Lecture Review #1: Nao Bustamaste

The artist lecture, “Melted: Plotting Out a Cross-Genre Narrative,” by Nao Bustamante was quite an interesting one, to say the least. Nao is a performance artist who also incorporates other aspects of art like film and fashion. At first, I was very confused as to what was even going on during the lecture. Nao started off in darkness, with just the light from the screen up. Her initial focus was to hypnotize the audience to become her, to see through her eyes, which was difficult for me to do, partly because it was the first time I had ever been “hypnotized” and partly because I did not have the slightest idea who she was or what she was doing yet. After that, she began showing us some of her works. I started to understand who she was and what she was doing, although it was still a bit strange. Her focus was to leave enough room in art to imagine who we might be. Many of her pieces were centered on the identity, and its possible forms.

The first piece she showed was of her curled up under a rug in the middle of a public place, with a microphone she used to comment on the people walking around her. All the viewer saw was a lump under a carpet with a chord coming out from under it. This beckoned the question whether or not she was actually under it, or if it was something else. This piece displayed a somewhat lack of identity, leaving the mystery of who or what was actually beneath the rug. Her next piece was basically going on the Joan River’s show and being a fake exhibitionist. However, she acknowledged that she was acting the whole time after she had showed us the clip. So the whole time that I was watching the piece, I was quite judgmental of what she was saying, and was totally convinced because she was actually on the television talking directly to Joan Rivers. When she revealed that she was acting the whole time, it made the piece very humorous to me. I wanted to watch it again because I was too distracted by my mental dialogue to catch on to her sarcasm the first time. Again, she was exploring the realm of identity by challenging her own, and basically creating a new one to be viewed and judged. This was my favorite piece of hers because she combined pop culture with performance art, which does not happen very often.

She then showed a film clip of another one of her characters that she overdubbed live. She was on an adventure in a forest, wearing a voluptuous dress that she eventually gave to a man made out of sticks. Once her dress is off, a bunch of flying penises begin to chase her down. Once she was captured, she herself had a large penis/dildo with gems on it. This made me very confused, wondering if her underlying theme was her fear of penises, her desire for them, or that she was in fact a hermaphrodite. She was displaying another identity that she could have, but the answer is left to the audience.

Nao also mentioned that she was a contestant in the Bravo Original Series, Work of Art: the Next Great Artist. She made it for a couple episodes, but was kicked off soon after. Many people despised her work and she received a lot of hate mail for it. During this period, she imagined a gown that would protect her from all the hateful responses and reactions. She did a little research and discovered a group of women called the “zapatistas.” They were around during the Mexican Revolution, and fought on the frontlines with gowns made with Kevlar vests. In response to this discovery, Nao wanted to test the actual level of protection these vests would have had. She shoots at the dress from a controlled distance and the gown resists a couple shots and is then punctured by a .22 rifle. This was my least favorite piece of hers. The focus seemed skewed. I could not tell if she was commenting on the power of women in times of violence and hate, or if she was trying to make some obscure metaphor, but I could not engage in this piece. I did not know which part of the piece to give my attention to: her, the vests, the video, the guns, or the whole production as one.

What I liked most about her art was that it went against true identity, and played around with other identities. I feel as though a lot of art, past to present, has had a heavy concentration on discovering and emulating the artist’s true identity, or at least the subject matter’s true identity. In most aspects of life, people are always searching for “themselves.” It is something that people take very seriously, but Nao had a little fun with the concept of identity. I felt as though she mixed and matched new and old identities to fulfill her own. It made me wonder how it would feel to go somewhere unfamiliar and become an entirely different character and see through different eyes and ideals.

3 Responses

  1. this is a great paper! I think it is really neat how the artist started off the lecture trying to hypnotize the audience, it sounds like a great experience. I think its really great when you have to think hard about an artists work to understand it and really love it, and i feel that’s what happened with you!

  2. I was glad to read about your confusion in the beginning of her lecture, because I was pretty confused too! but found it very enjoyable nonetheless. I enjoyed your take on her artwork. It nice to see what others say about the same lecture. I definitely liked how you addressed identity with Nao’s work, since this is such a critical part of her process!

  3. I am not familiar with Nao’s work, but reading your paper it seems very interesting. The hypnosis thing is crazy, I wish I could have attended I would have loved to see it. You did a very nice job in explaining what you got from the work, good job!

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