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The Art of Soothsaying

By Rhizome

Nao Bustamante is a crazy-awesome artist. There's no other way to slice it. Though she's currently based in New York, her work bears the distinct mark of having incubated in the San Francisco Bay Area, where performance, video, and installations go together like [tofu] bacon, lettuce, and tomato. To say that she is visionary would be a critical cliché, but if there are only a handful of artists one would trust to paint a picture of the year 2057, Bustamante belongs on the list. For her new video project, Earth People 2507, the artist positions herself as "a cosmovideographer shot into space and time," to create something "that is part Public Service Announcement and part time capsule," intended for an audience 500 earth years away. Video artists are no strangers to time-based media, but this duration was inspired by Bustamante's recent decision to work with NYU's Hemispheric Institute on preserving her work, in successive media, for five centuries and a curiosity about who her audience would then be. The contract that sealed this deal made an interesting argument about what constitutes her practice, stating, "performances function as vital acts of transfer; transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated behavior." Bustamante took this reading from scientific to sci-fi in her new project, as she imagined the radical possibility of video and performance being put on life support, against their ephemeral instincts. The narrative of the work finds the artist "at the mid-point on a millennium timeline that begins in 1507." Going back to repeat history for the sake of anticipating the future, Bustamante's studio performance vignettes (many of which star her dog Fufu!) comment on this era as the cradle of globalization and the impacts of cartography and Renaissance-era perspectivalism upon not only art practice but also broader modes of cultural perception. The video combines found footage, cell phone footage, and analog magic tricks like old-school chroma-keying to unearth mysteries and "predict" an ancient species of Buffalo made of toy poodles. Situating herself as both participant and observer, simultaneously re-processing video footage and pop historiographies into a bold new timeline, the artist brings a trademark tragicomic spectre to the art of soothsaying. Earth People 2507 will be screened tonight at Brooklyn's Rotunda Gallery, in conjunction with the exhibition "Ethnographies of the Future" and will be exhibited from April 19-May 25 at San Francisco's 2nd Floor Projects. - Marisa Olson

Image Credit: Nao Bustamente, Untitled # 1, (from the series Earth People 2507)(Film Still), 2008

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