Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory
Vol. 18, No. 2, July 2008, 127–132
Linda Montano, Anorexia nervosa and an art of hunger
Lydia Brawner*

Department of Performance Studies, New York University, New York, USA

In performance artist Linda Montano’s deceptively simple 1981 video Anorexia
nervosa, five women are interviewed about their experiences with self-starvation.
In the video’s interplay between image and speech, Montano creates a correlation
between internalized hunger and the perceivable body, placing notions of
spirituality and physical hunger at the core of the video. This reflection considers
Anorexia nervosa as a meditation on ascetic discipline and talk therapy, both of
which are, for Montano, strategic modes of art production.
Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Linda Montano; video art
In her 1981 video Anorexia nervosa, performance artist Linda Montano collects five
moving and deceptively simple interviews with women who have experienced some
degree of self-starvation. She includes herself in this group, and the video ends with her
reflections on her staggering weight loss as a Maryknoll novice in a convent in upstate
New York from 1960 to 1962. The work is video art with minimal aesthetic intervention;
straightforward speech is privileged. In the interplay between image and speech, Montano
creates a correlation between internalized hunger and the perceivable external body,
turning something physical into the metaphysical, and placing physical hunger at the core
of an art practice rooted in the body. To accomplish this, the artist employs the interview
format as a trope of talk therapy akin to Freud’s trajectory of ‘‘remembering, repeating
and working through’’ (Freud 1914). Though different from the transference that Freud
posited as occurring between the analysand and the analyst, in which the analyst serves as
an intermediary for the projections of the analysand, Montano’s art proceeds in a mimetic
fashion, as ‘‘an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the
transition from one to the other is made’’ (Freud 1900, 150). Art making can heal for
Montano who alchemically works within conventions of ‘‘the spiritual’’ – she subjects
herself to a set of disciplinary practices that she designates as art, which can elevate and
transform relationships to normative discourses and experiences.1
This recourse to the religious made explicit in the video via Montano’s reflections on
her time in the convent rejects the pathology of anorexia as medicalized illness and opens
it to the chilling potential of art. During a 2001 panel discussion, Art as spiritual
practice, Montano opened her remarks in the guise of Saint Theresa of Avila remarking
‘‘the first thing we have to do, and at once, is to rid ourselves of love for this body of ours’’

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