The Austin Chronicle

'Pet Sounds'

Charles Long's menagerie of blobby sculptures beg to be touched, and coo approvingly when they are

By Robert Faires, January 17, 2014, Arts

"Stroke the blobs."

That may not turn out to be the catchphrase of the spring in town, but don't be surprised if you start hearing it or some similar phrase in the coming weeks. Charles Long's Pet Sounds is taking up residence in the woods at Laguna Gloria for three months. The California artist's installation, which debuted at Madison Square Park in New York City in 2012, consists of a half-dozen fiberglass and aluminum sculptures that, on one end, appear to be functional metal railings but, on the other, are these large, curiously shaped, crayon-bright lumps. One suggests a purple manatee, another an ashen snowman in mid-melt. There's what looks to be the world's largest wad of discarded pink gum and a gargantuan Cheeto-orange uvula comfortably slumped on a park bench. Now, that may make them sound like the last things on Earth that you'd want to touch, but that's precisely what you need to do, for when you lay your hands on these creatures, they respond. Embedded in the surfaces of these blobs are sensors, so that when you give them a pat, a caress, a stroke, sounds come out of them. Not "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "God Only Knows" or any of the other tracks from the 1966 Beach Boys album from which the installation takes its name, but a variety of beeps, chirps, whirs, screeches, and musical tones – the electronic equivalent of barnyard noises – that will sometimes change pitch or frequency as you move your hand over them or change the way you pet them. They're strange-looking and yet strangely attractive, too, in that you're drawn to interact with these oddball critters, to solicit some response the way you would with the furry, four-legged kind in a petting zoo. How often is art playful and soothing in that way? And if you come to see these beasts this Saturday between 3 and 5pm, the Contemporary Austin will up the soothingness ante with cookies and hot chocolate. (Plus, you can walk the grounds with Charles Long himself.)

Pet Sounds isn't the only work of Long's to grace Austin right now. The Contemporary also commissioned a new installation for its Downtown home, the Jones Center. Titled CATALIN, for the transparent Bakelite plastic used to make everything from boxes to jewelry to the handles of John Wayne's six-shooters, this work creates a moody dreamscape of icebergs and crypts with sculptures, film, and even fragrances to engage all the viewer's senses. Lest you think that too creepy, Senior Curator Heather Pesanti states in the press materials for the exhibit, "The dark undertones of CATALIN, as seen in its commentary on the dire global ecological situation, are counteracted by the all-encompassing immersiveness and sheer beauty of its objects and imagery." Long will speak about both CATALIN and Pet Sounds at the Jones Center Saturday, Jan. 18, 2pm. This artist talk is open to the public and free. But you're probably on your own for the hot chocolate on this one.

Pet Sounds will be on display Jan. 18-April 20 at The Contemporary Austin Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th. CATALIN will be on display Jan. 18-April 20 at The Contemporary Austin Jones Center, 700 Congress. For more information, visit

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