ongoing exhibition at NYC’s Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, seeks to explore what there was before you were literally you.
Six artworks mounted on wooden pedestals are spread generously throughout the gallery, each consisting of a silicone rubber sculpture mounted on a reflective base. Both parts are abstract and irregular in nature, and each of the rubber portions of the sculpture, cast from the artist’s and his friend’s bodies, are made in different colors. When taking in the whole room with an initial glance, the aforementioned themes at hand aren’t necessarily intuitive. A closer investigation is the crucial missing link here.
As you approach PeoplewareUready1, a fleshy, pink sculpture resembling an iMessage chat bubble, closer inspection reveals a distorted, fragmented version of yourself reflected in the sculpture’s triangular base. Each of Long’s seemingly abstract works are carefully constructed to enact a miniature existential crisis in the viewer, who is forced to engage with a peculiar reflection of themselves in order to examine the rest of the sculpture closely.
“Seeing your skin geometrically sliced up in the reflective base, juxtaposed against the synthetic skins of the rubber forms, may offer a unique experience, which you might contrast to the other new ways in which we are experiencing the body especially through digital mediation,” Long tells The Creators Project. “Trapped within the multiple, fractured reflections of the base, the new body is born, bound to endlessly regard itself like Narcissus, the originator of the selfie.”
Perhaps even more interesting than the artist’s existential intentions with his sculptures is his source of inspiration for making them, which relates to the artist’s ongoing experimentation with lucid dreaming, courtesy of the amino acid supplement 5-HTP: “The idea to put these rubber sculptures on mirrored bases came from a dream I had of a strip club, where I was looking at the patrons looking at the naked bodies,” Long reveals. “The mirrored walls were reflecting all of us, nothing was directly seen, and all there was were bodies reflecting.”
“To my mind, the distance of a reflection feels akin to the unconscious, especially as a lens for dream objects,” the artist adds.