A good performance artist plays upon audiences' attentions and perceptions, disarming them with humor, drawing them in with insight, and going for the knockout blow with risky maneuvers that leave them wondering if what they just experienced was accidental or deliberate, carefully choreographed or improvised on the fly. In the Bay Area, no one has explored that territory as deeply and successfully as Nao Bustamante. Over the next few weeks, Bustamante will take audiences on a guided tour of her career in a "Wax Museum," with artifacts and samples from her work as both performer and curator.
"The timeline of the show is going to take me and the audience through everything I've been doing for the past 15 years, and transition to what I'm doing now," says Bustamante. "The gallery is going to be a series of tableaus, much like a cheesy museum." The "remnants" on display may include the clown makeup and suit she wore while traveling to McDonald's restaurants across California as "Ronaldo McDonald," trying to score free meals; the plastic bags filled with water into which she's dipped her head, goldfish-style; or a selection of the wigs, mirrors, sparklers, and other paraphernalia that's starred in her work.
On Sept. 16, Bustamante will perform with her band Las Cucas in a Mexican Independence Day celebration with other Latino rockers at El Rio. The following week, she'll "kill off a piece," her infamous America the Beautiful, in a final performance of that work at the Lab on Sept. 22 and 23. In this signature work, Bustamante plays with the rituals and preparations of feminine beauty in a series of improvised moves, reminiscent of those of a trapeze artist, with the most striking image the voluptuous shadow cast by her naked body after she's wrapped it in packing tape. Then Bustamante goes to the limits, climbing a ladder and dangling over the audience while her body strains inside the tape. "I've delved pretty far into my psyche with that piece," she says, "and it'll be good to sort of put that one to rest."
"Wax Museum" can be viewed Wednesdays through Saturdays 2 to 7 p.m. through Sept. 30. Admission is free; call 864-8855 or visit www.thelab.org for details. Las Cucas play Saturday, Sept. 16, at El Rio, 3158 Mission (near Army), S.F. Admission is $7; call 282-3325. America the Beautiful plays Sept. 22-23 at 9 p.m. at the Lab, $7-10 sliding scale. "Performance Remnants" plays Sept. 27-28 at 9 p.m. at the Lab, $7-10 sliding scale. Closing party with N-Heat is Sept. 30, 6 to 8 p.m., admission by donation.
Sept. 27 and 28, Bustamante will explore her prominent role as a curator, one that she's filled for the last six years with New Langton Arts. Her guest artists that week will include Robert Linder, Scott MacLeod, and Elia Arce.
Bustamante closes out the run on Sept. 30 with a party unveiling her new band N-Heat, including Mads Lynnerup and Eamon Ore-Giron, with whom she's been working out new songs and personas to introduce to those who've known her only as a performance artist.