I'm five weeks into my graduate school experience and the opportunity for Linda Mary Montano to visit with me in my studio was before me. I had not had an official studio critique with my professors yet and it has been 15 years since I have had a formal critique of my art. When I heard that Linda Mary Montana was in town for a performance at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and would be repeating her 1972 "Chicken Women" Performance. She was also making studio visits for the day and I absolutely was not going to pass up the opportunity. I studied her work in my undergraduate career at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and have a strong history of creating performance art. It seemed magical to me that my first studio visit and conversation about the direction my work is moving in was with her. I wanted Linda Montano, Legendary feminist performance artist to burst my proverbial graduate school, studio critique, cherry. It was like a baptism. The visit was a performance. We switched roles and became each other, until I "tricked" her into reversing back to our own identities. She asked me to be "Linda" and talk about the art on the walls. So, I told her that "Before I (Linda) gave any feedback, I wanted to know from the artist what pieces she felt were the most successful. Which works did she feel resonated the most or communicated what she wanted to express?". She asked that we drop our roles and return to our own identities shortly after that. We spent time laying on the floor with her asking me to repeat what she said. She would lead the chant and I would repeat it. It was a religious call and response. A positive visualization and pep talk for my "inner critic and judge" who was told to be quiet and to "allow the angels to come in and be heard". "I thanked my artist self for creating wonderful art and solving problems that only the artist can solve. "I will relax and make work with out the inner judge shutting me down and people will pay me for my work. I will make lots of money". After this, I was given an opportunity to speak about my new collection which I told her was called "Still With Us: The Anatomy of a Life". She said she liked my still life portraits that I have been working on. When I explained that they are portraits of people constructed with objects, personifications of the things in one's life, and that I almost went to mortuary school to become a funeral director she exclaimed "now we're getting somewhere". I thought to myself, we could have been some where earlier if I had been allowed to be myself rather than role playing and on the floor going through your prescriptive motions; not permitted to engage in my own performance but incorporated into yours.
She is right though. I do need to relax. she was also very excited about my plan to work with people in hospice care and documenting the anatomy of their lives. I had the feeling that she is not use to people being honest with her, and that her life is always a constructed- performance-even in an encounter with a young feminist artist. It is being lived for the intent of creating a statement. Her life is a statement. I wonder how it must feel to always be "on". She visited my studio, my space, to see my work, or so I thought, but it was actually, me who was visiting. Her world and work is what I was invited to participate in. Much less so mine. She believes in the intersection of art and life like many performance artists. But, I couldn't; help but feel that this meeting was not a meeting with someone in real life, and real time. Rather, it was a moment of art making- Her art making, that I was permitted to enter for a moment.