Something Speaks Inside Me that Knows More Than I Do. There Is Something Inside Me that Speaks
By Fabian Flückiger
From Nora Turato, pool 3, 2019–2018, edited by F. Flückiger, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz, 2019
While the “politics of language” is a term that is diffusive and inconcrete, the performances of Nora Turato are the opposite, well-pronounced concise attacks rather than silent defences. Her words poke, arouse, moisten, pelt, pitch, sing and touch language to make it aware of itself — and to make us aware of it. In a cascade of words, she interrogates the alphabet soup that invades our ears and public realities constantly.
Language, as it circulates online, is the foundation of Nora Turato’s entire oeuvre. On her smartphone, she assembles fragments of a posting, a film series, or a book to create new narratives, regardless of the sources’ original motivations. Statements made with affect, brief messages, selections from various periodicals, high literature, and trash: all become her raw material. Using a word processor, a continually growing script emerges. Initially, this collection has no developed sound, not any sequence for the linguistic images evoked. The original context is abstracted to the extent that a substrate emerges to form a new semantic space. In a grid, comparable to a blank sheet of staff paper, the rewritten fragments are edited to form a thematic prose composition. The final rendering takes place in various media. Murals, spatial installations, videos, and performances make the concept available to experience in multiple fields of reception.
Turato refers to the overlaps between art and literature in the U.S. as an influence on her work.2 In the late 1970s the artist and author Constance DeJong examined narrative structures in mass media. Her work Modern Love existed first as a brochure sent to 500 recipients, it later appeared as a book.3 To bring the story to the present, she performed the content. Recorded vocal miniatures by David Warrilow and musical elements by Philip Glass complemented her spoken text performances. Embodied as book pages, the temporal and spatial conditions of the work changed. At the same time in painting, there was a debate on the «departure from the image».4 The critique of traditional visual formats led to diverse new forms of expression. DeJong’s interest in departing from the textual page and the expanding to a spatial reception of spoken language was analogous to this. Unlike DeJong, for Turato the embodiment of the text during the performance is only one of many media aspects.
Turato subjects herself to the digital flow of language. This excess is part of her everyday life, she searches for specific content, text forms, and formats. She moves exclusively on English-language platforms, devouring the texts, transferring selected passages to her scripts. Free of hierarchy, the contents of various genres mix together. Her scripts are initially unedited and only reworked when assembled as artist books entitled pool. Each year, the script results in a publication with identical specifications (format, print run, number of pages, designer, printer); pool#1 and pool#2 have been published, now pool#3 is completed. The finished, published scripts are no longer used in exhibitions, but only referenced to trace a path to the recent past.5 The language she uses is time-based and is replaced at regular intervals with a new pool. The publications result in an archive, one that is simultaneously a source and documentation of her oeuvre. The various time frames can be compared to one another and analyzed both in terms of Turato’s changing thematic focus and language style. The performances, in contrast, remain officially undocumented by the artist and are thus ephemeral. Through her entire oeuvre, she creates material and immaterial realities that overlap several times: murals are congruent with statements from her performances, in the videos her voice mixes with the projected script, her sculptures are given titles from the current pool.
One of these sculptures is it’s a good thing he didn’t click (2019). The rectangular body is chrome plated. On the surface, there’s a sink without a faucet. With this enormous object (measuring 103 × 372 × 153 cm), Turato created a sculpture that recalls both oversized middle-class eat-in kitchens and a Minimal sculpture from the 1960s. But the evocation of a kitchen is counteracted in its execution, as is its similarity to a Minimal artwork. Key functional elements like the stove are missing, but on the surface there is a charging dock for smartphones. By touching, a physical link between the visitors and the sculpture is manifested. The viewers become protagonists and can experience themselves as part of a critical environment. The visual and performative element in the title comments on an act (or rather a non-act) of a male actor that can be seen either in the context of social media or as modern housework via a smartphone. The Frankfurt Kitchen, designed in 1926 by the Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, was the progenitor of the fitted kitchen that rationalized work. The focus was on short paths and efficient moves. The kitchen centralized most housework and formed a closed work space. Schütte-Lihotzky, as the first practicing female architect in the German-speaking world, wanted to ease housework for women. Many stages led from the Frankfurt Kitchen to the open-plan kitchen of the 1990s. These architectural changes reflect a transformation in terms of social roles, but also a changing understanding of housework and the family. Linking living and kitchen spaces abolishes the strict division between housework and social life, enabling other forms of social interaction.
With the questioning of familial role models during past decades, the digital conception of sculpture coincided with a media event in the U.S. The actor Kevin Spacey was charged with sexual assault in 2018. In a YouTube video Let Me Be Frank (a play on the word “frank”) he assumed the role of Frank Underwood from the television program House of Cards to protest his removal from the series, which effectively marked the end of his career.6 Spacey prepares something at a kitchen island and speaks directly to the camera saying that viewers want him back, that we never saw him die in his role as the United States president, that despite an imminent court trial he is immortal as an actor. This reference may seem unusual, but it clarifies Turato’s way of working. She takes up matters from public and private life, critically questioning social themes like roles, sexism, consumerism, and architecture in a time of neoliberal conceptions of order. In doing so, she always uses direct language, as direct as the language used by Spacey in the role of Frank Underwood speaking to the audience. Or in as direct a fashion as the way the New Journalism allowed the readers to become part of the text in the 1970s.7 Turato blurs the identity of her figures; she leaves open the question of who speaks; the gender of the person making the statement has sometimes been changed; she plays with the various meanings of a statement. This multi-layered quality might have drawn her attention to the bizarre video Let Me Be Frank.
In the wall painting i wanted to say “cock” but the word wouldn’t really form in my mind because it was too obscene, and “penis” always sounded so ridiculous, Turato takes up the still dominant gender-specific interpretation of statements. The gender that can be read into the “I” influences the perception of this sequence. On the one hand, it is about the insufficiency of language on more than just the subject of sexuality. At the same time, it is also about the individual vocabulary used to speak about something and what social and cultural influences a statement contains.
Unlike the reception of Turato’s wall paintings, in her videos hearing is also addressed. In the projection has anyone tried unplugging it and plugging it back in? individual words are shown at the speed of Turato’s speech. The sequence of brief narratives is identical with the current performance, both in the words chosen and their emphasis. The speed of the speaking challenges the viewer to perceive what is heard not as merely random noise but also to perceive the content selectively. We are compelled to make a comparison of the performance and the video work by their identical content. In the video, the space is secondary, the entire work is reduced to the spoken and its visual accompaniment. Voice, emphasis, rhythm, and speed are the stylistic means used. This projection recalls A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture by the U.S. artist Louise Lawler.8 She projected a film in a movie theater with only the soundtrack audible and without telling the audience the film’s title. For Lawler, the refusal of the image was about a critical attitude towards visual production in film and advertising. For Turato, it is about the specifics of our online language consumption and the various qualities of means of communication—and yet Turato’s video is not really image-less: the words become images. Like the murals, the interpretation of these images is left to the viewer. The use of the voice, both in the videos as in the performance, can be interpreted as a second layer of content, as Mladen Dolar wrote in His Master’s Voice: «[The voice] can indicate only pleasure and pain, experiences shared by both animals and humans. But speech, logos, does not merely indicate, it expresses or, better still, it manifests: it manifests the advantageous (useful) and the harmful, and consequently the just and the unjust, the good and the evil. If one receives a blow, one may well scream, that is, emit a voice to vent one’s pain, and that is what a horse or a dog would also do. But at the same time one can say: “I have been wronged” (harmed, ill-treated), and thereby the speech introduces the measure of right and wrong. It does not just give vent to feelings, it introduces a standard of judgment.»9 Using this passage, the emotionality and the variously pitched voices used by Turato can be understood as a meta-commentary. It generates a closeness and distance to the spoken, but also pride and shame in the audience.
The performance offers the live moment between the artist and the audience as well as the embodiment of language in gesture, facial expression, and movement. Turato’s identity as «individual, gendered, ethnic, and culturally marked» becomes visible.10 She uses the body as a repertoire of expressive possibilities, as an active process of embodying the current and culturally variable zeitgeist. The high-fashion clothing she wears alludes to quotations in film and fashion history. The effect is not achieved by the artist alone. Each performance, although based on exactly the same words and emphases, generates a different event. Erika Fischer-Lichte calls the changing interaction between audience and protagonist a “feedback loop.”11 The audience influences the perception of everything in the performance by way of its reactions, understanding, or misunderstandings. As in a song, Turato adds one brief narrative followed by another brief narrative. The performance is musical in terms of its sound, but uses a more complex language than in most pop songs. This might result from the words having been originally directed at readers, not at listeners. Like a timeline in social media, we follow the various brief narratives and get stuck on those whose content seizes our attention. From time to time we become part of the narrative and miss the rapid continuation. This selective listening and understanding are quite intentional: but what does that tell us?
In the 1960s, Andy Warhol linked language’s meaning with the technologies of communication and his social network around the Factory. For a, A Novel Ondine (Robert Olivio) and Warhol recorded various conversations with friends over the course of two years.12 The intention was not to obtain something classically literary. The book barely has a plot; long passages correspond to unedited transcriptions of telephone conversations, moving this medium to the center of this engagement with technology.13 The telephone conversations are all about speaking on the telephone. Phonetic games between spoken and written language, misunderstandings in the conversations, and mistakes in the transcription are important components in the written version. It is a book with the sound of its own making. But it is also about the idioms, the ways of speaking, and the stylistic figures in Warhol’s social network.
Ondine and Warhol’s text collection is one possible response to the question of how work relates to our own time. Turato imitates this method with her choice of what and how she reads, transferring the often ironic content to physical space. She allows us to participate in an endlessly flowing narrative. As in a, A Novel Turato examines a dominant method of communication. It is a total work of art, based on texts published online in which one can immerse oneself and which change with events online, but also parallel to the focus of the artist. Using fragments, she generates a dramaturgy that transports the complexity of our time, which one can become a part of by immersing oneself in critical environments. Turato is a narrator of the present and includes achievements of (cultural) history. The ambiguity of the paraphrase offers countless possibilities of interpretation. All expert or generalist perspectives are incomplete. Something speaking in Turato’s work knows more than us, more than Turato herself. There is something there that speaks.
Translated from German by Brian Currid.
1 Alexander Kluge quotes Heinrich von Kleist in the film Finite and Infinite Games (2017) by Sarah Morris.
2 See Sohrab Mohebbi’s text in the present publication.
3 Constance DeJong, Modern Love (New York: Standard Editions, 1977).
4 Theodora Vischer, ed., Transform: BildObjektSkulptur im 20. Jahrhundert (Basel: Kunstmuseum and Kunsthalle Basel, 1992).
5 For the exhibition Nora Turato. explained away at Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, all the works from pool#3 were exhibited, with the exception of the video i don’t need to make sense, i just need to let it go from pool#2.
6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZveA-NAIDI, accessed February 2, 2019.
7 In The Birth of “The New Journalism” (New York Magazine, February 14, 1972, pp. 30–45) and The New Journalism: à la Recherche des Wichy Thickets (New York Magazine, February 21, 1972, pp. 39–48), the writer Tom Wolfe explained how the subjective impressions of the author find their way into the writing style and thus make the narrative immediate. In addition to using interjections and direct address, emotions and stylistic devices from spoken language were integrated to make the reading experience more vivid. Other references relevant to Turato’s approach to language are Kenneth Goldsmith’s uncreative writing, the associative and musical style of Stéphane Mallarmé, and the talk poems of David Antin.
8 Louise Lawler, A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture (1979), first shown at Aero Theatre, Santa Monica, California, December 7, 1979.
9 Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006), p. 105.
10 Erika Fischer-Lichte, Ästhetik des Performativen (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2017), p. 37.
12 Andy Warhol, a, A Novel (New York: Grove Press, 1968).
13 Craig Dworkin, Whereof One Cannot Speak, p. 49, accessed February 2, 2019.