Stephanie LaCava on Nora Turato


ARTIST NORA TURATO has been working with dialect coach Julie Adams four times a week, on average, for over a year. At the beginning of November, she sent me a video on WhatsApp of one of their remote sessions. Adams has a parrot on his head, his turquoise and red tail feathers brushing his shoulder. She asks Turato to imagine blowing deeply into a wind instrument. I can see Turato’s face reflected on his laptop screen. She compresses her lips, waiting for further instructions. “Kind of like a saxophone,” says Adams.

Later, Turato sends me a link to Adams’ IMDb page. Al Pacino and Jennifer Jason Leigh are among his clients, but Turato chose Adams because she worked with Goran Visnjic (George Clooney’s replacement on the long-running American medical drama Emergencies). “He’s the only former yugo actor who managed not to be a vampire or a villain. Although that might change,” she jokes. Turato was born in Zagreb; his own Croatian accent comes out clearly when we talk on the telephone or in voice notes. She is not trying to change it, but rather working on diction and projection in preparation for her series of thirty-minute performances, airing three times a day from March 5 to 20 at the Museum of Modern NYC art.

The scripts for Turato’s monologues are drawn from his daily consumption of language – text and email correspondence, IRL conversations, internet articles, YouTube videos, photo captions, museum labels, Nintendo games, food packaging, and more. – selections made through an egalitarian process in which intuition, rather than paternity, determines the value of words. An online interview with the woman who sewed the mittens Bernie Sanders wore during the January 2021 presidential inauguration appears in one of Turato’s scripts from last year: “The outer layer is made of wool sweaters thrown away, wool sweaters that have moth holes in them or someone sent them to the washing machine or they’ve been torn or whatever, fallen into disuse.

Another of Turato’s sources is a cupboard with shelves facing the street outside his building in Amsterdam, a bona fide swap for old paperbacks. She likes to see what previous readers have pointed out, and then reproduce those phrases taken from her own artist’s books, the type put on colored shapes or spirals. Turato’s first publication was pool1 (2017). At MoMA, she will make her debut pool5 (2022); pool4 (2020) was intended, pre-Covid, to coincide with his performances there, but was ultimately released beforehand. She told me she didn’t know how to say Bowl correctly until about a year ago, pronouncing it “pull” instead.


Nora Turato, what is dead may never die, 2021. Performance view, November 6, 2021, Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels.  Photo: Koen Engels.

Turato never intended to become a performance artist, although it wasn’t such a drastic departure for a woman who spent her teenage years touring the former Yugoslavia as part of a punk band. of the MySpace era. Obsessed with Kim Deal (of the Pixies and the Breeders), Turato started out playing bass and making noise, but she was always more interested in song lyrics. After high school, she enrolled at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam to study graphic design. It was his teacher Linda van Deursen, known for her collaborations with Armand Mevis on visual identities for clients such as the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, who saw one of Turato’s text compilations in a Word document and suggested he try reading it aloud. His voice has since become his medium, both in the material and psychic sense of the term.

Turato’s voice became his medium, both in the material and psychic sense of the term.


Nora Turato, virtuous thoughts don't count, 2021, vitreous enamel on steel, two elements, total 75 3⁄4 × 47 1⁄4

One day in December, I received a voice note: Turato saying, in the rhythm of a newscaster, “This is the largest oil processing plant in the world, located in an eastern province of Saudi Arabia. ” The phrase is an almost exact quote from a YouTube video posted by the the wall street journal on the use of artificial intelligence to predict fluctuations in oil prices. She practices the particular intonations and cadences of anchors and voiceovers. For Turato, elocution is another way of arranging language. There is no perceptible logic in the distribution of the text in pool5; each row has equal weight. While performing, Turato frequently modulates his delivery, emphasizing different words and phrases. Even when there is tonal dissonance between the content of Turato’s words and his spoken inflections, each utterance seems to encode the zeitgeist that produced it.

Turato Dropbox me the PDF of pool5 as it is about to go to print. Her over three hundred pages contain everything she will need for the MoMA script. Topics include Climate Change, Gaming, Neuroscience, Neoliberalism, Scams, Simone Biles, Self-Care, Crypto, Keto, CrossFit, NFTs, Understacks, Careerism, Passwords , paywalls, pills and Jeff Bezos tax deductions. There is a moment when the speaker wonders if an AI is flirting with them. Should they flirt back? “You can have any snack you like as long as it has extra protein,” is one option for the headline. Among others: “TELL YOUR MOTHER I HATE HER!!! and “Follow me, cowards.”


Nora Turato, what is dead may never die, 2021. Performance view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, October 29, 2021. Photo: Maarten Nauw.

Titles are important. Take for example, If you were less like you, you would only be ridiculous, but therefore as you are, you are very boring, the name of his 2020 performance at the Wiels Contemporary Art Center in Brussels. The phrase was taken from a letter written to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer by his mother in 1806 and translated, via Google Translate, into 21st-century English. “That’s a shitty translation,” Turato says. “I fucking liked it. Bigger.

In recent months, Turato has performed in a small library at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and at the Secession in Vienna, surrounded by Klimt Beethoven frieze, 1902. (After that last presentation, she WhatsAppd me, “The acoustics weren’t amazing, but I think it was ok. Not the greatest performance ever BUT the location swag has compensated.”) Sometimes Turato incorporates excerpts from his scripts into the institutional space, where they appear projected as videos, as was the case with his outdoor installation last year at the Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, or written in large mural style, such as in his 2019 solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. The MoMA studio walls will remain bare.


Nora Turato, what is dead may never die, 2021. Performance view, Basement Roma, Rome, September 11, 2021. Photo: Robert Apa.

While MoMA performances will be archived by the museum, Turato is not interested in documentation as part of his practice. Nor is it controlling or banning it. “There’s something dirty about obsessively archiving your stuff,” she messaged me. The ephemeral and contingency of its performances make them elusive, like the superfluity of data produced and consumed in real time around the world.


    View of “Nora Turato: Explained Away,” 2019, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz.  Wall: Your screen is bright and crisp, and while there may be slightly better screens out there, you'll only be able to tell by holding the two phones side by side, 2019. Floor: That's a good thing it did not click, 2019. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

Turato’s scripts resemble Joycean monologues, but the collected fragments undermine the notion of a subjective internal experience. The cumulative effect of seeing Turato playing her swimming pools is the realization that we, the viewers, have heard these words before. There is a disturbing cognitive dissonance achieved by their displacement and reappropriation, the heteroglossia of language found reminiscent of the writings of Kathy Acker, or the pages of new transcripts in the journals of Paul Thek, or, more recently, the novel of Patricia Lockwood. nobody talks about it (2021), which deploys the babel of online discourse with equally dizzying effect. The ritual of public performance alongside print, however, resembles a haunting of Stéphane Mallarmé’s unrealized conceptual opus. The book. As is the case with Turato swimming pools, typographic spacing was essential to the visual identity of the book. Mallarmé’s preparatory notes for the project included the author’s printing specifications (the tome was to be left unbound so that it could be read in varying permutations) as well as prescriptions for ritualized readings or “sessions”, marking literature as a social enterprise in which the text played can “speak” in the absence of the author. In Turato’s case, the physicality of both live performer and book-object ostensibly militates against the disembodiment of online communication. And yet, each time the artist takes center stage, she seems to disintegrate into the stream of aggregated content that escapes her lips. Shimmering between charismatic presence and rhizomatic dispersion, Turato becomes the conduit of our networked but solitary consciousness. She claims no particular virtue or authority, simply requiring a rare thirty minutes of sustained attention. “Empathy has gone so much online and everything,” she tells me via DM. “It’s nice to feel for a performer.”

Stephanie LaCava is a New York-based writer. His novel I’m afraid my pain interests you is to be published by Verso in September.

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