Nora Turato Is Here to Help

Nora Turato, NOT YOUR USUAL SELF?, 2023, installation view at Sprüth Magers, Berlin. © the artist. Courtesy the artist; Lambda Lambda Lambda, Pristina; Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zürich; and Sprüth Magers, Berlin

NOT YOUR USUAL SELF? at Sprüth Magers, Berlin captures the pain and fear inherent to our often-dysfunctional linguistic era

Walking through this exhibition is like thumbing a self-help book written by algorithms… in 1980. Alchemising fragments of language found in everyday experience, but specifically those that read as inner dialogue or pop psychology, the Croatia-born, Amsterdam-based artist’s show features five glossy enamel-painted multipanelled works with text in the artist’s own serif font (designed with Sam de Groot and Kia Tasbihgou) and, behind them, a site-specific painting that covers the walls. The latter, blanked in places by the gallery windows, becomes clear with a bit of effort – ‘UNDEFINE YOURSELF’, it reads in royal blue letters. One would never know that the phrase was hand-painted using Turato’s bespoke stencils, and maybe that’s the point. As the statement suggests, this work erases any evidence of the body (and its imperfections).

Hung directly on top of this matt-finish wall painting are five high-gloss enamel paintings with texts that read as either opposing or reinforcing voices. The panel nearest the entrance, not yourself? what have you done to yourself? (all works 2023), layers a fine black grid over a caramel-coloured background with a large, cherry-red circle containing the titular text. The perspectival grid turns the circle into a globe. And as it cinches tighter at the edges, the writing appears to bulge. At the bottom and in lowercase, the answer to the question is another question, ‘what have you done to yourself?’ Here as elsewhere in her work, Turato – a trained graphic designer – uses colour and font to manipulate inflection, adopting multiple but seemingly connected voices to explore meaning and its absence.

not yourself? what have you done to yourself?, 2023, vitreous enamel on steel (4 parts), 242 × 193 × 3 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist; Lambda Lambda Lambda, Pristina; Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zürich; and Sprüth Magers, Berlin

In not yourself? we are confronted by the loaded language of self-help set amid the cold vernacular of a vintage corporate tech. It’s a confounding experience. Self-help assumes an underlying confusion or suffering while, in contrast, technology positions itself to solve or answer (or at least reorganise) questions. They overlap in their shared goal of fulfilling our perceived needs. In does that make any sense?, a lime green panel with black gridded worm- holes and red font, we experience the perplexing proximity of two curves meeting – the initial rounded chute in the foreground, and another tube-y orifice turning sharply off the picture plane. In this and other works, the viewer is caught in the corridor – future fully obscured but seemingly always moving (a comment on modernism perhaps).

As well as being formally similar, the five panels each present a symbolic venturing into the unknown and yet familiar depths of what could be the collective mind, but also the psychologically obscure space of an antiquated ‘deep web’. Using an aesthetic mixture of rationality, order (the grid) and high-tech sheen, in relation to somewhat probing personal questions, the artist encourages us to consider questions of where and who are we exactly? Two futile undertakings in the face of imagery that prioritises constant and uncertain transition.

Whether these visual codes correspond to distinct voices or whether it’s one voice divided is unclear. Questioning and requestioning, antagonising and affirming, Turato’s words represent the pain and fear inherent to our often-dysfunctional linguistic era (think texting and Twitter/X) – the fear of meaninglessness and the constant search for value, simultaneous states of being innate to the rapidity of online life. As the artist warns at one point, ‘WATCH YOUR HEAD’.

NOT YOUR USUAL SELF? at Sprüth Magers, Berlin, 16 September – 7 November

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