View of “Nora Turato,” 2019.

View of “Nora Turato,” 2019.

Nora Turato

There was no shaking the feeling you’d just missed it. Everywhere in Nora Turato’s ambitious solo show “explained away,” you sensed you’d entered a room still positively buzzing from a performance for which you—who, let’s face it, often manage to be in the right place at the wrong time—had yet again arrived too late. Some of the props were still there. The stage had not yet been completely taken down. But the show was over.

This sustained atmosphere of loss was intentional. Turato understands that while an exhibition cannot substitute for a performance (no more than this review can), it can mark out the void left behind by the show you didn’t see. This is an intelligent way to approach the problem of documentation, whose ubiquity shows its latent purpose: not to provide yet more evidence of an event that has taken place, but to remind you that you were not there when it happened.

What did you miss? When Turato performs, she recites a rapid-fire sequence of sentences, or rather, tweets. To pick one almost at random: “To minimize your time fending off unsolicited ‘helpful tips,’ a lactation consultant based in Brooklyn suggests being polite, but terse men think all soup is healthy to this very day.” Each line bleeds into the one before it, priming you for the one to follow. Sometimes she sings these lines, sometimes she spits them out. You can, amid the speed and the dramatic emphasis, be seduced into thinking what you are hearing makes sense. It is only later, when you try to retrace the steps, that you realize you’ve misled yourself.

Turato made use of the windowless symmetry of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein to create a sense of disorientation. In one room, a video projector repeated one of her performances, not as a film, but as a script. Against a blank background, words popped up, each one visible for exactly as long as it would take to speak live, appearing and disappearing so quickly that sense was experienced as a kind of afterimage. All of the machinery of oratory, from emphasis to emotion, was conveyed only by the acceleration and deceleration of the slides. For the static texts that Turato prepared for the walls of the exhibition, she commissioned a typographer to make a new font based on her handwriting so that what was written “in her hand” might be detached from what was written “by her hand.” In both cases, the traces that usually function as signs of authenticity no longer functioned as guarantees of presence.

Turato’s work could, at first, be understood as ironic: a mocking incantation of clichés, memes, and the flotsam and jetsam of our disordered mental lives. Like many late semiotic games, these sentences insistently refer away from themselves, like a T-shirt saying I’M WITH STUPID above an arrow pointing to no one. But as a rhetorical mode, irony requires reflective distance. And nothing about Turato’s performances implies detachment or equanimity. She’s channeling the internet in her speech, yes, but not in the banal sense of acting as a disinterested mediator, or even a mechanical media channel. Rather, she’s closer to a medium—a possessed being, utterly driven, trapped, compelled by the desire for and the impossibility of communion, as opposed to its diminutive, communication.

In other words, Turato really wants to reach you. In her live performances, she still seems shocked, as she begins to speak, that her only means of contact are words. There is a horror in the realization that the profoundest truths of the soul can only be conveyed by phrases as ridiculous as “the profoundest truths of the soul.” The abyss is the same as the one that the misanthrope E. M. Cioran once glimsed, when he noted that a brief moment of speaking suffices “to realize, under any word, an aftertaste of someone else’s saliva.“