GET RID OF MEANING
“Get rid of meaning. Your mind is a nightmare that has been eating you: now eat your mind.”
Nora Turato’s name already evokes a certain brand of discourse. It designates a trademark style, a mode of fashioning words into a distinctive weave; of the background noise into the cloud, the jumble, the indeterminate. The landscape through which Nora travels becomes a map of contemporary culture: from articles on neuroscience, beauty treatments, feminism, daily news, gardening tips&tricks, world history, warfare, Alps…
As a performance artist, Nora plays with noise: she is able to flutter like a curtain, neither liquid nor solid, but participating in both conditions. Her voice is almost like a megaphone: she reaps words, sentences, paragraphs – plies, tears, stretches them into statements, bold graphic choices – and from there comes a text that she personifies both spoken and visually.
And it is noisy, loud, energetic – this abundance of data that Nora channels, almost as a medium of a posthumanist condition. Educated in Amsterdam at the Rijksakademie, Nora has in the last couple of years accumulated an impressive line of shows and performances at venues such as Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen; Mumok, Vienna; Vleeshal, Middelburg; Leopold-Hoesch Museum, Düren; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Metro Pictures, New York, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne and Manifesta 12, Palermo. Her solo show explained away opened in February in Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, and talking to her is similar to catching a cloud, capricious and elusive – she is moving freely between the worlds: that of art, of design, of the internet…
With Nora I talked freely, got misunderstood; we texted, typed, erased, misunderstood again, we wrote back and forth: to Vaduz, to Zürich, to Amsterdam, to Brussels, to Rijeka, to Berlin, to Mexico City, and at one point we decided it was finished: a conversation held in English between two native Croatian speakers. But there was another, bigger challenge: how to speak in a language in which no one is at home? And by this language I don’t mean English. Let s call it the language of the digital in which we both live.
► Prior to the digital age, we had a lot of words, but not nearly as many as we have today. But the difference is not the amount of words, but rather the way we deal with those words. We copy, we paste, we scrape and delete words, sentences, paragraphs just with a click of a mouse. In terms of dealing with words, this makes a kind of entirely new situation for literature and art as well. Language is not being only seen as something that is abstract, but something that is also extremely potent. How you see this new potency of language today, of words, of a new alphabet?
Nora Turato: I think what you are talking about here comes down to the accessibility of language. Accessibility both in terms of consumption and production. This new situation we found ourselves in, democratizes the knowledge, the expression and its circulation on a profound level. Who would have guessed people would voluntarily share their knowledge, anonymously (!!), for free (!!!) by updating Wikipedia?! Yet millions do it every day. I really believe if you told someone in the 80s this would be happening in the near future, they wouldn’t believe you. It goes totally against the grain of this individualism previous generation was wired to believe in. This is a symptom of a major mindset shift demonstrating just how our approach to language, knowledge and information changed… This of course renders language disposable in the sense of it dating fast. People use a lot of it, in a very free manner, its circulation is fast, potential reach enormous, feedback loops endless. Something that might be very loaded and actual in one moment fades as fast as it disseminates, often simultaneously. For instance “Big dick energy” as a term might be loaded in June 2018 and mean very little in June 2019. Guess there are these moments where precariousness of our culture flashes back onto language we use, and it all makes a lot of sense, these mundane yet significant, mostly signifying, linguistic moments. This is exactly what “turns me on” and fuels my practice.
► The situation that you are describing is also very generic in terms of amounts of information: when there is too much meaning present from all the sides, there is no meaning in the end. There is no nuances or differences to anything. How does your practice respond to that – do you feel you are stabilized with it or you float in this noise?
Nora Turato: I float and I’m not worried about the meaning. I like to indulge this rather cocky idea I float beyond it. As many do, I dig the noise. Didn’t Kathy Acker say GET RID OF MEANING, YOUR MIND IS A NIGHTMARE THAT HAS BEEN EATING YOU: NOW EAT YOUR MIND. I fuckin’ love that sentence. I keep quoting it.
► Do you ever find yourself going inside the rabbit holes of internet?
Nora Turato: Oh, of course, rabbit holes of the internet are everything. Ending up in one can be so loaded and personal and that’s what I love about it. Rabbit hole I end up in differs significantly to the one you end up in. It reflects one’s current fantasies, anxieties, fears and hopes, it’s so telling where you end up at night.
► One has to constantly curate her own surrounding, in a way, you’re doing this… you’re curating your own practice. But at the same time, how to avoid having everything look alike? This is how I see your performance – it gives the impression of this abundance of information and it’s almost like: “This is what we have now, and here is my reaction to it”.
Nora Turato: Curating one’s own surroundings is somewhat tricky, the illusion is of course there, but true curation is a bitch. Everyone is welcomed to indulge this illusion and people do. I do. Just think of all the algorithms, add to it the social circle you move in, things you like, social norms and expectations on top of it and there goes your curation. It goes to hell. One can strive to break out and that’s very very healthy. I would teach it in school hahaha. Every day I open my twitter feed and think to myself how do I expand my consumption, how do I drag myself out of the new yorker / the cut/ wired /atlantic / predictable left comfort zone to the point where I’m actually confronted with something I don’t believe in or don’t fully understand. How do I engage with unrelatable when relatable feels so fuckin’ good? That makes you wonder is it even possible to be awfully open and receptive person? Once you start thinking in this thread of thoughts, it gets dark fast, you kind of find out how limited we actually are.
What I’m trying to say and get to, is that I don’t strive to illustrate the idea or to find meaning or to react to an issue or to do anything more than aggressively work with all these nuances and layers that are at play when it comes to the expression through language and its consumption. To consider it all and try to weave it together. Once you start looking at it with enough distance, you realize this exact complexity is what’s truly interesting, and that’s more than enough to work with for me.
► Is there a saturation with your own content?
Nora Turato: Definitely. As i said, breaking out is the hardest part.
► And how to deal with this?
Nora Turato: I think that being radically aware of your own limits is crucial. Seeking out different people, different content and context, getting out of your comfort zone daily is everything.
Sounds new age, but I really believe in it.
► Do you ever work with a meaning in mind, like this particular text that you’re going to perform, that has specific meaning?
Nora Turato: No. And I hate when curators ask for it and some of them do. I don’t work to illustrate. I want to be supported, my practice to be supported, at this point in life I’m not interested in supporting. There will be time for me to support and I look forward to it. People are free to interpret the work as they wish, use it to illustrate the point of their thesis but I won’t participate in it actively. My work should mean 10 different things to 10 different people and 1000 different things to me simultaneously.
And it’s not all that hippie, I do reason most of the creative decisions I make, I strive to develop strong internal logic that will help render my creative output unique, I strive to do something relevant and actual but I really have no intention of rendering it down to “thesis of this piece”. Once again as Kathy said 🙂
► How do you deal with the notion of author, and the question of authorship – with the implications that digital kind of media asks now about authorship and appropriation?
Nora Turato: If you asked me this in the 70s, I would answer, but there has been a whole cannon on creative people who discussed this ten times betters then I’ll ever be capable of addressing, merely because they were part of the shift and I was born into it. I know nothing about authorship, and that doesn’t mean I don’t much respect and admire many, many authors.
► How about if somebody uses your text, appropriates it? Do you then feel this authorship question is present?
Nora Turato: I live for those moments when someone grabs something from me the way I caught it somewhere else. This is the moment my work honestly comes to life. One sequence of words is meant to circulate, mix and mash, maybe become a slightly different sequence of words, become less or more loaded, change contexts, hands and mouth that speak it, dissolve and take various forms, that’s what makes it so fuckin’ interesting in the end. The stock of words that is alive and well, it warms my heart.
► When you give titles to your performances or your shows, do they have a meaning then?
Nora Turato: Titles always come from my scripts; I often lift a sequence of words that seem to be able to stand on its own the best in the context of the title for a given thing/work. As I mentioned earlier, there is a strong internal logic at play here and I do strive to make titles meaningful on many layers, just like I strive with the whole piece. But saying performance is about X, therefore, the performance is titled X-something that just feels silly and redundant.
► Explained away.
Nora Turato: It came from this book I was reading at the time from Kate Atkinson transcription. There is this quote something along the lines: This was how people disappeared from history, wasn’t it? They weren’t erased, they were “explained away”.
I found that quote so poignant and exciting on many levels, not only in the light of politics, war and history (this was the context that it was initially mentioned in this book). But it made me think of the power of explaining and explanation in a larger sense – the ability to preach meaning into existence. The protection offered by the explanation. This sentence became a new construct in light of making a big museum show and being tempted to preventively explain one’s practice. Anxiety to contextualize the practice, give it other bigger importance just in case it can’t stand on its own and most of all, give it a reason to enter the museum. and by doing all of this preventative explaining and framing possibly explaining it away. And the boredom of these things explained to death. Press released away, press released to death. everybody is yawning but no one dares to say hey I’m bored cause the meaning has been stated and meaning equals value. Emperor’s new clothes syndrome.
► What is the difference between preparing a museum show and a gallery show and the curatorial agency in the whole process?
Nora Turato: I guess there is a difference, I guess mostly in the fact that no one is asking you to make it smaller, make it flat, make it in color, make it hang. But I guess that also happens. Institutions are also run on someone’s money at the end of the day, so let’s not play dumb.
Galleries are shops and people tend to forget that… but I do believe the art market can be educated. Only a few years back, no one was collecting video art, and look at now! So, I really believe gallerists should stop asking their artists to make it hang, but go spend some of that energy on educating their (often white male) collectors.
► There is also a strong graphics and sculptural level in your shows. How do you relate those aspects to your work?
Nora Turato: I used to work as a graphic designer, I’m also (over)-educated in it. Design is a big part of my life and that naturally keeps reflecting onto my artistic practice. I often work and collaborate with Sabo Day, whom I met during my time at the Rietveld academy. You could argue my graphic, video and sculptural output is some sort of by-product of my performance practice, the constellation of self standing elements that are revolving around my performances, elements that would probably not come into existence without a performance but are nonetheless able to stand on their own. There are often attempts at encapsulating, documenting and promoting the performance or attempts at expanding and pushing forward the choreography of the performance and potentially its afterlife. Most of it exists somewhere between being kunst and merch, the position I find particularly intriguing. How little before its kunst? How serious do we have to get before we call it art? Digital print on paper is really interesting in that respect. Poster can be printed, ruined and re-printed, fucked up misprint might hang in my friends toilet and the original in its perfection might hang in an exhibition space. There is so much at play here. But so much comes down to the appeal and projection of effortlessness, that’s remarkably important to me, especially nowadays – it’s so easy to go online, find out how the serious work of art should look like, how to produce it, how to document and disseminate it.
► I would like to talk a little bit now about the perception of your performance: it’s very intense, it’s very energetic, very loud. I saw your performance the first time three years ago. I think it was in Zürich and you were still younger, and I was thinking the whole time: I hope she won’t faint, or forget something. But there was this moment that I felt your detachment of the audience. Is there something that you expect from the audience to take after the performance?
Nora Turato: I think it’s really something that I should not be busy with because that would be torture. I try not think what will people think or what I want them think, cause even if I knew what I want them to think, there are no true ways of controlling that. I would be left with a bunch of presumptions and presumptions are problematic.
Three years ago I was still functioning as a graphic designer and I was not really convinced about pursuing any type of art career, it just somehow happened, and I think that’s what now in retrospect is the beauty of it all.
I’m doing these things accidentally in the art world and navigating it in some innocent way. There’s this weird innocence which is now dissolving (definitely!!), so what do I do once it dissolves completely? TBH that freaks me out. There was this kind of a spontaneous way I came up with these things and now in retrospect something I am really proud of. And of course the empathy… the empathy is everything! There is this empathy that gets born during my performances, that has to do with fragility. It’s just a really fragile situation, it’s a bare voice, there’s no microphone. The microphone is tricky, an intimacy killer, a distancing device…
But I am always trying to jiggle at a brink of circumstances when there might be a moment when I’m going to start interacting and yet never do. I’m definitely not interested in running a circus on cheap tricks such as calling people out. TBH I’m rather allergic when performers drag poor audience members involuntarily in. But I do think there is a very interesting challenge in how much you involve the audience, the thin line of employing a cheap trick vs an interesting stylistic device that generates a fruitful creative tension.
► What influences the differences in your performances?
Nora Turato: There are so many factors at play and sometimes I only wish I was a painter!
Performance, especially one delivered in a space that was not designed with this type of activity in mind (as opposed to a theatre) is so fragile.
It all depends so much it sometimes hurts. The same piece might work great in one space, be a total joy to perform, and be a total fiasco and agony to deliver in another. The acoustics, the crowd, the time of the day, outside noise, anxious babies, candy wrappers, puffer jackets, squeaky floors, temperature, my mood, their mood, weather… ughhh… so many things are at play and it’s hard to decide how much of it I should try to control and how much of it to embrace. But the more I do this, the more professional I find myself being, the more I’m capable of distinguishing what works and what doesn’t. I really prefer small, intimate spaces that do not dictate a clear hierarchy between the performer and the audience, the audience that ideally didn’t have too much to drink… drunk people are impossible.
► One thing that is obvious is how you present yourself: demonstrated with your clothes and with fashion. Crazy spiky heels, almost like prosthesis, the nails, the dresses, everything is very flamboyant in a way. Obviously, this part plays a huge rolein your performance. Also, the strategies of fashion work in a similar way to your performances; fashion being a lightweight concept, there’s no need for a whole universe to crush it, you just need like one season, it’s done, the other season it’s done, very fast forward, transitory, and actually you’re using the common language to communicate a certain practice.
Nora Turato: With the performance, you can’t really escape it. Performing naked, performing in jeans or in a holo sequin dress and a tiara on… whatever you wear or don’t wear, it’s loaded with meaning and there is no way out, sorry. I choose to embrace that choice and see how fashion can be worked with. A big focus in my work is now, the spirit of times, the encapsulating of now, and in that sense fashion (especially the fashion that’s trending) is a great device for me to play with. I never set out to make anything timeless anyway.
I was told many times: Nora, fashion is tricky, and working with it in arts can be interpreted as superficial, potentially dangerous. I think strange and potentially flawed morality is at play here, I find it to be a very old school way of thinking. Like the art world is better, right? I must be missing out on something then.
I really think we are going to see more and more fluidity at work in times to come, art bleeding into fashion and vice versa, moralizing that art is the pure one and fashion fast and tricky seems to be a bit naive.
As much as a black jumpsuit or white shirt styled w jeans might seem like a more sensible choice, it doesn’t mean it’s less of a choice and in my opinion these kind of attempts at sensibility can become very problematic and annoying. Insincere attempts at being the sensible one are affected and kitsch. For performances, I wear what I would wear to my best friend’s wedding, I dress up ’cause I’m excited, cause I want to show respect and have no interest in channeling faux indifference about something I truly care about. You don’t go to church in jeans, (I don’t go to church) but I also don’t perform in jeans, and it might sound like Karl Lagerfeld quote but it’s not haha.
Talking about Karl, I copy-pasted this the other day: “King is dead, long live the web”
The Interview is originally published for VIZKULTURA - Visual arts and culture online magazine