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Studio Visit:

with artist
Nora Turato

Amsterdam-based artist Nora Turato, who composes visual and performance art using typography, graphic design and sound, has recently exhibited her work ‘pool #5’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In an intimate interview with KASSL Editions, Turato discusses her work life, what she requires to be creative and if self-destruction is necessary to create good art.

Interview

What conditions promote innovation and inspiration in a creative space for you?

I just like being cosy and comfortable. I hear other people saying it needs to be empty and silent, but I need to be alone and relaxed. The light needs to be good, just normal stuff, some plants. Plants, lights, comfort, coffee, but I also write, compose and rehearse, so I’m home all day long. I don’t go to work and sit down there; for example, this morning, I woke up and played the piano for an hour and recorded something; I was listening to it, then I edited and fell asleep to my recording. Now I’m here doing an interview, and then I’ll continue working. At one point, I’ll do something else, so my whole day is work intertwined with life. Living is working, working is living; I have two dogs that I walk a lot, but sometimes I also record something while I walk them. Some people write in a separate space, but my writing process is recording and writing later. I take walks, record and outline what I want to write about, and then look into it all at home. I do a lot of work when walking dogs, which is strange.

I work from home all day long. That’s how I think people will start working like this more and more; I’m not the only one. That’s also part of the neoliberal logic to trick us into working where we live and meshing both. Especially if you work as an artist like me, it’s not entirely clear where the work starts and ends, but I don’t mind it; I like the mix.

Your art reflects your experience; you can’t really separate it.

Exactly, I have to do stuff and talk to people to react to it. In a way living without a specific workspace is more interesting. I have an office to rehearse in with audio equipment, but I’m usually either on the floor, on the couch, or with the dogs, so I move a lot. I love being home; that’s the fun part. Travelling is the actual work; it’s what I see as hard work. Travelling, installing the show, performing that’s fucking work. It’s what I have to do to create. It’s a different mindset and energy. When I travel, I don’t think much and do much more; strangely, I get on a completely different frequency. I don’t understand people who do it all the time, who live like this.

‘‘I am fascinated by these people who don’t need time to process things. I feel a bit jealous of the ability.’’

I think some people just don’t need time to process information; they can hop onto the next thing easily.

I am fascinated by these people who don’t need time to process things. I feel a bit jealous of the ability. I also want to be able to meet people and hang out constantly, but then I realize I just can’t. I was in New York recently for two months [for the MoMA exhibition], and I don’t know how people work there. There’s constantly something going on; when do these people do the actual work? Then I feel like I don’t work enough; it takes me a lot of time to do my job. I sometimes get worried that I’m getting too comfortable while other people jump around, but I realized I need to be like that for my art. Performing is tough; it’s fun but an intense thing to do.

It must be very draining; you give so much of yourself.

Yes, after I perform, my whole body is in pain. If it’s a good performance, I take my time before that to prepare, and the next day I cannot walk.

Which physical elements do you surround yourself with to create your creative flow in your workspace?

I am a snob. I like it nice. I can get quite snobbish about these things. I don’t know how much of it is necessary, though; my snobbism about wanting a nice environment; I don’t know how much is part of my work and how much of it is just me wanting to be comfortable. The plants are essential to me, I have a lot of them, and it’s getting hard to take care of them because there are so many. There are twenty of them in this room alone, so I need to take care of them and my dogs. I have a lot to take care of in my day; it fills up my in-between time. I need to arrange a babysitter for them whenever I leave [laughs], taking care of them, repotting them. If I don’t have enough time to take care of my plants, something is wrong with my day. I used to be connected to my phone so much, and I realized how much stuff I could do instead; it’s all about self-regulation. Some people manage to self-regulate, and some people don’t. The weirdest thing our generation has to learn is how to regulate social media. The more plants I have, the less likely I will be on my phone. There’s some kind of theory on investment versus the pleasure you receive from it. For instance, if you go running, you feel good. That’s a different type of high than using your phone to watch something. The investment is proportional to the high I get from plants.

Opposed to the short dopamine kick you receive from your phone.

Exactly. It also changed my work because I used to get a lot of information on my phone. I don't think it will change my work for the worse, but I'm curious to see what happens if I use less social media. I'm not going to commit social suicide by disappearing because I want to use the technology in a way that benefits me.

I think it's hard as an artist because you have to represent yourself as a brand online.

Yes, I think that's the whole professionalization of the art scene. With the internet, you can look at art online; for example, on sites like Contemporary Daily, you can see what art looks like. So many people make art that looks like it's supposed to look, but they don't have the process of an artist. It's not genuine, so they need to promote it online. So now there's stuff that looks like really good art, and the people behind it are working hard to make it seem like that, too, which means that everyone has to do it because, otherwise your art will disappear. It's comparable to sports; when some athletes take drugs to perform, everyone has to because otherwise, you have no chance of winning. It's like raising the bar of what an art career means. It used to mean less than it does now because today it's comparable to having a startup. Excentric creative genius at the centre and a big economy surrounding it. No intrinsic value but investment and belief. It's a how a capitalist creative industry works.
Once you’re popular, people expect you to stay the same; it's kind of freaky if you want to change. Every time I announce I want to change to anyone around me, they freak out. They don't even trust that I will follow through. When I started working with my dialect coach, I remember everyone was saying, "oh, don't get rid of the accent". I didn't want to get rid of it; I just wanted to know it better. It didn't mean I wouldn't do my thing anymore, just that I would know better what my thing is. In the end, everyone understood and told me it was a great idea to work with a dialect coach, but I'm having the same issues with integrating the piano now. It's always like that, I go on to the next thing, and people ask “why?”.

How would you describe your art if you had to?

What I’m mainly doing I would describe as composing. I am composing shapes, melodies and sentences. I’m using things around me to compose something new. Especially when I use the piano, I use it the same as language. It’s a lot about sentences, melody, shape, and logo. Single units of creative power, and I am working with those. Everything I do has that; if it’s a performance or poster, it’s working with that logic. It kind of filters through me. You put a bunch of plastic bottles and trash bags into me, and I spit out a flower [laughs].

Which items in the studio are essential in your workspace and routine?

My yoga mat, foam roller, piano, laptop, headphones, yoga blocks, stuff like that; nothing grand. Most of this is what I pack when I travel. The things I need mostly come from the athletic world and musical world. I also drink a lot of matcha. I need a whole thing for making matcha. When I’m travelling, that can be a problem, less so in New York, but here in Europe, lots of cafes don’t have it, so I’ve been excited for matcha to become a hip thing in Amsterdam.

Since you work with language, influenced by your location and what you see, can you feel how your work changes according to where you create?

I think my art depends mainly on the people I hang out with. I love hearing from people about their jobs. That’s changed, though, and I prefer it when I’m home. It influences the work a lot when you see different things and talk to different people. Because of the same reason, I am careful where I go and what I do. I always ask myself if it’s a good thing to be hanging out with certain people or going to certain events. Everything influences the work, but I am the one to decide what I do.

As a vessel for your work, you have to be selective.

Yes, I have the freedom to fuck it up. If I start hanging out with stupid people and doing foolish things, unless I preserve my soul somewhere in a closet, it will dumb the work. Sounds a bit exclusive, but I don't know; it's my work. I get to decide who I hang out with. It's my life. I prefer to hang out with my dogs.

How do you separate your art and your private life?

It's strange, but I might go hike with my husband and still write something down or when we have family time, so I can still have time that is not solely worktime, but work enters it. There's no separation, but you can only try not to get too influenced by it if you start seeking weird situations that can be very destructive very fast. Some people feel they need that creative impact, so they go about seeking those situations; I don't have that. I prefer missing out on some "great creative things". It's easy to start thinking that self-destruction is a good thing, but I don't believe in this whole idea of having to be in a bad place to create.

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