Elliott Linwood

(Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, 1994)

When in doubt, whip it out – Nao Bustamante

Before the premiere of her performance The Chain South at the Lab in San Francisco, Nao Bustamante talked about where her work has been and where it’s going. Nao has become a mainstay in the Bay Area performance art scene over the past ten years, establishing herself as the queen of some very edgy improve.

Nao Bustamante

Nao Bustamante

Elliott Linwood: How is what you do with sound at the artist-in-residence premier at the Lab different from your previous uses of sound?

Nao Bustamante: Most of my work hasn’t used text, although, technically, I have used broken record players. To me, texts are problematic because they are either too direct, too much exactly what you are trying to otherwise talk about, or they’re too abstract. Part of the residency at the Sound Lab is the ability to link pictures and sound together, specifically because of the way I present theoretical work without talking about theory.

In a show from last year, A Simulated Assimilation, there weren’t any texts per se, and you created this huge ongoing tableau twisted into some kind of Yankee Doodle Meat Puppet, in the way you wrapped up parts of your body with packing tape, etc.

That’s a good description of the piece.

This practice in your recent show at Kiki Gallery came off as a tortured Victorian, robotic, sci-fi Barbie. Those of us in the front rows watching you try to climb a defective wobbly step stool while trying to strap on platform shoes, were very aware that one false move meant that you could come crashing down on the audience!

But it didn’t make you want to run out the door. It made you want to stay and see what was going to happen, because something was about to occur. I was going to make it or fail.  Either way it would be wonderful since everyone wants to witness an accident and will stick around for that alone. Sometimes I think of myself as a circus performer with no training. I often deal with the precarious possibilities of both choice and danger. I have a way of drawing people in with a sense of vulnerability and sensuality, then slapping them with an image or strength or wakeup call.

Seduction, entrapment, confrontation, and, retaliation.

Or, at least release!

The old Hitchcockian strategy of making the spectator sorry they just laughed.

Exactly!  But it also helps people release their fears and guilt pertaining to the body. A line that I use a lot while performing is, “If you’re not comfortable, leave your body,” which makes people laugh and participate.

Performance art has traditionally critiqued art object-making, since it is so ephemeral.

That’s what I used to love but now loath about it, probably because I’ve been doing it so long. If you can’t save it, or back it up on a videotape, then my body of work floats away into the ether.