The "Work of Art" Exit Interview: Nao Bustamante

The "Work of Art" Exit Interview: Nao Bustamante

ARTINFO spoke with Nao Bustamante, one of this week's two casualties on Work of Art, about the her shocking artwork, her "social sculpture," and what she has been up to since the show.

How are you feeling?

I’m feeling like a million bucks, like I had a baby or just had a Broadway play opening. I’ve been getting a wonderful response. It’s just unbelievable.

What have you been up to since you left the show?

Oh my god, that is such a huge question for me. I premiered a new film performance at Sundance, I went to Berlin with a commissioned work called Silver and Gold, I just finished a solo exhibition, I’ve been pitching TV Shows. It’s been awesome.

Why did you, Trong, or and Judith — really the only artists to have been recognized by the art world before the show — get kicked off so early?

You’re asking me? How the heck should I know. I don’t know. Go ask Jerry. I mean I was actually pretty shocked that I was eliminated but I would either win or get eliminated at that challenge. I think the work just made them so uncomfortable for whatever reason, or I made them feel uncomfortable. I guess I made them uncomfortable, I have no idea.

Will you take any of the judge’s criticism to heart and incorporate them into your practice?

Of course, of course. In the first episode the judges felt like I was really defensive and overly aggressive, so then I worked hard to really try to take in and listen to their criticisms. Unfortunately, most of their criticism was kind of hysterical ranting so I felt pretty attacked, to be honest. Still, I’m sure that the experience is making it’s way into my process. The whole experience felt like a dream. I’m still in the process of reabsorbing it back into my life.

Compared to what you thought you were going to get out of the show when you signed up, do you feel like it was worth it?

Oh, it was totally worth it. I made my friends laugh. I’m very interested in reality TV as a kind of source of conceptual art practice. There was already a history of artists going on television, like Salvador Dali on What’s My Line? I felt like there was a way, that there would be a door there and this was just kind of blowing it open. After doing this show, though, I feel like it hasn’t been so much the art world intervening in mainstream, but the other way around. The mainstream has intervened into the art world. It's made a little crack.

To move to talking about the episode: shock value has always been a primary part of your performance work. Since this challenge was so based on shock value, why do you think you didn't win?

Why do you think I didn’t win? You’re a smart girl.

I don’t really know.

Right, it was beautiful. Didn’t it look beautiful?

Yeah, it was great. Could you explain the piece in real time? In the edited version of the episode it seemed like you didn’t know how to describe it and that was sort of the main reason why you got kicked off.

You know, there’s a difference between not knowing and being in the process of discovering. There was a lot of stuff coming out of the work, there was a deep sadness. There was a kind of animal drive in there to build the work in a messy, kind of otherworldly way. Part of it was a comment on the limitations the show. I mean, how uninteresting is it to just make work that you know what it’s about and think thoughts that you understand. What about the things that we don’t understand? How do we get to those places? Those are things that I’m more interested in as an artist: the things that we don’t know, that we don’t understand, that we can’t comprehend, that we can’t quite put our finger on. That is a rich space for me. The week before Jerry had said something about how he wanted an artist that would fail flamboyantly. I think I was pretty flamboyant.

Is there anything else you’d like to viewers to know?

I went on the show as a sort of social sculpture. I wanted to be an artist that engaged in processes that I didn’t know and that I didn’t understand. I wanted to model a kind of behavior for the people watching the show

What kind of behavior?

The behavior was this idea that you could engage any material, have a process around it, be creative, and have a product at the end. That was my strategy and my demise. I was glad I was able to stick with it.