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Interview: Linda Mary Montano, performance artist

13 March 2015

'Performance art is prayer. It takes confidence to do this without a priest or a church'

Performance artists act intuitively, authentically, and fearlessly to answer or pay attention to the drama, trauma, and subconscious issues of their life.

Those who are not activists are concerned with their own stories. In being truthful to this vocation, they shamanistically answer the questions of all humanity. Cavewomen were the first performance artists.

I most admire the performance artists who are aware of the sacred in their art.

I've written books about performance art. They're in my archive at the Fales Library of New York University.

I have made it my business to look at what is happening in my life, and twist that issue around aesthetically so that I can endow my life with awareness. Art is a method which allows for an interesting way to be with dailyness.

For example, in the '70s, I wasn't feeling grounded or present in my marriage; so I blindfolded myself for a week and stayed at home. I did this more than once, and it taught me how to let go of an outside addictiveness and learn how to come inside - be at home.

Performance art is prayer. And the purpose of prayer is to be connected to the divine. It takes confidence to do this without relying on clergy or a priest or an institution/church.

Some performers literally need to be naked, so that they can strip themselves of their hypnotic, daily ignorance. Some performance artists use danger as a way to wake up and pay attention to life.

I'm the daughter of first- generation immigrants to the US, who worked very hard and diligently. I'm the product of Catholic schools and training.

I was mentored by my parents, who were people of service to others. I saw how giving and working and serving were foundational and necessary components for happiness. Of course, there are some cracks in this system, because I had to then relearn things like inner joy and pleasure, and slowing down and self-care later on in life.

I grew up in a small upstate New York village, and was given freedom to run out and play and come home for lunch and then go back out again - without parents or babysitters. What a joy! My family was typical of the 1940s, and we felt the effects of the Depression and the Second World War very deeply. As a result, life was also quite serious.

Luckily there was balance, because both of my parents were musicians and artists, and my grandmother was an "outsider artist" who took her teeth out and sang for us. Art was always in the air.

I endure - and endure through long performances, some of them over many years - because it is the fastest way for me to learn how to leave my insistence on being in the past or future. Endurance tires out my discursive reasoning and my worry-hurry mind so well that I can only give up, surrender, become present. That is heaven on earth.

When I was sevenish, I told Christ on the crucifix, while I was in church, that I was going to suffer more than him. I was doing this so I could be as good, because that is what the nuns had instructed: "Be like Jesus." I just got it all wrong.

As a result of this mistake, I became a life-long suffering junkie. It took me many years to change and undo these early catechism misunderstandings, and learn that love is the way. Learning is not always about experiencing.

My inspiration comes from calling undoable romantic desire my muse. Then once the muse appears, I let go of the impossible and create or live with divine air.

Teresa of Avila is one great influence on me. Someone with the nerve to write that many books; with the nerve to found that many convents and monasteries; with the nerve to fend off that many demonic attacks in her cell at night; with the nerve to heal from many illnesses or surrender to the ones not healed; with the nerve to want to hide her levitations; with the nerve to travel on bullock carts over rough terrain; with the nerve to travel through seven prayer-stages to reach union; with the nerve to demand that she be surrounded by "happy nuns"; with the nerve to dance and sing with her Sisters . . . is worthy of being an influence and guide in this vale of tears.

I'm back in the Roman Catholic Church as a radical, a person who thinks and questions and responds critically. I'm back as one who becomes very attentive at the sacraments of holy communion and confession. I also attend Charismatic deliverances. My website, blog, and videos on YouTube will show in images how the Church has themed my performances.

LGBT themes were part of my work at one time. Now I am less about pointing fingers at differences, and more about blending in.

I relax watching trash TV, like tabloid junk shows and game shows. Don't tell anyone.

As I age, dreaming becomes a treasured site. That's where I travel for pleasure.

I hope to focus exclusively on the non-material: torch-singing and writing. I just sent 150 boxes of my work off to the archive at Fales Library, New York University, and I am tired of magnetising stuff to myself. No more. Enough.

I pray most for empty, clear, unimpeded silence.

If I was locked in a church for a few hours, I'd like to be there with my new video One=Love.

Linda Mary Montano was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Examples of Ms Montana's work, including her performances as Bob Dylan and Mother Teresa, can be found on YouTube.

Forthcoming Events

30 January 2021
How to Rage
An online day conference reflecting on theology, activism and the church   Book tickets

9 February 2021
Preaching in Lent, Holy Week and Easter
From the Festival of Preaching: save the date for a one-day online festival this February.

18 March 2021
Theology Slam Final

The competition for those aged 18-30 returns with a focus on the pandemic.    Find out more

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