Nao Bustamante’s BLOOM exhibition is an examination of women’s gynecological practice and history. It is also a world of pleasurable surprises. Rooted in both research and object-making, the idea for BLOOM, the exhibition, was inspired by the artist’s idea for a new speculum device which came into the artists mind, fully formed, shortly after a pelvic exam in 2011. The exhibition—with its look at the autonomy of women and their bodies— has particular resonance in light of Texas’s recent legislative actions. When you enter the gallery through tailored rich velvet, evocative of a vagina, you will be enveloped into a world of flesh tones with many artworks to explore. What first comes into view, though located furthest away from the entrance, is an antique gynecological examination table levitating in mid-air, balanced, and waiting for activation. The table pays tribute to Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, the enslaved women who physician James Marion Sims used for early gynecological experiments in the mid 1800’s. It’s from these experiments that we have the duck-bill speculum commonly used today, and which continues to cause so many women discomfort. The medical table was also utilized during an opening night performance by the artist. Remnants of the opening night’s machete champagne tower, with lipstick stains from participants, sits in a corner of the gallery. Further into the gallery, you’ll encounter a series of five framed works which introduce the BLOOM speculum device. Bustamante’s BLOOM speculum is based on an opening flower, with several flexible, cured petals in a thin condom-like sheath. The framed works further emphasize the connection to nature with an overlay of botanical flowers by local artist and Artpace intern, Piper Bangs, painted over Bustamante’s medical drawings of the speculum. Central to the residency work was community collaboration, and on a long table “vaginary imaginary” tools are displayed. These ceramic works were created by Artpace attendees at a “Speculum Salon” where they were asked to meditate on the vaginal imaginary and create their own versions of the next speculum. There is also a clay prototype of the new BLOOM speculum, made by local ceramist Michael Foerster in collaboration with Bustamante. For comparison, there is an adjacent vitrine filled with medical speculums currently in use by the medical field. Lastly, there are three video works within the gallery. One screen presents a video of speculum puppet who tells of the haunting and troubled histories in women’s gynecology. In the back cozy corner of the space, there is a “vaginasium.” Within the vaginasium is an evocative video which pairs breathing exercises akin to Kegel exercises, with sounds and representations of nature, specifically imagery from the nearby Cave Without a Name. The third video is a suggestive and medicative recording of a San Antonio Riverwalk drainpipe the artist noticed on her first day in residence at Artpace. As you make your way through the exhibition, you experience women’s healthcare through time by exploring the horrors of the past, the struggles of the present, and possibilities for the future.
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Artpace’s Summer 2021 International Artist-in-Residence program is made possible with the support of the Linda Pace Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.
Photo credit: Beth Devillier