PRINT March 2022


Nora Turato reading from pool2, Oslo, 2018.

ARTIST NORA TURATO has been working with dialect coach Julie Adams four times a week, on average, for more than a year. In early November, she sent me a video over WhatsApp of one of their remote sessions. Adams has a parrot on her head, its turquoise-and-red tail feathers dusting her shoulder. She’s instructing Turato to imagine blowing deep into a woodwind instrument. I can see Turato’s face reflected in her own laptop screen. She compresses her lips, awaiting further instruction. “Kind of like a saxophone,” Adams says.

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

The scripts of Turato’s monologues are culled from her daily consumption of language—text and email correspondence, IRL conversations, internet articles, YouTube videos, photo captions, museum labels, Nintendo games, food packaging, etc.—the selections made through an egalitarian process in which intuition, rather than authorship, determines the value of words. An online interview with the woman who sewed the mittens Bernie Sanders wore at the January 2021 presidential inauguration appears in one of Turato’s scripts from last year: “The outer layer is made out of discarded wool sweaters, wool sweaters that have moth holes or that someone sent through the washing machine or they were ripped or whatever, fallen out of fashion.”

Another of Turato’s sources is a cabinet with bookshelves facing the street outside her apartment building in Amsterdam, a good-faith exchange for old paperbacks. She likes to see what previous readers have underlined and then to reproduce these pulled phrases in her own artist’s books, the type set over colorful shapes or spirals. Turato’s first publication was pool1 (2017). At MoMA, she will debut pool5 (2022); pool4 (2020) was intended, pre-Covid, to coincide with her performances there but was ultimately released beforehand. She tells me that she didn’t know how to say pool properly until about a year ago, instead pronouncing it “pull.”

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

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

Turato’s voice has become her medium, in both the material and the psychic sense of the word.

Nora Turato, virtuous thoughts don’t count, 2021, vitreous enamel on steel, two elements, overall 75 3⁄4 × 47 1⁄4".

One day in December, I receive a voice note: Turato saying, in a newscaster’s lilt, “This is the world’s largest oil-processing plant, located in an eastern province of Saudi Arabia.” The phrase is a near-exact quotation from a YouTube video posted by the Wall Street Journal about the use of artificial intelligence to predict fluctuating oil prices. She’s practicing the particular intonations and cadences of anchors and voice-over artists. For Turato, elocution is another way to arrange language. There is no discernible logic to the distribution of text in pool5; each line is given equal weight. When performing, Turato frequently modulates her delivery, emphasizing different words and phrases. Even when there is tonal dissonance between the content of Turato’s words and her spoken inflections, each utterance seems to encode the zeitgeist that produced it.

Turato Dropboxes me the PDF of pool5 as it’s about to go to print. Its three-hundred-plus pages hold everything she will need for the MoMA script. Topics include climate change, gaming, neuroscience, neoliberalism, scams, Simone Biles, self-care, crypto, keto, CrossFit, NFTs, Substacks, careerism, passwords, paywalls, pills, and Jeff Bezos’s income-tax deductions. There is a moment where the speaker wonders whether an AI is flirting with them. Should they flirt back? “You can have any snack you like as long as it comes with extra protein,” is one option for the title. Among the others: “TELL YOUR MOTHER I HATE HER!!!” and “Follow me, you 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 thus as you are, you are highly annoying, the name of her 2020 performance at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels. The phrase was lifted from a letter written to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer by his mother in 1806 and brought, via Google Translate, into twenty-first-century English. “It’s a shit translation,” Turato says. “I liked it shitty. More grand.”

In recent months, Turato performed in a small library at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and at the Secession in Vienna, surrounded by Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, 1902. (After the latter presentation, she WhatsApped me: “Acoustics were not amazing tho / but I think it was ok. Not the best performance ever BUT location swag compensated.”) Sometimes Turato incorporates excerpts from her scripts into institutional space, where they appear projected as videos, as was the case with her outdoor installation last year at Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, or writ large mural style, as in her solo show in 2019 at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. The walls of the MoMA studio will remain bare.

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

While the MoMA performances will be archived by the museum, Turato isn’t interested in documentation as part of her practice. Nor is she into controlling or forbidding it. “There’s something dirty about obsessively archiving ur stuff,” she messages me. The ephemerality and contingency of her performances make them impossible to pin down, not unlike 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 sharp, and while there may be slightly better screens but there, you’d only be able to tell by holding the two phones side by side, 2019. Floor: it’s a good thing he didn’t 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 perform from her pools is the awareness that we, the spectators, have heard these words before. There is an unsettling cognitive dissonance achieved by their displacement and reappropriation, the heteroglossia of found language recalling Kathy Acker’s writings, or the pages of novel transcriptions in Paul Thek’s journals, or, more recently, Patricia Lockwood’s novel No One Is Talking About This (2021), which deploys the babel of online discourse to similarly dizzying effect. The ritual of public performance alongside printed matter, however, feels like a haunting of Stéphane Mallarmé’s unrealized conceptual opus Le Livre. As it is in Turato’s pools, typographical spacing was essential to the book’s visual identity. Mallarmé’s preparatory notes for the project included the author’s printing specs (the tome was to be left unbound so that it could be read in variable permutations) as well as prescriptions for ritualized readings or “séances,” marking literature as a social endeavor in which the performed text can “speak” in the author’s absence. In Turato’s case, the physicality of both the live performer and the book-object ostensibly militates against the disembodiment of online communication. And yet, every time the artist takes center stage, she seems to disintegrate in the flow of aggregated content spilling from her lips. Flickering between charismatic presence and rhizomatic dispersal, Turato becomes the conduit of our networked yet lonely consciousness. She claims no special virtue or authority, simply asking for a rare thirty minutes of sustained attention. “Empathy is so gone online and all,” she tells me via DM. “It’s nice to feel for a performer.”

Stephanie LaCava is a writer based in New York City. Her novel I Fear My Pain Interests You is forthcoming from Verso this September.