The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

All Issues
SEPT 2012 Issue


On View
Madison Square Park
May 2 – September 9, 2012
New York

8/6/12, 6:41 P.M.
It is a sunny day, 82 degrees, just a few clouds in the sky. I enter the park from the southwest corner, brush by the hordes chattering and eating Shake Shack burgers at aluminum tables, walk past the fountain, and pause at the entrance to Charles Long’s installation. Long has created a network of handrails that form paths through Madison Square Park’s grassy field. Each of the six pastel railings—pink, green, blue, yellow, gray, and purple—gives way to an amorphous blob in a central clearing.

Charles Long’s “Pet Sounds” (2012) in Madison Square Park. Photo by James Ewing/Courtesy Madison Square Park Conservancy.

I stand in a path delineated by the pink railing on my right and the green on my left, gravel under my feet. The handrails reach up to the area between my belly button and chest. My arms rest comfortably on top of the pink pipes as I scrawl notes in my journal. The surface is smooth, coated with glossy industrial paint, the kind that can be easily chipped off after months of weathering but currently remains relatively unblemished. The joints connecting the piping are unobtrusive; tiny crevices indicate where one tube begins and the other ends, and the bolts keeping the structure in place are concealed on the underside.

The path curves slightly, leading me to the tree in the central space. I see a group of six women sitting around a blue blob, practicing yoga. An older woman sits upright on a bench next to the green blob, eyes closed, hands outstretched on her knees—meditating, perhaps. I notice a sign behind another railing, its gray letters matching the gray tubes: please do not climb or hang from the artwork. thank you. I’m about to reach the nearby blob when a park ranger approaches me, saying the installation is now closing and I must exit. It’s 7:02 P.M.. I’ll have to return another day.

8/12/12, 12:24 P.M.
Today, I enter through the western path flanked by the blue handrail on the left, yellow on the right. I’m leaning against the yellow, with notebook and pen perched in front of me, when I feel a vibration under my hands. Looking towards the clearing, I see a toddler smacking the yellow blob with both hands. I go to investigate.

I follow the yellow railing to its end, where the metal pipe suddenly sweeps vertically, reaching six feet high before arching down. The dropping rail morphs into a form resting on a wooden park bench. It expands to about three feet wide at the bottom, with 16 inches or so hanging off the edge of the seat. Its surface is uneven, lumpy—different from the geometry and regularity of the pipe railing, yet maintaining the smooth sheen of the industrial paint. I sit next to the blob, its form mirroring my bent body. I glide my hand across its surface, which activates a noise: a clear ding pierces the air, followed by a rhythmic clicking interspersed with quicker trills.

It turns out that all of the blobs emit sounds. Some maintain a constant, electronic hum at all moments; others produce low thumps, high-pitched notes, or wavering tones when touched. The six blobs are scattered around the perimeter of the clearing, all four to six feet in length but varying in their form. A bulging purple form stretches horizontally across the length of a bench. The gray stands vertically, thickest at the bottom, lumps of metal folding over itself. The blue is the only one not found at the end of the long railing, growing instead out of a horizontal segment of pipe and dripping downward from its center. A two-year-old ambles over, slaps her hand against it, and listens to screeching birdcalls.

A family approaches the pink blob, which covers a third of a picnic table’s surface. They tap gently, and then bang on its surface with more vigor. “Make some noise!” says the boy. After a few more taps, his mother concludes, “No noise,” and leads her companions away. I venture a tap from the other side, provoking a gavel sound and a sharp ping simultaneously. These two notes echo for a few seconds before dissipating into silence.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

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