Alex Turgeon opened his solo exhibition, Charon’s Obol —running at Berlin’s Center from August 19 to September 4, with an impassioned, gnomic performance that resisted expectations and categorisation in equal measure. Part reading, part conjuring, part immolation, it managed to both subvert and exemplify the qualities that make Turgeon’s art special. The Berlin-based artist is known for creating installations of a refined and subtle complexity, as well as for writing practice that combines the associative character of spoken word poetics with a romanticism that evokes the legacy of North American transcendentalist literature and canonical British Romantics like John Keats.
With the sun setting over Gleisdreieck Park, the artist’s voice blasts from a speaker situated outside the glass walls of the gallery. Turgeon appears in a white T-shirt, jeans and stocking feet with a microphone protruding from his mouth reading from the pages of a lengthy poem and striding across the narrow space of the gallery like an imprisoned animal. During the reading, Turgeon tears at his work, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’—a plotter print image of stylised bricks covering the main wall of the gallery—and feeds the strips of paper through an electric shredder.
The exhibition, taking its name from the Ancient funerary practice of placing coins in the mouths of the deceased as a means of propitiating the mythic ferry pilot Charon, presents a densely intertextual network of literary and cultural references. For example, the David Foster Wallace-referencing sculpture, ‘Consider the Lobster’, consisting of disembodied concrete feet, pierced by rebar and pinched by clam shells painted with nail polish, serves as an apposite starting point for an exhibition concerned with notions of transition. The shoeless concrete feet seem to speak of anything but the lifelessness of the mafia “burial at sea” euphemised by the expression “concrete loafers”.
Above the remains of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ is the sculpture ‘Plenty of Fish’, an arm protruding from the wall and attached to a galvanised steel bucket. The first time I passed the container it was empty which, given the references to fishing culture throughout the show, struck me as a deepening of it’s exploration of the ways in which death and life inscribe themselves on each other: an empty fishing bucket speaks of a dead marine ecology, but also of a deprivation of the livelihood for the fisher who depends on the catch, and the deaths it implies, to make a living.
The dynamics and aesthetics of life, death and afterlife also inform ‘I see my stoned face against your smile, hook, line and sinker’. The sculpture evokes a balance-scale holding a disembodied mouth in suspension with an anchor-like hook. It’s hard not to think of the Egyptian god, Anubis, weighing the hearts of the dead against a feather, standing before the work. One must take care not to over-literalise Turgeon’s work, or to draw metaphors too tightly, but with Charon’s Obol, he clearly manifests his determination to continue to trawl the deepest waters in search of newer, stranger species of emotion.**
Exhibition and performance photos, top right.