I Slept With Linda Montano by Paul Couillard (Interview for TIME TIME TIME series)
FADO (Paul Couillard): Hi, Linda.
LINDA MONTANO: Hi, Paul.
FADO: Given your history in performance, I wanted to start by asking whether you see a distinction between performance or art and life?
MONTANO: Until I wrote a recipe that indicated that every minute was performance, there was a distinction. In 1984 I appropriated all time as performance time or art, meaning every minute of my life was an opportunity for that kind of higher -- not higher -- but that kind of consciousness, a kind of awareness or -- sacredness is a word that is laden -- but that kind of sacredness. Before 1984 I made attempts, but they were for a week or a month or for shorter periods of time. In '84 I designed it so that the rest of my life will be in a work of art.
Of course, Tehching Hsieh's concept ART/LIFE: ONE YEAR PERFORMANCE was inspiring, and when I decided to join him in his rope piece for a year and I got to work with this "genius of art", I learned so much about time from him.
FADO: So, everything you do is art because you've consciously identified it as that?
FADO: Are there other things wrapped up in that, like a sense of discipline or a certain kind of awareness you try to bring to things?
MONTANO: It's almost like... There's a massage form called Reiki, and in Reiki, there's a little bit of study, maybe a weekend workshop and three levels. Then there's this so-called initiation, and it's really an initiation into nothingness. It's so simple; it's just a laying on of hands. It's not as if it's a complicated massage form. And for me it was just a matter of consciously setting up the parameters that allowed me to incorporate, appropriate, grab all time as art. It's -- what was that question?
FADO: I was wondering about discipline.
MONTANO: In the beginning it was about discipline. I had to do this, this, this and this for numbers of hours and days and weeks and months. Then I found that the overall intentionality worked to incorporate my needs, and the disciplines were really my own ego struggling, pushing. So when I lightened up and stopped pushing so much and creating boundaries and formulas, the permission to live in the state of art loosened me up. I started making more things that looked like traditional art because I was free. Before, it was always this sort of guilt of not being in the studio, not producing enough, not working -- which comes out of an art school training or a western model of abundance and consumerism. How can you say you're something if there's no product? When I took that away, I actually started producing, which is always an interesting kind of contrast. But given my philosophy, there's no need for production, because I am in the state of art, so to speak, at all times.
FADO: Why was it important for you to identify what you were doing as art?
MONTANO: Art gave me the same kinds of pleasures and aesthetic ecstasy as the Church used to give me. And because a woman is denied priesthood in Roman Catholicism, I knew instinctively that I would never be able to be a ritual-maker.
FADO: Within the Church--
MONTANO: Yes, in the Church. I took that aesthetic ritual-making paradigm and placed it in art. Not as second best, but as deep as -- and as wonderful as -- experiences I was having in the Church.
[Note: Montano has since re-entered the Catholic Church as a practitioner and would probably answer this question differently today (2001).]
FADO: Do you make distinctions? For example, when I contacted you about TIME TIME TIME, I told you I was looking at durational performance and I wanted to present a series of pieces that were at least 12 hours long. You could have said, "well, I'm doing that right now" or "I'll come to Toronto and just be Linda Montano", but instead you organized a specific event with an audience component to it that could be published or announced. Is there a distinction to be made between performing a piece called APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS and being in your kitchen making dinner?
MONTANO: Sometimes you eat chocolate cake with raspberries on it, and sometimes you have a rice cake. Doing a performance like APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS is the chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. It's a luxury, not necessary, but certainly something fun that I am still interested in. I see it as a night out.
FADO: In calling everything you do art, and thinking of what you do as being an artist, do you think an artist necessarily has an audience? Is there a relationship between artist and audience?
MONTANO: I think it's changing with computers and websites etc. It's becoming a virtual audience -- a non-visible, non-visual, non-physical audience. Then there's the audience of rumour, the audience of legend and gossip -- "oh isn't that the person that, you know..." -- being known for one piece. There is a hunger now for community, for bodily closeness, for performance. But there's also a plethora of taste. Things have gotten so specific to the person, that the people who will come to see a particular piece are drawn chemically by the taste of that person. The flavour of the piece coincides with the flavour of the audience members. I think there are a lot of different levels of audience, unless it's a person or a piece that has such a following or such a need to be seen. Other than that, I think that as performance artists we draw the audience with the taste that corresponds with ours.
FADO: In an interview you did before the Toronto show, you mentioned that one of the aspects of maturing as artists -- I wasn't sure whether you meant specifically in performance art or just for yourself as an individual -- was accepting or recognizing that not all audiences are going to love what you do, or have to like what you do.
MONTANO: I think that's an important lesson to learn, not getting attached to numbers of people in the audience, not getting attached to being loved, so that you can really do the work for the right motivation. Hopefully the timing of the work is right. I really think a lot of it is about the presenter. If the presenter is coming from the right place and is well-loved in the community and does a good job of making the artist comfortable, the audience can feel that and they respond. I think it's a real collaboration, because you can do something in the right place with the wrong kind of treatment or atmosphere, and it's not a good time for anyone. Sometimes it's not the artist so much that's drawing the crowd, but the presenter.
FADO: When you do a piece, what are you hoping the audience will get? Or does that matter?
MONTANO: Community -- that they'll have a place where they can wash their subconscious of ideas or fears or taboos, and a place where they can touch a kind of magical sacredness, have a spiritual high. Moving through matter and the dirt and detritus of matter as a jumping-off place to this ecstasy.
FADO: Do you have any thoughts about the element of time in your work? I chose you for TIME TIME TIME because I was familiar with the fact that you had done pieces that had unusual durations, like being tied to Tehching Hsieh for a year. Or doing a seven-year project of exploring the chakras, where every moment of every day for quite a substantial length of time was devoted to or charged with the intent of the particular project you were working on.
MONTANO: Working with time allows for a timelessness. You almost have to grab time to go out of time. Focus and concentration and discipline and spaciousness all happen at the same time when you work with endurance and time. It inhibits scatteredness. It inhibits shallowness. It helps us to go to places that change brain waves, literally. If something's done for a long period of time, then brain chemistry changes. All of those things interest me.
FADO: I was very intrigued by the way you chose to structure what we called the 'piece' APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS. Essentially, there were two parts. The first part of 3 1/2 hours was a soundscape that people could enter or leave as they wished, just soaking in the energy of it. The second part required a different level of commitment on the part of the people who were involved. They were no longer participating spectators; they were being what they were being. You asked us, in a sense, to sleep together.
MONTANO: "I've slept with Linda Montano."
FADO: (Laughing) I'll bet you have! In the morning, when we were ending the performance, one of the things you spoke about was that there was a sense of community created in our being together, just in doing a simple action together like sleeping. But people had to commit to be there for that 7-hour period and not leave in the middle, whereas the first part was set up so that anyone could come and go.
MONTANO: A lot of that was just practical safety, in terms of doors opening and closing, people coming in, and protecting the space. Because people were sleeping, the space had to be different, so the parameters were different. But time is energy. We are energy. And energy needs a lot of attention. If we're busy, if there's a divorce from energy, then its like not being nurtured, not getting enough food. All of these actions are vehicles. They're designed to produce the effect of feeling aliveness and energy -- and maybe, if there is such a thing, a chemical shift in the brain where it's touching bliss or sacredness.
FADO: Is it fair to say that what's involved is a commitment to acknowledging and working with the particular energy of time?
MONTANO: When you translate time, the next word you get after time is death -- because time is so mysterious and it's all about the race against time, or time out, or time is over, or time is up, etc. Time is a real piece of the puzzle that nature holds and has control of. When artists play with time, they're playing with God's toy, nature's toy. It wasn't designed for us to play with, but artists never play with anything that isn't sacred. Or, it's the artist's prerogative to go into that playground. Time brings up issues of dying and of death. And of impermanence and of change and of flux and of loss. "Time marches on." "I don't have enough time for that." It seems to dog us and nip at our heels and run after us. We don't have enough of it, but when the focus changes, when the artist uses time as a material -- a clay to mold -- the artist can use that material to reach timelessness -- no-time. And no-time is bliss or ecstasy or energy, pure energy.
FADO: I see a relationship with trance as well. One of the teachings of my artistic training is that trance is how we manage to express the immortal in our mortal bodies. I think time is an important element of that. For example, people who stayed through the three-and-a-half hour soundscape in APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS were affected. They were put into a different space, perhaps a trance. They wouldn't reach that place if they were there only there for one minute, or if they were watching it from a distance on their television set.
MONTANO: Right. It definitely demands a presence, a participation. Otherwise it's a sound bite.
FADO: You mentioned that up until very recently -- I think it was a seven-year period -- you didn't do any interviews about your work. Can I ask why?
MONTANO: In 1991, when I finished the first set of years, I decided to do another set of years.
FADO: You're talking about the chakra research.
MONTANO: Yes, it became 14 YEARS OF LIVING ART, and I did an interview with Jennifer Fisher from Parachute magazine in Canada. When I read it, it felt so complete that I couldn't imagine saying anything after that. I would just be repeating myself, and maybe not learning anything. So I made a vow. And I think it was really smart, because there's an addiction that sets in. The artist gets addicted to "Why aren't more people interviewing me?" Or, "I don't like talking about myself." Or, "I have nothing to say," or "Aren't I brilliant?" A whole basketful of thoughts around what happens in an interview. I made the vow so I wouldn't have those thoughts. Doing interviews is a learning process, a place for ideas to be shared and things to be learned -- and I'm back again. But I like having the option to set parameters and to give myself ways in and out of situations. I thought that was quite brilliant, to do seven years of no interviews. It really worked for me. But I think more than anything it took away the addiction to fame and to the interview process. It gave me a chance not to think about that issue for seven years.
FADO: And now you're willing to think about it again?
MONTANO: Well, the times have changed. There's more to think about. The body is evolving toward obsolescence. Robotics and cloning -- I don't know what they mean, but these things that I hear about are going to be happening, and performance is a place where the body is still celebrated. More and more people are hanging out on computers all day and all night. They are performing in chat rooms as sexual partners, or doing transgressive S&M or persona changes. Things that performance artists do naturally, the general public is doing. But as a result, the performance artist is also in for a lot of punishment. When the more conservative element starts doing the thing that the performance artist does naturally, somebody is going to be whooped and whipped. The artist is in line for a kind of conservative backlash because of the guilt of those who are hanging out in chat rooms and performing. Virtually or invisibly, they are performing, having the experience of performing and not really having the creative joy, but maybe coming away from it with some guilt. It puts performance in a pretty interesting place, maybe more necessary than ever, or maybe not. But it's certainly different from 1970, when it was for a group of friends who were all in it together. I guess there's a kind of pathos about this loss of body as physical flesh and the move toward an implanted cyborg or a transsexualized complete human. So many people are going to extreme performative measures. Transsexuals especially have taken the performance metaphor and really pushed it. I think that's an incredible performance. But it'll be interesting to watch what happens with flesh and body and space in the next hundred years.
FADO: I don't know what it's like other places, but in Toronto there's been a resurgence of interest in performance. Artists want to perform, after a long period when they didn't, when they wanted to make objects and be distanced physically from their work. But it's also true of audiences, who seem to be looking for a sense of tribe or community, whatever it is.
MONTANO: Yes, I think it's hot right now. It's a hot item.
FADO: Do you think that's true everywhere?
MONTANO: Yes, I think this generation has heard about it, especially younger people. I think there are more safe spaces for them to be performative, in their dress and on the streets, the whole tattoo or hair or dress codes. But also flesh next to flesh, for those who aren't getting it any other place. Certainly they don't get it in the schools. They don't get a place where they can transcend -- or maybe they do, I shouldn't say that -- but they're looking for more places to transcend and performance can really do that, can give that experience.
FADO: When you say transcend, is that "from" somewhere or "to" somewhere?
MONTANO: We're in it together and we're breathing together. We're experiencing it together, we've been moved and we need ritual. Our souls are hungry and we've got a little bit. Let's hold onto that, go hang out, nourish that.
FADO: What do you mean when you say ritual?
MONTANO: I can only describe it in terms of an experience. I'll use APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS as an example. When I was turning with the flashlight, I felt as if in the action, although very, very simple, we were there altogether and that we were changing our brain waves and that our soul spirits were happy. At least mine. I'm talking for myself, when I feel the concept of ritual. I think it's when something is designed to satisfy. For example, they knew that for 15 minutes this was going to happen, then 15 minutes that. They knew the landscape of the piece, so they could settle into the repetitive action of the performance. Although the actions were absurd, the tarot reading was absurd, they knew they could rely on it. The trust creates a level of openness, and the openness creates a level of body relaxation. Then the body relaxation creates a level of chemistry and the chemistry creates a level of brain wave. The brain wave is connected to harmony with nature, and nature must be in the highest balance. I think ritual is the vehicle to touch that balance.
FADO: Is that the point where your perspective shifts from "I" to "we"?
MONTANO: Yes. Did you have feeling of that at all?
FADO: Yes. One of the motivating factors for what I do is trying to assuage a sense of loneliness. Being in a position where I feel central to what's happening does that. But I'm never sure I can gauge what the audience is feeling, except to trust cues -- like, they stayed, so they obviously enjoyed being there. Or, they seem to be enjoying themselves; they seem to be connected; they seem to be relaxed. They're not agitated; they're not looking around waiting for something to happen, expecting something more. Then there's moments where you just go on instinct and do something, and you have a connection with a person or with the space as a whole, or you just feel "Yes, I'm in it; that's right". But I've certainly been fooled at times. Sometimes, when I hear other people describe their perspectives, it turns out what I thought was going on was completely different from what they thought was going on.
MONTANO: Well, you need to interview some audience members, Paul.
LINDA MONTANO's performance APPRECIATING THE CHAKRAS was presented in Toronto as part of TIME TIME TIME, a 12-month series of durational performance art works by artists from the UK, US and Canada.
TIME TIME TIME presented works ranging from 12 hours to several days. Ritual, endurance, attention span, community-building, altering states of consciousness, boundaries between public and private, narrative, linearity and transformation were explored in the series by artists presenting their compelling, urgent visions of ourselves and our world at the end of the 20th Century.