BERLIN — What’s most striking about Daniel Turner’s Particle Processed Cafeteria at König Galerie is the sheer immensity of it. The focal point of the exhibition is a rust-brown powder staining the gallery’s floor. It’s a pretty sizable stain, to say the least, yet the sense of scale Turner’s exhibition commands is something of a paradox. Located in a former church, the Gothic immensity of König Galerie’s St. Agnes wing precedes Turner’s work and will remain there after the show is taken down. What Turner has managed to accomplish, however, is a kind of balancing act between the scale and coloration of the gallery, and his almost reluctant insertion of an object into it. Particle Processed Cafeteria is not only site-specific; it’s frail, ephemeral. Poised against the gallery’s architectural permanence, it sucks the monolithic stature of the space into itself like a black hole.
Nothing in Turner’s exhibition can be taken for granted. The brown powder on the ground might look like rust, but it’s really finely pulverized plastic and steel. Turner took steel and wood tables and folding chairs, like those you would find in a high school cafeteria, and ground them down into powder. He then liquefied this powder and sprayed it onto the gallery’s stone floor. To the left as you enter, just past the steps that make the exhibition feel like an altar, there’s a lone, unlit floodlight fixed to the wall, positioned about knee-high: this functioning object denuded of utility lends a mysterious credence to the narrative of entropy that the exhibition evokes. Perhaps because the light is too low to the ground to properly function, and seems grayed with neglect, its presence feels like a continuation of the process that went into making the stain on the ground.
How much does Turner’s site-specific stain borrow from the ambience around it, and how much does it reflect back? In the way the centerpiece of the exhibition depends on a protracted process for its realization, its essential strength, its strangeness in relation to the majority of “conceptual” work being made today, is its dismantling of the found object — a kind of obsession with disuse and total indifference to symbolic gestures. Turner has literally pulverized found objects, creating an industrial-sized emulsion that is nevertheless dependent on the site where it exhibits for context.
All of this creates a situation that is starkly ambiguous. Given the artist’s emphasis on time, on presenting the aftereffect of an elaborate process, at least some of this ambiguity derives from the motivations that led him to make such a work. Turner isn’t an artist who gives much away. Is Particle Processed Cafeteria a performance? Were the original materials reduced to particles out of an interest in their molecular makeup or for the resulting perceptual effect? The exhibition raises more questions than it answers, which seems to be the point.
Inverting the monolithic severity of works such as Richard Serra’s “Inside Out” sculptures, Turner’s Particle Processed Cafeteria relies heavily on the story of its making and borrows the shape of the space where it is installed rather than demanding a specific type of space to accommodate it. This nomadic brand of conceptualism is less the spatial manipulation of found objects than a meditative withdrawal from objectivity itself, an intellectualism that would approach transcendence were it not so invested in dramatizing dematerialization as the byproduct of an industrial process. As it stands, Particle Processed Cafeteria approximates the character of doubt specific to nervous questioning, and feels uncomfortably situated in the space of a church.