February 21, 2011

Life as Art, Art as Life: Meeting Linda Montano [+ My Video Art Response]

Linda Montano is legendary….an Art Saint, really.

I first knew her as the performance artist who, for an entire year, was tied by a rope to another person. Wow…now that’s dedication.

Linda has been a famed feminist performance artist since the 1960’s, her fascinating work exploring the crossover between life and art through beautiful life-altering ceremonies and rituals.  In college, we used to adore her, along with other feminist/activist/artists Yoko Ono, Marina Abromovic, and Judy Chicago.

More recently, I was inspired by her ambitious “7 Years of Living Art,” an Art/Life project dedicated to exploring color and chakra energy. Each year, Linda wore one different monochromatic color corresponding to her seven chakras, switching from red, to orange to yellow throughout the rainbow. In addition, she meditated in a room of that same color each day and listened to a designated tone that connected to the energies and properties of each chakra. And when she finished her seven-year cycle, she did it again for “Another 7 Years of Living Art.”

Several weeks ago, my dearest artist friend and collaborator Lula Mae* brought Linda Montano to my attention again, when she forwarded on an e-mail from famous San Francisco feminist, performer, sex educator and artist Annie Sprinkle. Linda Montano is Annie’s mentor, inspiring her own seven-year color and chakra work, “Love Art Lab,” which is now in its final year.

Linda Montano was coming to San Francisco for a short trip! And right there in Annie’s e-mail was Linda’s phone number and an invitation to meet her for an Art/Life Counseling Session. I knew immediately that I needed to meet Linda, but I was petrified. What would I say?! What if she didn’t have time for me? What if I was doing this “artist” thing wrong?

Hand shaking, I picked up the phone and called her. We set a date to meet the next day, and she assigned me homework: write a 5 minute autobiography of my life as an artist.

When I arrived at the SF Art Institute courtyard, Linda was waiting for me, smiling radiantly, dressed entirely in peach clothing with red Doc Martins, silvery curls blowing in the breezy bay air. I knew immediately we were kindred spirits, and in that moment, I imagined myself in her shoes forty years from now, still making meaningful artwork, taking time to meet and counsel up-and-coming artists. What an inspiration!

Our Art/Life counseling session was intimate and soul baring, using role-playing and dialoguing to unearth my own Art/Life challenges and solutions. In our meeting, Linda held me accountable for things I said I wanted to do, but was afraid to pursue, then she wrote them down and made a pact with me to attempt them. She made my dreams feel possible, only just a few steps away.

One of these goals was to be able to make more video art, and literally THE NEXT DAY after my session with Linda, I met the talented videographer Betty Bigas and together we conceptualized a video piece about the Art/Life continuum.

Later that same week, with the help of talented artists Erin Dudley, Jeremy Teresa Lewis and Julia Russotti, we made the video.  It begins with the realization that as an artist, you are one with your artwork, an extension of the work you create. And while we may feel bound or restrained by this identity (I certainly tapped into this feeling while I was stapled to the wall for over two hours), once you break free and begin the process of self-discovery, you can truly get in touch with your own power and strength. (Our Superhero Selves!!)

Life as an artist is a beautiful dance; it is a struggle to find balance; it is an expression of love and spirit. It is simultaneously humbling and empowering to put yourself out into the world with authenticity and vulnerably. I am fragile. I am fierce. I am free.

I feel so much gratitude for my meeting with the amazing and spirited Linda Montano; she is a true example of living whole-heartedly. She seemed to appear in my life in the perfect moment…on the cusp of my 30th birthday…and I already feel the magic she reawakened in me.

I want to share a few other gems of wisdom Linda gave me, and whether or not you identify as an “artist,” they may inspire you to live your life as one grand and beautiful art experiment, and tap into the unlimited power and love we all possess.

Write Down Your Goals – As a young girl, my amazing mother taught me this tool of manifestation (“Write it down: Make it Happen!”) and my meeting with Linda only reinforced this. By putting your dreams into ink, you are making them real, validating their existence, and giving yourself a tool to remind you of them each day.

You ARE Perfect! – I’ve been telling myself for years, “No one is perfect! It’s okay to just be you,” in response to my perfectionist urges, but I found Linda’s approach much more refreshing. “But you ARE perfect!” she told me, “We ALL are.” Phew. That feels good. A subtle shift, but a meaningful one.

Get Down on Your Knees Every Day – Offer up even just a few moments each day to express your gratitude and focus on the Divine Light (or God, Buddha, The Great One, or your own spirit) in your life.  As Rumi wrote, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  Ask for what you need, and give thanks for the abundance of blessings each and every day. (P.S. I’ve been doing this since, and it feels fantastic.  Try it!)

Create Clear Mantras for Yourself – Be kind to yourself! Mantras are an important way to affirm your power, acknowledge where you are, and stay grounded in your goals. Try something simple like, “I am light. I am love.” or “I deserve abundance,” or something more complex and specific to your life. Then write it down and post it on your mirror, saying it to yourself every day.

Embrace COLOR! – A very real energy exists within color, and by incorporating and focusing on these colors in our lives, we can tap into their power while we live a more conscious and intentional life. Choose color when you dress for the day! Stuck in the all-black rut? Start by throwing on a colorful scarf or jewelry! When I joked with Linda that she must have an unbelievable rainbow-colored wardrobe now, she noted that everything she owns has been made for her, given to her, or acquired through thrift or second-hand, so she isn’t buying into the culture of consumption.

Love, love love! – What if every thought and action every moment of every day was based in love? What if we chose love above fear? Love above money? Love above jealousy? Love, love love! What a beautiful world that would be.

Want more Linda Montano Wisdom? (I do!) Take part in her 12-step performance art “Virtual Residency,” read her “Chakra Story,” or watch her fabulous videos to learn more about her work.

*Read the interview I did with the spectacular performance art divas Lula Mae and Sadie Lune about their show “Prove You’re Not a Robot.” It’s juicy!

Photo of Linda Montano: Gisela Gamper.

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