July 15 - September 5, 2021
“The current residency cycle at Artpace, a nonprofit residency program which supports regional, national, and international artists in the creation of new art, includes artists Nao Bustamante, Iván Argote, and Michael Menchaca, invited by curator Pilar Tompkins Rivas. Three times a year, Artpace invites an internationally recognized curator to choose three artists to live and create art in San Antonio for two months.
For Nao Bustamante’s project BLOOM, she is working to create the most significant redesign of the vaginal speculum since 1943. Rooted in both research and object-making, the idea for BLOOM came into her mind, fully formed, shortly after a pelvic exam in 2011. “For me the projects that come to fruition are usually those that stick in my head. I call those projects ‘brain burrs.’ It’s a thought that won’t go away and sits there, in some cases, for years,” said Bustamante. “Like many women, I wondered why the medical industry cannot create a more comfortable apparatus for such basic procedures. I’ve often skipped the annual event out of my own avoidance of discomfort. My approach will be both practical and fantastical, probing the history that has led to this overlooked apparatus. I see BLOOM as an investigation of imagination, material, and space.” BLOOM—with its look at the autonomy of women and their bodies—has particular resonance in light of Texas’s recent bill banning abortions after six weeks.
In her mind’s eye Bustamante saw the BLOOM speculum, based on the design of an opening flower, with several flexible, curved petals in a thin condom-like sheath. The examiner would be able to adjust the opening in graduated and reasonable degrees. The BLOOM speculum has soft modesty panels, which, when pulled apart, activate lubrication for the speculum and drape over the exposed body, providing a comfortable internal pelvic examination.
Any person who has received a pelvic examination is aware of the theatrics. The clothes are removed and one’s legs are placed in stirrups. The patient scooches to the edge of the table and a drape is placed over the legs, creating a proscenium setting and cutting out the visibility between the physician and the patient. The patient is basically encouraged to disassociate themselves from their pelvic region, remaining “backstage.” While the examiner serves as the audience viewing the star of the show, the vagina.
“With this work, Nao Bustamante inserts herself into feminist canon—a constellation of artists making very vaginal work, a cunt art star map on which you will find Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers and Annie Sprinkle’s oracular displays,” writes scholar Jennifer Doyle, PhD. “Here, Bustamante explores the revolutionary possibilities of design in re-imagining this most unpleasant gynecological utensil.”
“Russian revolutionaries argued for design as a crucial vector for expanding the people’s access to utopian possibility. Communism, in this view, could be expressed in the design of everyday life—the project of dismantling Capitalist systems of wealth accumulation begins, in a sense, with the re-design of a teapot,” continues Doyle. “Artists exploring feminist aesthetic possibilities enact similar attacks on the world: The systems of power that disenfranchise us, that alienate us from our own bodies, express themselves in the forms of the instruments we use, and that are used on us.”
The speculum has shown up in archaeological digs as far back as 79 A.D. However, the duck-billed apparatus that most women experience today is credited to the physician James Marion Sims, sometimes called the “father of American gynecology,” a success that he earned on the backs of slaves (Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey) in his backyard hospital. In the mid 1800’s he conducted early gynecological experiments on slave women that he purchased or was “loaned” for this purpose. One of the gynecological devices left behind was the duck billed speculum. “If there was anything I hated, it was investigating the organs of the female pelvis,” Sims wrote in his autobiography. The idea for his speculum design came from inserting a bent pewter gravy spoon into the vagina of one of his ill-fated subjects, some of whom endured up to 30 vaginal operations without anesthesia.
In the 1970’s, women “took back the speculum,” inserting plastic speculums and used handheld mirrors to perform self-examinations, and leaders such Carol Downer were arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license for advising women to put yogurt in their yonis to treat yeast infections. In the 1990’s Bustamante attended an Annie Sprinkle performance, Public Cervix Announcement, where at the climax, Sprinkle sat on the edge of the stage and invited audience members to file by and gaze at her cervix. This chapter in history informs BLOOM as well.
Bustamante created preliminary drawings with the support of the COLA (City of Los Angeles) award. At Artpace, in addition to the drawings, Bustamante has developed work around the concept of pelvic examination, paying tribute to the women, Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, with a levitating genealogical table from the mid-1800’s. She will also unveil community ceramic pieces from a workshop accessing the “vaginal imaginary,” display speculums currently used in the medical field, premiere a video installation taking the spectator into the vagnasium, and perform with harpist Pamela Martinez on opening night.
In the fall of 2021, the BLOOM speculum will progress into the 3D design and technology phase with support from the University of Southern California Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) Research and Creative Grant.
ABOUT NAO BUSTAMANTE
Nao Bustamante is a legendary artist, residing in Los Angeles, California. Bustamante’s precarious work encompasses performance art, video installation, filmmaking, sculpture, and writing. The New York Times says, “She has a knack for using her body.” Bustamante has presented in galleries, museums, universities, and underground sites all around the world. She has exhibited, among other locales, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the New York Museum of Modern Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sundance International Film Festival/New Frontier, Outfest International Film Festival, El Museo del Barrio Museum of Contemporary Art, First International Performance
Biennial, Deformes in Santiago, Chile, and the Kiasma Museum of Helsinki. She was also an unlikely contestant on TV network, Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” In 2001 she received the Anonymous Was a Woman fellowship and in 2007 named a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, as well as a Lambent Fellow. In 2008 She received the Chase Legacy award in Film (In conjunction with Kodak and HBO). And was the Artist in Residence of the American Studies Association in 2012. In 2013, Bustamante was awarded the (Short-term) CMAS-Benson Latin American Collection Research Fellowship and also a Makers Muse Award from the Kindle Foundation. In 2014/15 Bustamante was Artist in Residence at UC Riverside and in 2015 she was a UC MEXUS Scholar in Residence in preparation for a solo exhibit at Vincent Price Art Museum in Los Angeles. In 2020 she received the City of Los Angeles artist fellowship, an Artpace International Artist Residency, and the Mike Kelly Foundation Artist Project Grant. Bustamante’s video work is in the Kadist Collection.
Bustamante is an alum of the San Francisco Art Institute, New Genres program and the Skowhegen School of Painting and Sculpture. Currently she holds the position of Professor of Art at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.
Artpace San Antonio is a nonprofit residency program which supports regional, national, and international artists in the creation of new art. As a catalyst for artistic expression, we engage local communities with global art practices and experiences. Artpace’s inaugural exhibitions featured artists chosen by Rob Storr, the then Senior Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. As Artpace’s first guest curator, he chose three artists: Jesse Amado (San Antonio, Texas), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (New York, New York), and Annette Messager (Paris, France).
Since then, artists have come from as far away as Estonia and Australia, New York and California, and throughout the state of Texas. Initially, the Texas artists only came from San Antonio, but in 1998 the regional pool expanded to other cities in the state. Past guest curators include Okwui Enwezor, Susanne Ghez, Sun Jung Kim, Cuauhtémoc Medina, and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, among others.”
Reception: July 15, 2021 | 6–9 pm
445 North Main Avenue
San Antonio, 78205 TX
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