Linda Mary Montano

Linda Mary Montano talks about her retrospective

View of “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative.” (Photo: Eric Swanson)

Linda Mary Montano is perhaps best known for her endurance-based performances. She sang for seven hours in a scissor lift; wore monochromatic garments for fourteen years; was blindfolded for a week; and spent a year bound by a length of rope to the artist Tehching Hsieh during his ART/LIFE: ONE YEAR PERFORMANCE, 1983–84. Montano’s art, which borrows from her life, has been dedicated to living with patience and empathy. Her current retrospective of videos, installations, drawings, and performances, titled “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative,” is on view at SITE Santa Fe until May 19, 2013.

IT WOULD TAKE pages to remember and unravel my past traumas: near death from anorexia, PTSD, the Catholic Church’s failings . . . but needless to say, my art cured and continues to heal my life.

Janet Dees of SITE Santa Fe perused my personal archives in Kingston and Saugerties, New York, and then sat for hours at the Video Data Bank in Chicago, viewing their archive of my work and later choosing ten videos that articulate themes of persona, endurance, death, spiritual seeking, collaboration, and humorous impersonation.

For the SITE show, I also made a new version of a past video titled Hi!, which was installed, years ago, in the Broadway-facing window of the old New Museum building. There it was: my face, hanging from the ceiling at eye level. Across from my face was a chair for the visitor to sit in and watch this tableau. They came in, sat down at the table, and had a faux conversation with me. I repeated greetings such as, “Hi, you look so good!,” and “Your hair is fab!” I waited for their answers that were to match my happy greetings and the communicated “care” for and about them—a comment on both the need for happiness and the inanities of small talk.

In the Santa Fe version, the monitor is fitted with a glamorous wig. My face and voice are inviting, welcoming the visitor to what I call the “art/life counseling room.” The piece is a parody of social graces and a comment on my own inability to consistently smile, be open, and respond with generosity. To take this idea a step further, I held four live sessions during the exhibition, offering one-on-one counseling in the room, twice face-to-face and twice by Skype, resurrecting my seven-year-long practice, from 1984 to 1991, where I came to the New Museum once a month and counseled people in another window installation.

To make the gallery even more accessible at SITE, I hung my 100 Chicken Paintings banner-like around the edges of the room. All four walls are painted in chalkboard paint. There’s colored chalk for visitors to draw their dreams, write manifestos, leave messages, and erase whatever was in the way of their creative vision. Play Art.

I’m in my seventies. I’ve been there, done that, garnered years and years of good attention from viewers who have given me energy, breathed life back into me, and woken me up. So this show is a chance for me to encourage, teach, inspire, and give back. I’ve made sure that the viewer might feel empowered to interact and play creator on the sacred walls of the museum. There aren’t any “do not touch” signs here. SITE also published an interactive workbook, You Too Are a Performance Artist. It chronicles forty-five performances and offers suggestions for the reader to reinvent my journey to fit their needs. This is my message: Creation is our human right and we all are exactly that, creators!

Gratitude to all of my inspirational and encouraging teachers and may our life always be art.