Unity Purity Occasional
Unity Purity Occasional (U.P.O.) was created in connection with the exhibition Siobhan Hapaska, Charles Long, Ernesto Neto at Magasin III in 2000. The idea of showing these three artists together came to me in the winter of 1998-1999 after having followed their work for a number of years. I wanted to bring together three artists who work with sculpture and tactility—sounds, scents, and touch—and who create a physical relationship between the visitor and the works in the exhibition space. What these artists have in common is that they exist in the borderlands between an abstract and figurative idiom, and that they create works that interact with their audience in a direct, physical way.
Charles Long has been creating works with his hands for a long time, sculptures that in turn invited their audience to touch them. When I visited Charles Long in his studio on West 29th Street in Manhattan before the coming exhibition, he said that he sometimes asked himself if it was really okay to create sculptures that tempted so many hands to touch the same object. Before the exhibition at Magasin III, he wanted to move away from his previous works and the touch that his work encourages from its audience. This departure resulted in the work Unity Purity Occasional, which Long has described in this way: “This was the transition piece, in which the audience could wash their hands of all the bacteria collected from my previous works at the same time as I could also wash my hands of what I observed as potentially far-too amusing works” (To Be Continued…, 2007).
Unity Purity Occasional is a sculpture with six hand-blown, tear-shaped glass cups filled with antibacterial hand gel that the visitor can pump out and disinfect their hands with. British-French music group StereoLab, with whom Charles Long worked with at the time, wrote a new song for the work. The song is channeled through three tubes that simultaneously blow the visitors’ hands dry with warm jets of air. From the sculpture’s foundation, the voice is accompanied by bass, percussion, and synthesizer. The work is illuminated with lamps and colorful strings of lights that are usually reserved for Christmastime.
The idea for this special shape came to Long during a visit to the Museum of Mankind in London. In an exhibition displaying African vessels, he saw an object with several necks attached to the same bottom. The vessel had been used during rituals where the same goblet was used by multiple people, each drinking from their own mouthpieces so as to avoid contaminating the others’ spirits. In this way, Unity Purity Occasional calls up the image of a hub where people gather, energy is generated, and people can purify themselves together. The sculpture could be a metaphor for purification, both physical and spiritual.
This is how Long described the work in an email to Magasin III in 2017:
“A machine is invented for a particular time; the guillotine and the French Revolution. However, the machine I invented here intends to address a different social problem for a time I hope to live to see: a germ transmission interrupter to facilitate safer connection of discrete and/or foreign bodies. Limitless physical interaction is certainly not everyone’s ideal, but way down in the heart of this artist there lies a peculiar desire for a total elimination of boundaries. The efforts involved in getting to that state would never meet with a good end in this world. But intuitively I sense that every artwork chips away at some boundary, sometimes in earnest, sometimes with blistering irony and often through destructive but well intended methods. Even in their utter failure to approximate this unity, the effect produces new levels of consciousness about the actual world we live in. It is a pull toward and a push back, and then a new paradigm.”
Summary from archival material and conversations with Richard Julin, 2019.
Text by Niki Kralli Anell.