MONTANO’S SEGMENT FROM PANEL, ART AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: HARTNEY/MONK/KNOOWLES/EHN/MONTANO
ART AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: FROM THE PANEL: Hartney/Monk/Knowles/Ehn, Montano: Moderator, Marranca. 2002
Natural Voice: I must admit that I think that I have been chosen for this panel because I’ve performed and dressed up as a mother superior, a saint, a guru, a mystic, a priest, a martyr, a swami, and a healer for thirty years and called that play, Art. As Shakespeare, Annie Sprinkle, and others have said, “Dresseth liketh undt nuneth, duth noteth undt sainteth maketh!”
Saint Voice (as Theresa of Avila): “The first thing that we have to do, and that at once, is to rid ourselves of love for this body of ours.”
Natural Voice: Art once done has a life of its own. It’s our baby, a child, and as good and loyal parents we’re responsible to that baby. So I’m here to be as honest as possible.
Saint Voice: “It is when I possess least that I have fewest worries and the Lord knows that I am more afflicted when there is excess of anything than when there is a lack of it.”
Question: DESCRIBE YOUR EARLY SPIRITUAL LIFE (I’m using a self-imposed interview).
Natural Voice: I was enculturated early into strict Roman Catholicism in an upstate New York village right out of a storybook. Mom: Irish/Yankee/convert from Episcopalianism, was a comedienne, painter, questioner of authority in a subtle way. Dad: pious/creative/silent/focused; his parents, non-English speaking from Campobasso, both devout, silent, hard-working.
Question: WHAT WAS YOUR EARLY CHILDHOOD SPIRITUAL ENCUL TURATION?
Saint Voice: “There are two kinds of love, one is purely spiritual and has nothing to do with sensuality or the tenderness of nature. The other is family love.”
Question: WHAT DID YOUR ENCULTURATION LOOK LIKE LATER ON IN YOUR WORK? WE ALL IMITATE OUR CHILDHOODS AND EARLY ISSUES. THAT’S A GIVEN. DID YOUR WORK LOOK ROMAN CATHOLIC?
Natural Voice: My answer is in the form of two lists.
LIST 1: CATHOLIC MEMORIES
Question: THAT IS CERTAINLY AN IDEALIZED LOOK AT RELIGION, MISS MONTANO. YOU ARE LOOKING WITHOUT THE POLITICS,
WITHOUT THE PEOPLE, WITHOUT THE HYPOCRISY, WITHOUT THE COMPLEXITIES OF HUMAN FAILURE, HUMAN FOIBLES, AND FOLLIES. I WOULD CONVERT IMMEDIATELY TO CATHOLICISM READING YOUR MEMORY LIST. YOU BECAME A NUN, DIDN’T YOU?
Natural Voice: It was only logical that this intense early training eventuated in a desire for sanctity and, in 1960, I entered a missionary convent. For two years:
I talked only one hour a day and that was “in common” (a room with all nuns present).
I left, eighty-two pounds, anorexic and hungry for something that only art gave me. Mother art became my trauma catcher, my therapy, my confidant, my best friend, my guide, my confessor, my salvation. Art became religion. And in separating from Catholicism, I married art.
QUESTION: WHAT KIND OF ART DID YOU PRACTICE?
Natural Voice: I sculpted/welded the Visitation (Mary embracing Elizabeth, both pregnant), made crucifixes, and eventually presented live chickens as art for the MFA in Sculpture I earned in graduate school. I later invented performance for myself. That necessity was a fascination with the energy of aliveness. When I performed I got so much attention from others, which helped me attend to myself. When I attended to me, I discovered that the three billion cells in the body, when properly treated, can produce 1/2 watt of electricity in all three billion cells. WOW!!! Also, I could oscillate my brain waves at a frequency that produced addictively pleasing endorphine states of consciousness. The brain waves are:
Beta, normal, thinking, 13-35 oscillations.
By aesthetically purging subconscious material via public actions, via exposition of excesses of power, via exploration of autobiography as art … the brain empties of obscurations, guilts, fears, shames, and goes into modes of consciousness curried by nuns, contemplatives, and all seekers of samadhi.
Natural Voice: Exactly.
Saint Voice: “We must shorten our time of prayer, however much joy it gives us, if we see our bodily strength waning or find that our head aches; discretion is most necessary in everything.”
Question: WHY DIDN’T YOU REMAIN CATHOLIC?
Natural Voice: It wasn’t cool to be a Catholic artist in the 60s and I regret that I followed that legend. But, I did study with my meditation teacher, Dr. R. S. Mishra, and lived in his yoga ashram and a Zen center. In the early 90s, I came crawling back on my hands and knees, broken, having taught seven years at a university, and asked for re-entry, abashed for having left my early enculturation and deeply engrained patterns. Is there a spiritual materialism at work here? Recently, I’ve been able to collage together the tolerance and beauty and warmth of yoga and all of the other lineages we ALL experience and include in our art. This is currently not a detriment to my (again) strict practice of Catholicism.
Saint Voice: “His mercy is so great that He has forbidden none to strive to come and drink of this fountain of life.”
Question: WHAT IS YOUR ART NOW?
Natural Voice: I’m back in life school performing and learning from my father in a performance I call Blood Family Art or Dad Art. I’m my 89-year-old dad’s primary caretaker and I do this as art. It took me two years to call it art-it was very life-like. Calling it art makes it interesting and sacred. Especially, as two senior citizens, father and daughter, get to cross between the two worlds of the surreal and the real on a daily basis. He’s playing with death and teaches me about that. I’m playing with aging and have not taught anyone about that yet.
Saint Voice: “Cease as I have said to have fear where there is no fear.”
Question: DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT A UCSD PROFESSOR, V. RAMA CHANDRAN, POSITS THAT SPIRITUAL ECSTASY/HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE SAMADHI YOU TALKED ABOUT IS THE RESULT OF MISFIRINGS FROM THE BRAIN’S TEMPORAL LOBE WHEN IT GOES INTO SEIZURES? IS GOD A G-SPOT IN THE BRAIN?
Natural Voice: That kind of information makes me very nervous. But, it adds to my faith and doesn’t shake it because even now I am practicing blind obedience. Obedience is a must. Before I was obedient only to my art muse.
Saint Voice: “The soul is like an infant still at its mother’s breast.”
Question: WHAT IS THE WORK LIKE NOW, GIVEN 9/11?
Natural Voice: The trauma of 9/11 has forced the entire universe into a monastic state of THETA brain wave oscillations. Trauma elicits THETA. We are all at 4-8 oscillations, like newborns, like adults sleeping, death on our left shoulder. Artists will not be muzzled or silenced forever but we are taking our time to co-feel the ecstasy of impermanence, with everyone leveled by tragedy. As mystics of matter, we will soon know when to sing again.
Question: HOW DO WE CREATE A NEW SONG?
Saint Voice: Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself?
[All quotations of St. Theresa of Avila taken from The Interior Castle