Lorena Turner: Made in China
114 Smith Street
Through July 31
Product packaging started primarily for hygienic reasons. General stores used to stock sugar, crackers, and pickles in huge barrels, and for every order the grocer would dip in his scoop. Not only was it unsanitary, but customers also might leave wondering if they got what they paid for (“Was his finger on the scale…?”). Food packaging guaranteed sterile products and standardized portions—in a word, purity.
Packaging also created new real estate on grocery store shelves, and companies found it necessary to distinguish their product from others like it. What we now call branding spread from food to every kind of product. Right angles and regular shapes made for easier packing and shipping, too.
All the focus on the pristine package has led us to take for granted that its contents are immaculate—spotless, clean, untouched. But in fact, that’s an illusion. It’s likely that many people have laid hands on your shiny new alarm clock before it was wrapped up, sent off, unwrapped by you, and put on your bedside table. It’s these ghostly handlers that are the real subjects of Lorena Turner’s show Made in China at 0.00156 Acres Gallery in Brooklyn.
After buying China-made products from stores in her neighborhood, Turner carefully peeled back their cardboard shells or plastic sleeves, dusted for fingerprints using CSI-style forensic techniques, and then photographed them under a black light. Her show of small-scale photographs presents what she found on the surfaces of a radio, a ball, a needle-threader and other quotidian objects. Some of these object-subjects make an appearance in the exhibition, piled up in a clear acrylic pedestal that supports the guest book in the pantry-sized gallery. For such meaty conceptual territory, the show feels a bit hampered by the restrictive space. To get to the gallery, one must enter through an adjoining thrift store, itself a showcase for well-worn cast-offs, themselves lousy with prints and past lives.
Without knowing their backstory, the subjects of many of Turner’s close-up photographs have an arresting beauty and offer the fascination of a familiar object blown up and made unfamiliar through a new frame. But it’s the sense of the uncanny that takes over after learning that the indistinct smudges on each object are fingerprints. Humanity—and all the messiness and emotion that evokes—is suddenly present. In an instant, each cool, machine-made still life transforms into an affecting, if disembodied, portrait.