Artist lecture review: Nao Bustamante (Jillian Fox)

Jillian Fox

ARTH 3539-001

Artist lecture review

Nao Bustamante

I attended Nao Bustamante’s lecture, “Melted, Plotting Out a Cross-Genre Narrative (or should I be making butter right now?).” Nao Bustamante considered herself an amateur and claimed her artistic career was prepared by accident. I immediately recognized Bustamante’s theatrical presence. The lecture began with Bustamante directing the audience into a state of hypnosis. The lights were dimmed, the room was silenced, and the only sound was the sound of her voice soothing the audience. She wanted us to relax and to bring ourselves out of ourselves, to let go of all that makes up our identity as you would let a balloon float away into the sky. She wanted us to take on her identity and to look at her works and understand how she feels. This hypnosis is actually from a work she did called “Find Yourself Through Me”. She likes to begin with hypnotizing people to be her so that we would have a “more relaxed rapport” with one another. The lights remained off and she continued to speak in a low, calming voice with subtle pauses between her words.

Her work as an artist explores performance art, sculpture, installation and video. In her lecture, she mainly focused on her performance works, or her more body-focused works, because she realized there was not a lot of performance art influence here.  The first work she showed us was a performance she did at a gallery in San Francisco. This was a museum that did not offer much performance, so they asked her to perform. Her performance consisted of her hiding her body under a shaggy rug and she held a microphone to respond to the environment around her. People walking by just assumed that she was somewhere else watching and responding into the microphone; they did not believe that she was actually under the rug. People would poke and kick the bump (her body) and she would respond by moaning or groaning. This work was clearly body-focused and she made herself the art, but was not actually seen as the art. She clearly thinks outside the box and would like those who observe her to do the same; I believe she wanted observers to get outside themselves to see something new or something they have not seen before as she morphs herself into so many different identities throughout her performances and other works.

Another work we looked at was called “Rosa does Joan.” This is from her performance on the Joan Rivers show in 1992. She met a woman who was a professional exhibitionist and the woman was asked to be on the Joan Rivers show, but was not able to do it. Bustamante did it for her instead. She posed herself as this alternate identity, “Rosa”, who was an exhibitionist. Her performance was strikingly convincing, as she was interviewed on the show with other true exhibitionists and no one doubted her identity as Rosa, including Joan Rivers. She decided on certain words that conveyed an “open-genderness” to open up her identity and how she was perceived on the show. Her video showed her being interviewed by Joan and then some behind the scenes footage of the other people who were also featured on the talk show. I think Bustamante is really intrigued by the body, the identity, and what makes a person who they are. Her work reflects how easily she can transform herself into a new identity and fully become them. The words she chose when speaking on the show only further opened up her identity, even though it was a fictional one. Her performances continually open up her body and identity for viewers to observe and understand, which was exactly the objective of her hypnotizing the audience. The comfortable rapport that emerged from this state of hypnosis made the lecture relaxing and humorous for us in the audience.

The third work that I found most interesting was a film of her taking on a Maria Montez-like character. Maria Montez was a queen of Technicolor of her era and the film is in a “Jack Smith” film style, a 70s avant-garde exotica, escapist kind of film. She said that the idea of the escapist film is that you are not the person you think you are. Maria Montez was a Dominican American actress who regained her accent to be placed in exotic films. I think Maria Montez taking changing her identity for more of her inherited identity was particularly inspiring to Bustamante. The film featured Bustamante in a white dress in a grassy field facing down. There is peaceful, classical music in the background and she is not speaking. She grabs plants and flowers as she travels through the forest without viewers being able to see her face. Finally, in the forest she sees this hanging doll in the trees with lots of jewelry and a highly adorned garment and she finally speaks in the film. What is interesting though, is that she is silent on the screen (just moving her lips), but in the room she is performing the words and noises for the audience. It was a little confusing at first. In the lecture hall she also put this sequined cape-like thing over her head as she spoke into the microphone. In the film, flying penises was chasing her. She eventually grows a penis in the film and at first was upset about it and then intrigued. In my opinion, the film was very strange and confusing, but it did have some humorous aspects. I think this piece definitely reflects back to her ongoing theme of an opened identity, gender, and person. The fact that she grew a male part and was afraid of it and then excited by it really emphasizes the constrictions of gender. I think Bustamante wanted to break beyond that gender-identity boundary and her work did just that.

I think all of her work was effective and even her lecture style reflected the emphasis on opening identity whether real or fictional. I believe that this was her overall intention because from the very beginning she wanted us to look at her art and listen to her speak as if we had let our own identity go just as she had with so many of her works. She ended the lecture with hypnotizing us back into ourselves and letting her identity go. Despite not being a huge fan of her work, I thought her entire lecture style and work were very powerful and definitely made an impression on me.

3 Responses

  1. Jill, this seemed like a very interesting lecture to attend, especially since I have never seen a performance artist. I really wish I would have attended this lecture to experience the hypnosis especially. Great job providing details as well as being honest and giving your opinions on the art and artist.

  2. After hearing about this unique artist lecture i’m upset i didin’t get the opportunity to attend. Jill, being my room-ate, came home and told me all about it. She expressed how weird and different Nao Bustamante was. I found that your description of her lecture was very descriptive and allowed me to understand her thoughts more.

  3. Jill you did a great job providing specific details from the lecture you saw, making me wish I made it to this lecture. It also made me do some outside research on the artist, which I have learned Nao Bustamante’s new creation, Silver and Gold, is a living breathing “filmformance” combining both film and performance in one piece. I find the combination of these two mediums very interesting.

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