2008 Biennial

Charles Long

Untitled, 2007

“For the past five years, I’ve lived in a part of Los Angeles that is known as Frogtown. And it happens to coincide with a very large, but little-observed, landmark, the Los Angeles River. It’s this bucolic stream with about 125 different species of birds, and there’s just all this life there and everything on the streets of Los Angeles, everything that can roll or get caught in a torrent of rain just comes down and into the river and it gets caught in these trees that grow up through the concrete. What I discovered recently walking over these things was that under my feet were these amazing marks made by the excrement of the blue heron and the white egrets. And they trickled down the sides of the concrete and as they do, they make these forms that to me, always look like creatures, sometimes even like the birds themselves. They have heads, sometimes beaks, appendages, and they can be as long as 20 feet. And once I started seeing them as theses creatures, I couldn’t un-see them.

“What I would do, is I would take photos of these excrements and then I would have them produced using albumen photography, which is a 19th century process. It uses egg whites as the emulsion that suspends the gold or silver pigment. And for me, the egg is bringing back another aspect of the bird and materiality. Then I would see them three dimensional- I got very good at interpreting flat things as 3-D. And welled up these structures, almost like line drawings, and then I would start to gather all these things from my walks that I would bring home in the backpacks and grab these things and mix it with the plaster and paper mache and some glue and start putting it all over the steel armature. And these are all things in the river; I mean the river has it all. It has American flags and baby strollers. You know everything that goes through our lives ends up down in that river.

“I don’t make the kind of art that starts with an idea. I work from my experience, my materials, my presence, my joy, my anger. And so when I talk about digestion, I’m talking about how for me as an artist, I process these things and output it. I want the work just to be floating and strange for the viewer, to have that strangeness that I feel in the river of seeing an automobile stuck in a tree. It’s so riveting and beautiful. And that’s what I’m after, this sense of imbalance and beauty.”