linda mary montano

About the Artist

Linda Mary Montano is a seminal figure in contemporary feminist performance art and her work since the mid 1960s has been critical in the development of video by, for, and about women. Attempting to dissolve the boundaries between art and life, Montano continues to actively explore her art/life through shared experience, role adoption, and intricate life altering ceremonies, some of which last for seven or more years. Her artwork is starkly autobiographical and often concerned with personal and spiritual transformation. Montano’s influence is wide ranging – she has been featured at museums including The New Museum in New York, MOCA San Francisco and the ICA in London.

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View of “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative.”(Photo: Eric Swanson)


IT WOULD TAKE pages to remember and unravel my past traumas: near death from anorexia, PTSD, the Catholic Church’s failings . . . but needless to say, my art cured and continues to heal my life.

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This Robert J. Shiffler Archive Project, documents Linda M. Montano’s life/art performance 7 YEARS OF LIVING ART + ANOTHER 7 YEARS OF LIVING ART = 14 YEARS OF LIVING ART. The project includes illustrated narratives by the artist as well as, photographic and multimedia documentation about the performance.

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    “When I began, a performance artist was someone who had permission to explore dreams, fantasies, nightmares, traumas, illness, food, nothing from the culture or everything from the culture. (We) felt extremely comfortable not knowing anything and not being able to do anything, but to go into the liminal world of dream, imagination, and luminosity. I work extremely autobiographically. If I have something wrong with me, I make a video or a performance. If I have something right with me, I make a video or a performance or write a book. Need completely drives me. I read about the neuro-plasticity of the brain and the research being done on creativity and meditation and the ability for a creative mind to fix things. I am fascinated with the miraculous powers of the brain and art to heal, to mend the broken. My art also celebrates the ecstatic. My process is to work. Art is my job, and it’s also how I make a living.” 

    It is with honest joy and excitement that I return to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the 1966-1969 scene of my chicken art-life.
    Almost 5 decades ago, I came here fresh from an MA sculpture program held in a Medici Villa in Florence Italy where I acted as if I were a “sacred” artist, shipping home my medievalist inspired copper and wood crucifexes, inspired by my having been a nun for two years in the early 60’s and continuing this tradition of anonymity and sincere, traditional representation of my then beliefs.

    Madison changed all of that need to be holy to an attitude of academic inquiry, curiosity and intrigue about non-representational minimal art which the art world was practicing at the time. The magnificent, megastructures which were built, conceived and brandished proudly by the swarthy and large knuckled men grads of the sculpture department whetted my desire to learn and explore my past Roman Catholic beliefs in a new way, but only after I visited the chickens at the agricultural school here on campus. These visits had nothing to do with art, everything to do with life and my sanity, security and inspiration in this almost  male only  department which adhered to the then maxim that form alone was art.  Not just form but big, huge, humongous form. In fact, you had to have extra testosterone to face these male sculpture grads. So I went to the chickens to find some.
    The chickens and their sounds, their color, their uniformity, their unique self-referential spirit of courageous independence mentored in me a courage to be, a courage to not need, a courage to be content with not having been domesticated.  Chickens who symbolically serve as a messenger of the Underworld, screeching out warnings in danger, and calling out for the souls of the fallen in battle, never need hugs or baths or massages or booties in winter or cute play toys or extra treats or days at a spa or obedience training, or chicken beds.  These Madison chickens were teaching me art and survival skills that I found fascinating and useful.  Were they so great because they were once dinosaurs? Wikipedia told me that Palaeontologists have long accepted that  the Tyrannosaurus Rex, evolved into the modern-day chicken and this rumor has been given scientific backing with the discovery of some pre-historic collagen which they found in a 68 million year old T-Rex’s thighbone. This collagen-protein is responsible for giving skin its elasticity and bony Chicken wings their structure. These Madison once  dinosaurs, these miniature T-REXES,  called to me and prepared me for the ride of my art-life.


     THE SCENE AT UW  MADISON : 1966-69
    Back then in 1966, I was lucky enough to have 3 cowmen not cowboy type professors( Ernie Moll, Richard Artswagger and         ) who actually did wear cowboy boots and swaggered in choreographed unison into my off campus studio one spring day and I think it was Ernie who said, “Montano, what are you going to do for your  MFA show?” Now I know that it was a channeled divine intervented word of wisdom coming from my 25 year old lips because I said,  “Chickens, I’m showing chickens for my MFA show.”  This answer came from a deeply intuitive well spring lodged in my unconscious or maybe I was imitating my dad and his story about the time his mother wouldn’t let him go to the movies and he put chickens in her kitchen as a response. Of course! All artists want to please Mom and Dad and he had been Chicken Man, I was being Chicken Woman, an insight that came to me some 20 years later.
    So instead of making large welded metal non representational objects, instead of vacuum forming plastic half domes, instead of polyester resining life size mannequins of myself, Chickens it was for my final show. Lots of variations on chickens,  chicken sounds broadcasting from a loud speaker on my car; chickens answering on my phone answering machine; large hand-tinted portraits of chickens from the ag building on the walls across from the cages; and on the roof of the then new art building, I placed 3- 4×8 minimal art looking “sculptures ” of wood and chicken wire which became the homes of 9 chickens during the duration of the MFA show. Each night I changed the housing situation and some times there were 3 in each cage, sometimes 6 in cage 2 and 3 in cage 3;  or 4 in cage 1, 2 in cage 2 and 3 in cage 3. It was perfect. The cages satisfied the then male component and need for structure, repetition and maga-size; and the live chickens satistfied my right brain need for honoring  life.
    What was my reward? Not only an MFA but a belief in my personal process and the ability for art to become whatever it needed to be as long as it was presented in a way that alchemized and transformed time, space and matter ecstatically. Plus,  there was  a bigger prize because the night of the opening I went to the then ART BAR  and sided up to the side of those 3 sculpture professor giant cowboys and heard one or maybe all three of them say, “Hey Montano, want a beer?” a statement I treasure as much as the degree. I had feathered my nest and clucked my way home.

    Chickens are like artists :
    1. They have a high level of specialized knowledge because they:
    Humbly eat corn with focus. We artists make art with focus, consistency and creativity everyday.
    2. They are one -pointedly  task oriented. And we artists will stay up all hours of day and night to complete an art project, working the muscle of our talent, just the way Chickens work the muscle of their persistent need to satisfy their hunger..
    3. Chickens are authentically natural, normal and happy to be  themselves. So are we artists. We express our moods, passions and beliefs with standards of excellence.
    4. Chickens are never embittered having been reduced from dinosaur status to jungle fowl status. We artists don’t care if we don’t get a gallery or receive the correct applause for our work. We still continue because our work is our medicine, our healing, our vocation, our calling, our joy.
    5. Chicken are humble yet proud, cocky yet not obnoxiously competitive. Just like us artists.

    And NOW More than ever, we need these gifts of Chicken strength and courage to address current affairs for as healers, we are called to respond to the catastrophes of now in a way that heals us and others. We are called to service, called to action, called to be focused, self assured, diligent and proactively hungry to love.
    I would like to share a section of a video I made which is about this impotence of NOW and how I made art about this complicated and scary life.
    Thank you very much. May we dinosaur our way with courage.  

    Linda Mary Montano , Saugerties NY, September 2015
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