BY Marko Gluhaich in US Reviews | 18 MAR 22

Nora Turato’s ‘pool5’ Asks Us to Stop Making Sense

In her new performance at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the artist presents found language as a way of tapping into our collective anxieties

BY Marko Gluhaich in US Reviews | 18 MAR 22

Nora Turato was originally scheduled to perform pool4 (2020) two years ago at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, until it was indefinitely postponed due to COVID-19 lockdowns. The performance would have been the fourth in a series that she began in 2017, based on texts lifted from a variety of sources – internet articles, food labels, online videos, conversations with friends, etc. – a selection of which she collates into books made with a graphic designer’s eye. From these collections of phrases, she takes smaller excerpts and transforms them into a script for her performances. The randomness of the sources belies the long-developed intuition with which she determines what fits in these books and what doesn’t. The collections are supposedly representative of the zeitgeist of the period during which they were collected, as though the internet is exemplary of what’s on anyone’s mind at any time. In the newest edition, pool5 (2022), the words are laid out in the same non-serifed typeface throughout, with no phrase receiving more weight than the next, granting further credence to the ostensible arbitrariness of Turato’s selection – a bizarre assemblage of shared mindsets.

Nora Turato. pool2. UKS Young Artists’ Society, Oslo. Photo: Jan Khür
Nora Turato, pool2, 2018. Courtesy: © the artist and UKS Young Artists’ Society, Oslo; photograph: Jan Khür

If Turato’s books and performances are microcosms of a zeitgeist, then pool5 would lead you to believe that it was capitalism – rather than COVID-19 or the BLM protests – that has occupied everyone’s mind-space over the part two years. ‘So, uh, I started this business’, Turato opens her pool5 performance, currently on at MoMA. In a short 25 minutes, the artist shifts between myriad topics – from her new business (selling ‘any snack but with added protein’), marketing schemes and the odyssey of Albert Einstein’s brain post-mortem to the impact of oil-processing plants on the stock market, scammer fortune tellers, Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and her pet Pekingese, data security and the revival of Communism. Written out like this, the topics appear just as fragmentary as they do in the book (whose cover, I should note, contains the sole phrase ‘i sold it for million bells’). Yet, throughout the performance, Turato’s shifts are almost imperceptible. Maintaining the salesperson tone with which she opens, Turato speaks confidently (albeit humorously), commanding the spartan space with big gestures and exaggerated enunciation. She’s selling something, yet we don’t know what.

Nora Turato, pool5, 2022, performance. Courtesy: © the artist and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; photograph: Julieta Cervantes
Nora Turato, pool5, 2022, performance. Courtesy: © the artist and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; photograph: Julieta Cervantes

Each section of the performance – which are occasionally spliced with brief asides (‘I’m a king’, she repeats mantra-like at one point) – lasts just long enough for the audience to begin to comprehend Turato’s point. But then, as she wonkishly opines on how artificial intelligence can predict changing oil prices, you begin to question her logic. I know nothing about petroleum processing plants or the technology for discovering them and, after listening to Turato’s speech, I’m none the wiser. The words seemed stripped of meaning, redolent of the vacuous speeches of Silicon Valley execs and motivational speakers. Like a glitching machine processing all this data culled from the internet, her speech becomes so speedy at times that it’s barely audible, dissolving into nonsensical syllables. Yet, she always returns and centres herself, never letting the thread unspool too far.

Nora Turato. pool4, 2020. Robatolk, printer shop, Amsterdam. Photo and design: Sabo Day
Nora Turato, pool4, 2020. Courtesy: © the artist and Robatolk, Amsterdam; photograph: Sabo Day

When embodying a savvy marketer and a fortune teller in the performance, Turato describes learning those trades quite easily and quickly before beginning practicing them. She learned the former from a podcast, the latter from notorious scam artists. Each works within a similar framework: get to know the client and tell them what they want to hear. (‘Are you ready … to be a protagonist?’ she asks of her audience at one point.) They work a little like a social-media algorithm, mining our data and producing the content we want to see: the sort of content that ends up filling much of Turato’s books and scripts. And, like Turato’s script, none of that content has more weight than the rest – we absorb it indiscriminately as though scrolling through our social-media feeds. Hers is a dark, cynical comedy. ‘So glad to be back,’ she says early on, adopting the tone of a stand-up comedian. Tom Engels, writing for cura magazine in 2019, called Turato ‘a master in the economy of attention’. Though pool5 is a departure from the one-liners that populate her books and earlier performances, this spoken-word collage still asks us why we try to find meaning in any of it. We end up just not making sense.

Nora Turato’s pool5, is on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, until 20 March 2022.

Main image: Nora Turato, pool5, 2022, performance. Courtesy: © the artist and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; photograph: Julieta Cervantes

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.