Made up of over eight thousand photographs and seven hundred fragments of overheard conversations — all meshed together by nearly a thousand keywords — Turnstile is an extraordinary cultural archive. David Wills has spent the last four years trawling through our contemporary urban environment like a human drift-net. He has developed a finely attuned radar for cultural objects that are so marginal, so detrital, that they barely register as artefacts at all. He taxonomizes and cross-references this ‘cultural mulch’ using an acute historical sensibility that mixes irony with a passion for his world, as well as nostalgia with a love for the contemporary, in equal parts. The interlacing of the threads of images and information forms an on-line network vast in scale and microscopic in detail, but unified in structure.
He has not only constructed his own world, but has also produced a thoroughly compelling document of our time, which depicts the early twenty-first century not so much pictorially as granularly.
The archive is a key motif of photography, from nineteenth century ethnographers, through twentieth century artists such as Gerhard Richter and Hans Peter-Feldman, to today’s sardonic flaneurs such as Martin Parr. And of course online archives such as Corbis or Flickr already allow us access to numbers of images at an astronomical scale. But only Turnstile combines the automatic logic of a search engine with the personal sensibility of a singular artist.