View of “Daniel Knorr,” 2015. Photo: Amedeo Benestante.

View of “Daniel Knorr,” 2015. Photo: Amedeo Benestante.

Daniel Knorr

View of “Daniel Knorr,” 2015. Photo: Amedeo Benestante.

The ironic title of Daniel Knorr’s third solo show at Galleria Fonti, “Veni Vidi Napoli” (I Came I Saw Napoli), might well imply that not all battles are swiftly won. The Romanian-born Berlin-based artist works in mixed media (photography, video, sculpture, performances, collage, and drawing) to encourage the viewer to consider what lurks beyond serene and sometimes reassuring surfaces, whether in his work or in broader social and political structures.

This strategy, elaborated in the artist’s writing, was evident in the two series of works that occupied the gallery space. Visitors were welcomed by “Capillaire” (Capillary), 2015, a modular installation consisting of a series of six freestanding columns of acrylic plastic. The captivating appearance of the forms hides their disquieting materiality: Each contains a different type of poison—tear gas, hemlock, Zyklon B, and orpiment, among others—that gives the structure its color. The work’s title refers to the circulation system of the human body, but it also aims to evoke political, commercial, or cultural events that impact, in widespread fashion, a large group of people. Thus, the caustic nature of Knorr’s intervention is twofold, suggesting that the viewer is meant to reflect on the ways in which the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, the human body and the social body are here conceptually conflated, but in reality are systemically and biopolitically intertwined. Throughout history, the poisons included in the series have been used to calm unruly children, curb pregnancies, kill politicians, and control protesters. The sculptures’ seemingly fragile beauty emphasizes the slippery nature of poison; if not controlled, it can quickly go from beneficial (as medication for example) to lethal. The difference between cure and toxin lies simply in dosage.

The works in the “Depression Elevations” series, 2012–, installed in the gallery’s back room, are powerful in a different way. The oxymoronic title leads to a reflection on the contrast between the works’ appealing forms and their humble origins. To create the brilliantly colorful and irregular surfaces, Knorr pours resin into potholes he comes upon accidentally, like a flâneur, in the streets of cities he passes through. Made up of the residual traces of his actions, this series reveals the performative aspect of Knorr’s work. It is no accident that he favors the use of alginate, the same material dentists use to make casts: It became clear that his engagement with the substance, especially as seen in conjunction with Capillaire, is meant to draw connections between the body (and our regulation of it) and larger social and political systems. After using alginate to obtain pothole impressions, Knorr completes the works in his studio, adding various layers of saturated, candy-like colors. The work’s content, Knorr tells us, is “the materialization of our history, of production, work, and leisure.” This lush materialization, however, is almost paradoxical, as it emerges from the filling up of a void; it represents the absence of material.

Eugenio Viola

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.