ART ON THE STREETS: Linda Mary Montano
In the late 60's when I began performing spontaneous acts of exuberance. ecstasy, endurance, research, healing and release, the inviting streets were free, empty and outside the impediments of culture, critique, gallery, finance and technology. It was all very simple : feel and then do actions not demanding rehearsal, preparation, costuming, documentation, technology or invitation.
Then, San Francisco streets belonged to the people including the Haight Ashbery crowd, the feminists, the free lovers, the political radicals, the Harvey Milk protesters, the Martin Luther King marchers, the PEOPLE! We owned the streets, worked the streets, we knew that we could air our concerns there....free of charge but more importantly, free of administrative hovering and board member editing.
My first "street", out of studio/out of gallery event happened in Florence Italy, 1966. Although the audience members arranged Italian found objects according to the number they picked before coming to the gallery roof, it served as my initiation into free-space and I continued hese experiments of acting outside the system by performing on the streets of Rochester: sitting as Chicken Woman; I danced the Chicken Dance on Potreo Hill San Francisco streets as well as in front of major galleries and museums, claiming on my resume that I performed "at" the --------- Museum but really on the street in front of the ------------ Museum. The habit continued and I joined the Salvation Army for the Christmas season and rang bells, inviting my friends to come and see me being "life-art". I formed a walking and touring club of the streets, sat on the street in front of my garage and practiced "life-availability"....all on the streets. Expiences continued and you can research more in my 1980 book ART IN EVERYDAY LIFE. ANd www.lindamontano.com
And then the law of consequences set in. It was still the 70's. Intoxicated by the lure of instant audiences and easy production values, I inescapably encountered the realties titled: accountability, consequences, danger and boundaries. It happened one beautiful west coast day on the Golden Gate Bridge where I was performing a Chicken Dance for all those who committed suicide there and the dance also functioned as a going home from work Chicken Dance for the privileged (at that time I called them non-artists) driving home to Marin. This was done without thought of a parade permit, without a special projects release form, without alerting anyone of my intentions or presence. What was all of that anyway when I simply and sincerely wanted to DO MY CHICKEN DANCE FOR THE PAST SUICIDES ON THE BRIDGE, while pulling my chicken cart behind me with the obscured tape deck playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was as simple as that.
Swelling with performative and narcissistic energies, I flung myself, danced, ruffled my blue prom dress, flew my bare arms and hippie hair into the air, knowing the symbolic cleansing must be working because I was feeling so fabulous ! And then, the bubble burst; a police car pulled up next to me, a large armed officer got out of the vehicle and escorted me into the car, sat me in the front seat which I shared with a large shotgun on a stand and we proceeded toward Marin on the bridge then turned and went to the booking station on the city side of the bridge. The media had fled, I was alone, and pistol armed troopers informed me that:
1. The suicide prevention camera picked up my actions.
2. The officers asked me what I was doing and my explanation paled in their eyes.
3. I was booked.
4. I was informed that traffic was held-up 5 miles on each side of the bridge and if there was an accident/fender-bender on either side because of my "disruption", then "I WOULD BE LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE."
Let's segue to now, some 40 years later. Even though I was freed from culpability because nothing dastardly happened that day on the bridge, I profited from the lesson and got introduced to institutional, legal and later academic boundaries and responsibilities . Simply put, I stopped being "free".
So when I was internally invited by the voices of my intuition to perform HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOTHER TERESA on the streets of NYC, I found myself returning to the sweet, generous streets accompanied by invited performance artists: Andrea Dominguez, Toni Silver, Zhenesse Heinemann and Leah Aron. Deep into the planning, I realized, that I had to be responsible to them as well as to myself. That I wasn't in this alone.
How to make this simple action, this gesture of creative response to honor Mother Teresa's 100th birthday safe and legal? Having researched via a facebook question..."What permission do I need to appear as Mother Teresa on the streets of NYC for 3 hours , 3 days , in front of the Empire State Building?", I listened to the wonderful advice, followed it , made phone calls to the places that were recommended and was told that I was protected by the First Amendment and it's permission to exercise religious beliefs publically. And to cement an even tighter agreement of co-responsibility among all of us and to free my heart from worrying about my generous co-performers, Zehenesse, who is a daughter of two lawyers , and who works for the NY Parks Department , drew up a form, each of us will sign, keeping this performance free from my fear of " WHAT IF ."
My dear father , creative yet made realistic by life, never said good-bye when we left the house. Instead, he would say in a kind way, " BE CAREFUL !"
I say, Mother Teresa, please protect us all.
Linda Mary Montano, August 2010.