Mark takes his shirt off, goes home.
  • Mark takes his shirt off, goes home.
It's starting to feel like humanity versus art on Bravo's reality TV show "Work of Art." The evil people are winning challenges in their most evil moments (Nicole, you're my exception, my hero); the nice ones get sent home at their most vulnerable. This is an incredibly annoying development, since it sets up the idea that good artists are evil people and good people are bad artists, which is a gobsmackingly stupid fiction.

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Miles continued his reign of terror over the other artists, this time talking Jaci out of her clothes yet again for an artwork that equated nudity with female power. Yeah, that's not a historically charged situation. All three judges were male, and male critics never seem so hopelessly, cluelessly male as when they talk about Jaci's work. Oy.

On the other side of things were Cornish alum Mark and Peregrine, also dealing with nudity. Art and nudity are clearly sittin' in a tree on this show, much more so than you see out in galleries and museums. I'd argue it's not that art brings out nudity but that reality TV does; art just provides a convenient vehicle in this case.

Mark wanted Peregrine to get naked for a picture of her ascending to heaven. The numskulled challenge called for the artists to explore a duality, and Mark and Peregrine chose heaven and hell. It didn't help that Peregrine's idea of hell is Mark's art, as she's said before on the show (we viewers knew that, but Mark didn't during the taping—it was in one of those private "confessional" moments).

Peregrine turns the tables. She tells Mark to get naked. He, to his credit, agrees. To his credit for two reasons: He's working together with her, collaborating; and he's got the opposite of a body that normally gets photographed—he's fat. Peregrine says she's focusing on a scar he has from an operation when he was 18; Mark says he worked through the scar stuff years ago, but okay. Both of them kind of ignore the fact that the scar isn't the issue; the vulnerability of the whole torso's exposure is. She decorates his scar with a mess to make it look cartoonishly hellish; he uses the image of his naked torso to depict himself at perfect peace and ascending into a light heaven—erasing his own vulnerability by enveloping it in cliche. (Come on, Mark—a heavy man going into the light? You could have done so much with this!)

Mark was declared, as Heidi Klum would say, OUT. When host China Chow made the announcement, she was crying because, as she said later, when Jaclyn exposes her mainstream body, she gets applause; when Mark shows his less-often-pictured body type, he gets sent home.

In a phone conversation a few minutes ago (triangulated by a Bravo executive), Mark's first words were, "I've been crying for the last twelve hours, so forgive me, please."

Naturally, he was just fooling. Mark's shown himself to be pretty thick-skinned and gracious this entire time, and both last night's episode and this mornings conversation were no exceptions.

I asked him why he squandered his opportunity to explore vulnerability in his own image the way he does with the models he works with (full disclosure: I modeled for an underwater photograph for Mark when he was visiting Seattle a few months ago).

"Through this whole process, I had to have every word I said recorded, have my face be center stage, and have me having my shirt off on national television—and those are my three main issues in my life," he said. "Now that I've confronted them, I feel pretty good about it. So much of what my work used to be was that it was all about me. At a certain point, I think you grow out of that, you don't want to be the center, you want something else to be the subject."

I'd argue that work that's all about the artist is boring, and so is work that isn't at all about the artist. Finding the middle ground is the hard part, right?

"What I learned more than anything else in the process is being comfortable in front of the camera," Mark continued. "Most photographers or directors will say, 'I hate being in front of the camera.' But the moment the first episode started airing, I had this wave of euphoria, just this great feeling of being out of control. It was really good for me to let it go and relinquish that control."

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In the best of Mark's photographs, the image can be a document that speaks to the relationship between the photographer and subject—a relationship that often includes various complex, intersecting power dynamics. "If you create a relationship enough with the people who are in control of your image," Mark said of his own friendship with the Bravo photographer during shooting, "I think you'll be okay."

If my count is right, we're down to five cast members. May the winner not be a douchebag.