Pools of Performance: Nora Turato on the Found and Spoken Word
On the occasion of her MoMA performances of pool 5, the artist talks about how art needs to be sincere and unexpected.
Ana Janevski, Nora Turato
Mar 2, 2022
Nora Turato’s pool 4 was scheduled to open May 6, 2020, in the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, but was postponed due to the pandemic. It is finally opening this month, but now, reflecting Turato’s constantly evolving practice, as pool 5. Turato’s pool series consists of five books in which she gathers pools of text from disparate sources and with no order or logic, accompanied by spoken-word performances based on the books. On the occasion of her work arriving at MoMA, I spoke with Turato about its unexpected sources and how it helped her cope with the last two years.
Meanwhile, you can attend a performance in person at MoMA, or watch a live stream on Sunday, March 20, at 3:00 p.m. EST.
Nora Turato. pool 5 book spread. 2022
Ana Janevski: Exactly two years ago, pool 4 was ready to ship to New York, and you were ready to perform. Then the world changed. As we kept postponing the project, you decided to produce pool 5. You don’t work with preset ideas and themes and there is not an internal logic or narrative structure in your books and performances. Did you feel a need to address this historical moment?
Nora Turato: As pool 4 came back from the printer, as our show got postponed indefinitely and the world stopped, I couldn’t help feeling a strange sense of urgency to start working on pool 5. I forgot about all we had done; it all felt like something old and unrelatable. Maybe it was a way for me to cope with fear, uncertainty, and possibly even disappointment with our show getting canceled. It became a meaningful thing to do when many of us struggled to find meaning. I remember wondering, How will pool 5 differ from pool 4? What will change and how will we change? I fantasized about two books back-to-back and what will vary if the method and form stay the same.
I always thought of pools as some annual report, a hard copy of language we exchanged, something that will gain significance as time passes. Still, I never thought for a second I would be presented with a situation where this would get accelerated. Everything accelerated around me, and so did my work. I think pool 5 gave me a tremendous sense of purpose and ended up being my way of coping, and I think you can feel that when you leaf through it. It’s almost embarrassingly obsessive and manic.
Nora Turato. pool 5 book spread. 2022
How do you chose your quotes and fragments? What sparks your attention?
I pluck very instinctively, some things just ring and stick. It’s almost impossible to explain and rationalize. Our culture is full of these things today. Things that stick and things that don’t stick and no one can explain why. Why did a Miu Miu miniskirt set blow up the Internet? Why is everyone talking about it? A friend just sent me this tweet that said, “That Miu Miu skirt set getting passed around like a blunt.” She didn’t have to explain anything; she assumed I knew what she was talking about, and she was right. Everywhere you look, someone is referring to that skirt set, and no one knows why. It’s just a miniskirt with a belt and a matching top. That is so fascinating to me. It’s some sort of collective gut reaction, and it’s compelling and unpredictable. Whoever made that skirt set didn’t anticipate the wave it would make.
pool 5 gave me a tremendous sense of purpose and ended up being my way of coping [with the pandemic].
Friends and people who know about your passion for collecting language often share their suggestions with you. In that regard, you said, “I find this shared internal logic across friendships very fascinating. It connects people in a very profound way, and I guess that connection is what I’m after when I pluck, write, or perform.” I love the idea of the hidden collective process.
Exactly! It’s really that, this powerful collective instinct and information sifting process that got amplified and enabled because of social media.
You are trained as a graphic designer. Together with language, graphic design is one of the unifying elements in your books, textual installations, and videos. How did graphic design influence your practice? Can you talk more about your collaboration with the designer Sabo Day?
Graphic design gave me the freedom to be an artist. This is a big paradox, since design is an applied occupation and art is not. I never wanted to be an artist or had any idea how to go about it; I don’t know who the hot gallery is or what is cool and what is not, and I think that was a blessing in the beginning. I started making art without thinking it was art; I kept busy. I was a bit like a monkey jumping from one liana vine to the next, just going for it, trusting the tools and skills I acquired and kept acquiring. This allowed me to do things free from the constraints and the expected.
Sabo and I have been great friends since the day we met at Gerrit Rietveld Academy, where we both did our BA in graphic design. We also did the Werkplaats Typografie masters program together and, around that time, started collaborating. Sabo has always been someone whose opinion I trusted, and the pool is one moment in a year where my work gets filtered through his design lens. I find this very refreshing and essential to my process, to allow someone else, someone I trust, to “work” with my work. It allows me to gain new perspectives. It’s way too easy for an artist to isolate and lose track of what makes sense and what doesn’t. After being alone with your work for a year, it’s priceless to have someone you trust come and help you look at it all with a new set of eyes.
Nora Turato. pool 5 book cover. 2022
The pool publications were a way to claim my right to make mistakes by making my artistic process very transparent.
Nora Turato. pool 5 book back cover. 2022
The pool publications are simultaneously an artist’s book, archive, prop, set, and exhibition. In his Magazine essay about contemporary artists’ publishing, my colleague Gee Wesley points out how “publishing challenges the supposed fixity of language, and recirculating and inscribing the supposedly ephemeral forms of performance and live action.” What is the connection between your pool books and performances?
I feel we live in times where everything gets documented and published, and it’s tough to make mistakes. The freedom to try and fail and try again is becoming harder and harder to claim, especially for young artists. The pool publications were a way to claim my right to make mistakes by making my artistic process very transparent. It’s a pool full of possibilities, a place I can fish from when I script my performances. It’s my little stash of things I could maybe one day do something with.
Only a tiny fraction of language exchanged makes it into the pool, and only a tiny fraction of language collected makes it from the pool to the performance. In a way, I’m sifting through the culture and performance is the fine dust left at the end, stuff that stuck. It’s also the most physical step, where I try to match my body with all this information thrown at me. I have this feeling we live in times where our biology is pretty much out of sync with technology surrounding us; tech evolved faster than our nervous system did, and our bodies are lagging and limping from one dopamine hit to another. By crafting these performances and spending hours and hours and hours drilling one paragraph, one sentence, one syllable, one vowel, one consonant, I found a way of coping with that. It’s my way of saying, “Stop, lemme take a moment and process this.” It feels very empowering, and it means a world to me.
Legend says that your performance practice started when, as a student, you would go to openings and take press releases and read them aloud. What was so inspiring or non-inspiring about them?
I was young and dumb and way too cynical. I still think a considerable bit of press releases out there are ridiculous and insincere. Insincerity always pisses me off. It’s the opposite of what art should be.
Nora Turato. pool 5 book spread. 2022
How do you see the pool books from today’s perspective? What do they have in common? How are they different?
I feel the difference between the two pool books I worked on during this recent period reflect what happened with pretty much everything…. pool 5 is an accelerated and intensified version of pool 4. Weirdly enough, not much changed in the essence of things; I expected to witness something else than sheer intensification. The Shepard tone got louder and louder, and it makes me wonder whether it’s going to keep ringing like this forever, always on the tip of some climax but never there.
Whatever Isn’t Anything Else
Take a look at contemporary artists’ publishing through the work of Adam Pendleton, Kandis Williams, and Nora Turato.
Feb 11, 2022
Nora Turato’s pool 4
The artist uses found language to speak loudly, publicly, and boldly, and shares downloadable posters.
Nora Turato , Ana Janevski
Jul 1, 2020