A Conversation between Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo and Linda Mary Montano
NDERE: Linda, I have been looking forward to this conversation. I hope
that this allows for shedding light on ideas that are difficult to articulate in the arts: God, aging, death, ego… Thank you for giving me the yes to ask these questions. You share the title of Saint of the Arts with Saint Catherine of Bologna, a Poor Clare
nun from the fifteenth century. In your case, I see you as the Saint of Everyday Life. In some of your writings you talk about performance artists as saints, can you tell us more about it?
LMM: I always loved it when this one evangelical Pastor I used to watch
on TBN would call everyone in his viewing/TV audience, "Saints." Why? We all rise to the level of our name (You have 5 names, NDERE!!!! Nicolas so you must know about that!!) When I was a child my father called me Sarah Bernhardt because I was so dramatic,
I suppose? When I entered the convent for 2 years my name was changed to Sister Rose Augustine. Then when I went to an Ashram I was called first Padmavati, then Chinmayananda by my Guru, Shri Brhramanda Saraswati, because he made me a sunyasin. I know of
one local business where all of the people working there have "nick names." I gave myself 7 names of fictional people in 1977 when I made the video
Learning to Talk. And then when I began impersonating real people, I called myself Bobbie Dylan, Mother Teresa and Paul McMahon because of these 3 "real" people I now imitate.
Artists are SAINTS. Lifeists (people who make life a work of art) are Saints also. We are all saints, that is, we are all fabulous/nothing special/wonderful/filled with
the Holy Spirit/carriers of Divine Life. We rise to the occasion of our names and because my father would not allow me to take ANOTHER name at Confirmation when Catholic teens are asked to choose a Saint's name to add to their own name, I have played with
NAME CHANGE AS ART for a long time to FIX that early childhood issue. I took the name power into my own hands. But truly, I feel we are ALL SAINTS: ARTISTS AND LIFEISTS BOTH,
"Author John A. Coleman S.J. of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California wrote that saints across various cultures and religions have the following family resemblances:
wonder worker or source of benevolent power
a life often refusing material attachments or comforts
possession of a special and revelatory relation to the holy"
On the other hand, Linda says:
all have been one of the above one time or another, therefore, we are
ALL SAINTS. NDERE: So much has been shifting for me as a result of your teachings and guidance and our conversations. You always push me to get
our of the comfort zone and to inhabit that space where things might not be quite right for the time being. The space that I am describing obviously entails questions of values previously held as dear. For example, fool was the young me who though I was creating
instead of serving as an instrument for the Creator to flow through me. Can you please shed some light on the ingrained perception of the artist as creator?
LMM: My therapist tells me that I am a narcissist!!!!! I rebuke that and ask her why she says this and she said, "All artists are narcissists."
I have thought about that and I think it is about our ability to live in/be directed from/rely on/take orders from intuition and the right brain. Call that being an instrument of the Creator??? Call that being right brain directed???? Call that living intuitively
and transgressively?? I love the words of this current young woman ecologist from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who has asperger’s. She says that she is different because of her supposed "learning disorder" but watch her fly in the
face of the untruths of the world, saying that she can be herself because she can't be like anyone else because of her "learning disorder." She is my current saint-heroine-artist-lifeist. Artists can’t help themselves. We listen to a different channel:
call that the channel of Creator/intuition/narcissistic banter? All I know is that I am in the Greta Fan Club for sure. The school of outsider. She is so close to the Creator, and is a walking-talking Saint. May I be blessed by her.
NDERE: God forbid one, as a contemporary artist, mentions God in one’s work. But it may be that it is not so much so anymore and that
you and a handful of others have been part of this change. I recall that one of the implicit prescriptions for making it into the arts for my generation was not to bring God into the equation. That did not work for me and I ended up going to theology school
after receiving an MFA. You were first a Catholic nun and then an artist. How did one path followed the other for you, or were they always intertwined?
LMM: We alllllllllllllllllll mimic our enculturation. We all do what was done to/in us. My narrative is this GOD-NUN-SAINT backstory
because that's my training and formation. It is NOTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT GOOD-BETTER-BEST, in fact it might be worse-horrible-a hypocritical farce. When I went to grad school at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I thought I was cool and stopped being
me and dropped my loved-roots. Now I have learned better and I am just doing ME, the me that was trained into me, in this small village, the small Catholic Church , the small Catholic school. It isn't because the word God or my supposed holy-Linda game is
good-better-best...it is just that THAT is my schtick! The problem is, it's becoming culturally/aesthetically easier,trendy and au courant for all artists to flaunt the God-schtick. As a result, billions are jumping on THAT bandwagon, getting all schmoozy-spiritual
and God-ish!!! That is not the WAY. Being true to your own neurosis is the Way. LOL. " All is well, all is well, all manner of things are well." St. Julian of Norwich.
NDERE: There are some common grounds between the people that I am interviewing for With Gratitude. Like Chip Conley, you have
worked with the subject of masks. I attended your performance at the Gershwin Hotel in New York focused on masks on and masks off. Chip talks about masks coming off as we become elders, and the freedom that this process confers on us. Can art help us discard
those masks that no longer serve us or does one as an artist have to watch carefully for the masks that one’s trade might demand?
LMM: A woman over 60 who "uses " her body as/in/with performance is nobody to ask about masks! We are up to our necks working that
out: working out the reality of the aging female performance-body-artist. Talk about addiction to the beautiful sack of shit that we are! Just throw in a few wrinkles/smelly breath/sagging breasts/paper mache skin upper arms and the game of pride is on! I
think Carolee did the fragile Art of Aging so beautifully by presenting her failing-feebleness so honestly....never APOLOGIZING. My bobble-head dystonia condition is insisting that I can't hide anymore....and I tremble toward my grave, mask askance, as if
drunk from life.
Do men feel the same I wonder? But now I can’t say "men", I have to say they? Their?Them? Right?
NDERE: When I think of you, Linda, and your work, the image that comes
to my mind is that of a person who has done whatever the heck she wanted to while being responsible, and being careful not to hurt herself or others. This not hurting oneself or others has been a valuable piece of advice from you. You have worked with aging,
with dying, physical illness, losing a tenure track job, but also with the joys of life. I remember once when I approached you about doing something together and you suggested: “Let’s be angels for thee days.” For me aging has brought anxiety and fear of life.
I am working on it and writing affirmations and gratitude everyday, and praying and meditating, and crossing myself before leaving home, and doing loving-kindness. Where do you find courage to do what you do?
LMM: Inhaling and exhaling while I watch Netflix.
NDERE: When we met for the first time at your Art/Life Institute in Kingston, NY, you prayed aloud and baked a pie. I was puzzled by
the way your prayer outlined friendship, collaboration and honesty. Your prayer disarmed my ego-driven path as a younger artist. Prayer is another one of the taboos in the art world that you have effaced. Would you be willing to talk about the role of prayer in your art-life?
LMM: I find "talking" a chore, a façade, a joke, an impossible fight for who is right-wrong-smarter-more informed. Silence and prayer
are my weapons of choice although I play-act "talking" when I am totally forced to do so. Writing is fine, praying is fine, singing is fine, performing as if talking is fine, lying down in silence is fine but Talking ……. uck! That's just me. But then
again it's all prayer and I shouldn't be so allergic to sitting in a restaurant and discussing a movie should I?Others are formed by family to converse/talk/share words/form ideas via sound. I was not. Plus as a nun I didn't talk for 2 years. And living with Pauline for 8 years, I swear on a stack of Bibles, that
we just LISTENED!!!! And so I find conversing totally foreign. For that reason I live alone and spend all of my time in silence with birds and trees.
NDERE: Can I ask about the Holy Ghost? I am in love with this aspect of the Trinity that in theory is neither male nor female, but
gender fluid, and which can travel through bodies and be channeled into art. Who is the Holy Spirit for you? I now understand performance art as the act of manifesting this aspect of the Creator. I would like to hear your thoughts about this.
LMM: The Holy Spirit is my God-Bird of choice. Why do you think I like Chickens so much?
NDERE: I thank you, Linda, my dear Art Mom, for your love, guidance and teaching. I am extremely grateful for how you have kicked me
in the butt and woken me up to a creative path where the limit is respect, and I too would LOVE to be an angel with you for three days. THANK YOU from the core of the pineal gland, the seat of the soul.
LMM: You are getting so roguish NDERE: you said "heck" earlier in your questions; you said "butt" just now and then you threw in
the "pineal" word. And ended with "seat". Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm You little Holy-Saint-Rascal you!!
In Art=Life=Love Chicken Linda Saugerties NY, 2019