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Exit Interview: ABN Chats with Nao

July 6, 2010

Outspoken performance artist Nao Bustamante quickly became known for her controversial one-liners on Bravo’s “Work of Art,” (“I’m not responsible for your experience of my work,” anyone?) as well as her sometimes misunderstood performance art pieces.

(c) Bravo

Nao’s work, dealing with subjects such as feminism, race and cultural identity, includes video installation, visual art, filmmaking, and writing. She has presented in galleries, museums, universities and underground sites across the world, including the New York Museum of Modern Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and 2010.

During last week’s challenge, doubt and confusion over the meaning of her shocking piece proved to be the end of her run on the show, but for Nao, the most shocking part was the judges’ decision to eliminate her.  Her final work, a performance art piece titled “Barely Standing,” involved her swathed in plastic and paint and milling about a large shanty-like structure.

She says there was confusion about whether she knew what she was doing with her piece, but the piece itself, she explains, was about a process of being a living being, almost like an insect.  As she was constructing it, Nao says there was almost an “animal drive” behind the work.

“I knew this was going to be a break through or the piece that sent me home,” she says.

As a performance artist, Nao says she was frustrated by the limitations that the show inadvertently set for her. Because they could only shop at an art supply store, she says she spent much of her time gathering plastic packaging and other items her fellow contestants discarded.

Nao says performance art is often still misunderstood but is gaining greater acceptance and popularity as the Internet and recording technology continue to shape the way art is distributed.

“Performance art was originally derived from visual artists who were stressed from the commodification of their art,” Nao says. The artists wanted to create something that couldn’t be sold. Performance art was “an orphan child,” confusing value and experimentation.

Like fellow eliminated contestant John Parot, Nao believes the best way for artists to promote themselves is to cultivate organic relationships within the art world.  By building relationships and connections, Nao says the artist become a part of the art community and can gain exposure, recognition and support.

One message Nao wanted to convey during her time on the show was performance art’s infinite possibilities. “You can do anything with anything, with any materials,” she says.

Currently, Nao teaches at New Media and Live Art at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. She is represented by Baer Ridgway Exhibitions in San Francisco.

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