Nora Turato

Text by Giulia Gregnanin

eeeexactlyyy my point., 2021, installation view, Post-Capital: Art and the Economics of the Digital Age, MUDAM, Luxembourg, 2021
Photo: Remi Villaggi Courtesy: the artist, LambdaLambdaLambda, Prishtina and Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I started a Yin yoga program by following the YouTube channel “Yoga with Kassandra.” The name of the prophetess of misfortunes and nefarious events that no one wanted to trust was well-suited for the guru Kassandra who was conducting her divinations wearing yoga pants, moving from the Downward Dog to the Cobra pose with the background of exposed brick walls.
The lessons were stuffed with affirmations, i.e. self-motivation phrases to be repeated aloud throughout the session. Potentially the principle of affirmation is quite gripping since it is based on the recognition of language as an agent able to cast and reformulate reality. I wonder if Kassandra has read Monique Wittig and her theories on the incidence of language in controlling bodies and their narrations. “I am calm and centered,” “I am in love with life,” “I easily handle whatever comes into my way.” Kassandra-the-fortuneteller reached the climax when she warmly exhorted to repeat “I am a money magnet,” unwittingly lifting the veil of Maya and showing how mindfulness became the new capitalist spirituality.

The memory of affirmations resurfaced while looking at the performance by Nora Turato what is dead may never die, presented for the first time by Galerie Gregor Staiger in Milan and Zurich, at Basement Roma in Rome, and at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Distancing herself from her previous performances, the artist abandoned high fashion clothing and installation elements in order to particularly focus on her voice and on the notes of her speech. The compelling performance’s script written and interpreted by Turato plays on a fine line between a corporate motivational speech, a political oration, and a disguised sermon. Turato is convincing, frightening and amusing the public at the same time. She leaps around a variety of topics such as marketing strategies, the invention of pans, the detective’s profile in crime fiction set in small villages, culture as commodity under capitalism, in a speech that is only apparently disjointed but finds its coherence in the empty spaces between one word and another.

pool 5, 2022, performance view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2022 Photo: Julieta Cervantes Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Turato’s flood is the result of an instinctual selection of discourses, phrases and words taken from online forums, blogs, tv series, political speeches, videogames, social media. Browsing the turbulent waters of the Internet solely with her smartphone, Turato performs a sort of disembodied Situationist dérive letting herself be drawn by the attractions of the virtual landscape. The picked language rips through wall paintings, glossy prints, dense books, clashing with our desire of transparency of a logical sense. Turato’s work has been widely analyzed for its ability to mirror current disjointed language—and a disjoined contemporaneity—but little has been said about her latest vocalic development.

At a time of huge acceleration in her career, Turato has shrewdly chosen to slow down and concentrate on a vocal training. She worked with the dialect coach Julie Adams—who works on the diction of famous American actors—on her flow, phonetics, phrasing and accent, thinking of its social repercussions. In Turato’s performances the prosody is hypnotic: her tone, tune and rhythm abruptly switch in order to stress very specific concepts of the script.

The work ri-mEm-buhr THuh mUHn-ee, presented at Secession, Vienna, is a further exploration of vocality. Through the darkness of the room a flickering red LED light appears in the background, while the artist’s voice is echoing from the speakers. It is lower, calmer, more whispered than usual. The work stems from research on accents and on their social repercussions. Language is a predominant cue for social categorization and the presence of an accent can lead to discrimination due to the stereotypes that individuals have associated with them. As a non-native English speaker, Turato subtly underlines the power of accents. She plays with them, taking the language less seriously as a mother tongue speaker would probably do. Western imperialism has transformed English language into a universal tool of communication. This reminds me the Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović and his pink banner where are sewed the words: “an artist who cannot speak is no artist,” claiming that an artist needs to speak a certain language to exist.

The reservoir from which Turato draws for her performances can be found in pool, a series of artist’s books that she has been producing over the years, containing the archive of phrases that are part of her arsenal. The title pool seems apt to describe its function as containers of words and imageries. Trying to cope with an accelerated planet, “pool is a sort of annual report of language we exchanged,” says Turato in the interview with Ana Janevski, curator of Turato’s pool 5 at MoMA in New York. Indeed, Turato has recently launched pool 5 performing its words in front of a plywood pallet where the books were stacked. The previous work in Turato’s series, pool 4, was scheduled to open in May 2020 at MoMA, but was postponed due to the pandemic. Turato’s research has been advancing as language continuously flows. The zeitgeist, even in barely two years parceled out by the pandemic, has changed. This is the reason why the artist chose to work on a new publication: the language flows of 2022 is no longer 2020. The book is designed with Sabo Day, a collaboration that Turato started during her times in graphic design school.

Turato’s relationship with the Internet is the same as we all make of it. We draw from any source, we jump from one topic to another, from one app to another, hooked on our screens. Social media have led to a fragmentation of our attention, made of disconnected thoughts that find a coherence through our fatigued neurons. In what is dead may never die, Turato narrates the story of Albert Einstein’s brain. Stolen after his death and snatched by the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on his body, the brain was kept in a cookie jar until it was sliced into numerous parts and sent to scientists around the world to be studied. Scientists discovered that apparently Einstein’s brain was uniquely-well connected, facilitating complex thoughts and decision making. I am wondering if we need Einstein’s prefrontal cortex to cope with the monstrous flux of information in which we are immersed. After all “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunities,” repeats Kassandra in a yoga class quoting the father of the theory of relativity. On the verge of “infoxication”—the overload of information caused by the profusion of content on the network—Turato shows us how language can be expanded outside coherency, finding its own freedom.

i sold it for million bells, 2022 Courtesy: the artist and 52 Walker, New York

Portrait by Christaan Felber

Nora Turato
Text by Giulia Gregnanin
Portrait by Christaan Felber

CURA. 38
The Generational Issue

NORA TURATO (b. 1991, Zagreb, Croatia) lives and works in Amsterdam. Recent exhibitions include: ri- mEm-buhr THuh mUHn-ee, Secession, Vienna (2021); That’s the only way I can come, MASI, Lugano (2020); MOVE2020, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020). She recently opened her solo exhibition at MoMA, New York.

GIULIA GREGNANIN is a writer and curator based in Glasgow. She is co-founder and co-curator of Il Colorificio, Milan. She curates Understate Projects, a Glasgow based no-profit organization inquiring into feminist arts practices that claim forms of collective resistance. In 2021 she co-curated School of Waters, MEDITERRANEA 19 Young Artists Biennale.