The most shocking thing about last night’s Work of Art, in which the contestants were instructed to make pieces of “shock art,” was that not one, but two of our favorite artists were sent home.
We caught up with both John Parot and Nao Bustamante. First, here’s our interview with Bustamante, who, among other things, explains sitting in her anthill-like tepee, clutching a “shit flower.” Stay tuned for Parot on Serrano, the judges, and the auto-fellatio portrait that sent him packing.
You do a lot of performance art. Did that ever strike you as a tricky fit for this sort of format?
It didn’t really strike me as that, because I was really considering going on the show and interacting with the framework as a piece in itself. Everything else is more of, like, a snapshot of the process of making art.
The main criticism that you got with this last work was that the judges weren’t really sure what you were attempting to do with the piece. Can you explain what your intent was with the performance, with the structure …
Okay … did you see the episode?
What did you think?
Well, I know that you expressed during the initial process that you were kind of unsure of the direction in which you were going, and that you were creating this kind of organic enclosure in which to house your performance. Maybe having to do with bodily functions and how we control them in a way that, perhaps, insects or other creatures don’t? I might be totally off base …
No, you’re not totally off base. Part of the point of working in that way is to leave room for people to interpret and let them kind of engage their own story. It’s interesting … I didn’t have the intent to be scatological. It’s really funny to say that now because for me, playing with scat or something is personally repulsive, because I’m such a Virgo clean freak. All of a sudden, there I am! Making this shit flower! I was kind of shocked myself how it was turning out. And there was something really animal and primal about it, even though it was dressed up in this Utrecht bag. I think it was also, maybe, at the time there was a part of me that was commenting on getting my materials from an art store. Because the structure was such that we would go to an art store and given “x” amount of time and “x” amount of money. And I bought this fantastic stool — you know, like a sitting stool? And some paint. And I collected all the other artists’ shopping bags. I really loved the mask. Because the mask was the bottom core of a latex mold bucket that Nicole had used for her fingers. She brought it over to me and she said, “Look at this!” She was about to throw it away. I said, “Oh that’s gorgeous!” And I just snatched it off her hands! I guess you could call it a type of collaboration. When I was putting it together, I was also aware of a sort of homage to performers like Leigh Bowery and the Futurists — people who did and do things to kind of extend the body into a more object-hood place. The piece was called Barely Standing. I think there was a deep sadness expressed in the work and I think that did come through for the viewers in the gallery. I also thought the work looked beautiful on TV. When I saw it, it looked so beautiful I thought I would scream.
How did you find the judges’ reaction to the piece?
In the first episode, the judges were really distressed because they said I was defensive and overly aggressive, but I was really just trying to hear what they were trying to say about the work. Unfortunately, it was just a sort of onslaught of stress. I guess the work made them feel uncomfortable and they seemed very stressed out. Mostly I just was trying to listen what they were saying.
It seemed like you really had an ally in Serrano.
I did! I’d never met the man and I really don’t know if he’s aware of my work. I haven’t had a conversation with him about the work or about the show, but I think that I did feel really vindicated that the guest artist was interested in the work. And I did think it was odd at the time that they sent me home considering that the guest was so against it. But they had their reasons, so I respect that.
Were you a fan of Serrano’s work before the show?
Of course I was aware of his work and his fame and the photographs. I think his photographs are really compelling. It was amazing, actually, to be able to have a gallery show just for us of Serrano’s work. That was really a special experience for all the artists on the show. The thing about his work is that there’s a real push-and-pull. You want to go close to see it and you want to step back. And you want to kind of move away as well. Mentally, it’s very curious.
With this particular challenge, were you surprised to see so many people go the sexual route?
I wasn’t surprised. That’s a really easy thing to fall back on. One of my favorite moments watching the show last night was when Miles whispered something to Abdi about jerking off on the painting, and they both giggled like little schoolgirls. I thought that was really sort of cute.
You’ve said that a lot of your work has to do with video, but we didn’t see any of that from you. Was that a production issue?
Video wasn’t one of the mediums that was being utilized as far as the competition. I think there were some concerns about how to put it in the framework and kind of equalize it with the static work. Essentially, the conversation was based on static work.
Did you find that restrictive?
One of my strategies for going on the show was to only engage in things I didn’t actually know how to do. So each week I tried to do something that was radically new for me. And part of that was wanting to model a process for people watching the show and to share this idea that you can take anything and express yourself creatively with any medium. And essentially you’ll have a product at the end. I definitely felt self-conscious and vulnerable throughout the process, but I never felt that I was disadvantaged by any way in terms of the medium choices. Mentally there aren’t really those lines for me, and also, in terms of art, one of my main reasons for going on the show was not to knock art down off a pedestal at all, because I obviously have devoted my life to making art. But I think show created an intervention in the art world instead of the other way around. Instead of the art world intervening in the mainstream, I think the mainstream is intervening in the art world.