Thursday, May 26, 2011
WRITING HOPE IN THE BRONX: LINDA MARY MONTANO & NICOLAS DUMIT ESTEVEZ
What a great opportunity! A chance to be a transgressive twin again, this time not with a rope but with HOPE, binding me invisibly and happily to Nicolas Dumit Estevez for 3 days, 3 hours a day in his Bronx.
About 6 months ago, Nicolas invited me to help him celebrate his incorporation into Bronxdom and I suggested we perform a "HOPE/PIECE/PEACE". This is not the time or place to suggest the 563,000 reasons why hope is our most valuable personal, political, social commodity so I defer to conceptual art reasons to explain why my first idea referenced recycled plastic bags.... I said to Nicolas, "Let's stand on the streets, 3 hours a day, for 3 days and let folks write their hopes on plastic bags with markers. Then we hang the bags in the gallery." It seemed like a good concept coming from an ex-nun who had sworn herself to poverty and simplicity, right?
We agreed and then a few months later he contacted me, we talked and he said, "Do you want to scan the HOPES written on bags and show the scans instead of plastic bags?" Nicolas's sweet voice can convince me of anything and I let go of the simple, green, bag endurance and we agreed. Scan the bags. It seemed like an aesthetic and good fix and raised the level of plastic to fine art, even though it did involve technology, paper and a larger time commitment.
And then a few months later we talked and Nicolas raised the bar! "Let's let them write their hopes on us," he said. "We can wear white clothes!!!!" So in the tradition of our art mentors: Manzoni, Klein, Yoko Ono, Shirin Neshat and a litany of others; in the tradition of the cave painting ritual of signage as symbol, we ventured into Bronx-land and endured while wearing our white art suits. And as walking, talking, transgressing, living sculptures we invited elders, African Muslims, 12 year old school children, folks on the streets, subways, taxis and buses to STOP! DREAM! SHARE LIFE AND HOPE outside the traumas of the daily news and our individual unimaginably complex everyday dramas.
Nicolas, we play good art/life together,
Linda Mary Montano
TO ALL WHO ATTEND THE OPENING /OR READ THIS STATEMENT:
I am attending the opening invisibly and I invite you to collaborate with me by: WHISPERING YOUR HOPE TO THE AIR.
Bronx Hopes: From Riverdale to Hunts Point.
Linda Mary Montano has the gift of purging art of any of the unnecessary frills that might prevent it from overlapping with life. She strips her ideas to the bare bone, while my tendency is the opposite. Nonetheless, given our unique visions and particular approaches to art and life, several months ago we both found ways to agree to spend three days in my hometown, the Bronx, inviting people in the borough to share their hopes with us.
Our day one of the performance: Riverdale.
I am hesitant to travel from Longwood in the south, South Bronx to a fancy community closer to Manhattan than to my neighborhood. However, I feel responsible for faithfully following our pre-planned performance schedule. Linda and I ride with a taxi driver who does not have a clear picture of our exact destination. Riverdale seems so far removed from Longwood. In Riverdale, you have the impression of things being almost perfect, so there is not a single candy wrapper on the sidewalks. We spend an hour in this part of the Bronx in conversation with a thoughtful host who brings Arabs and Jews together for breaking bread. Linda and I leave the place with two brown bags containing falafels and with several hopes written on our backs. On the number 1 train we meet a group of teenagers and a handful of adults who inscribe their hopes on our clothes. At the Hub, a few blocks before reaching home, we encounter a passerby named Boobie. She writes on both of our hoodies. I vividly remember the woman in a wheelchair, not too far from where we meet Bobbie, who asks Linda to spell for her: “I hope to get my kids back.” In St. Mary’s Park, Linda and I unpack our falafels and eat them as we talk about hope.
Our day two of the performance: Riverdale: West Farms Road and the Grand Concourse.
Linda speaks with a group of students at an intermediate school about the subject of our quest: hope. The class is half-asleep, but eventually the children interject our questions with answers. A sick boy, who is comforted by a young teacher, regains his health surprisingly quickly. He smiles and joins the discussion. Children think twice before writing on our clothes, but soon enough they overcome their hesitation, as the adults in the room invite them to venture into art-life, to live a moment artfully, to break rules. On the other hand, while extremely polite, the staff at the school looks at the twins in white, Linda and I, with suspicion. Linda’s orange wig disrupts their monotonous, clerical routine. Art flirts with productivity.
Later that same day, seniors at a building not too far from the Zoo wait for us in a small room. As a result of some miscommunication, they expect us to give them t-shirts on which they can paint. Instead, they meet a middle-aged man and a woman of their own age who initiate a conversation on hope. The dialogue becomes heated as some of the seniors voice their thoughts about the lack of jobs for young people and the government’s interests in building jails instead of improving the economy. I promise one of them that I will spread the word about her request to get free tickets for the group to attend a play at a Bronx theater. I translate for six seniors called Las Comadres, the Godmothers. They write their hopes on our clothing in Spanish. Traveling from the seniors place in West Farms to Longwood, we watch a rowdy group of teens spill out onto the street outside the McDonald’s at the Prospect subway stop. We exit the scene swiftly. The police patrol the corner.
Our last visit that evening is to a Muslim Center on the Grand Concourse.
Angelika Rinnhofer, one of my former students at the Transart Institute comes from upstate New York to watch the performance. Shoes off. Linda and I climb up the stairs to meet some of the members. Some of the hopes they write match those written by many others, like “peace,” or address common needs in the borough: “Keep the Bronx Clean and Safe.” I ask myself whether these should be a hope or a right. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the Bronx included. The chanting on the lower floor counteracts the weight we carry on our clothes: so many hopes.
Our day three of the performance: Hunts Point.
A Community Development Corporation called The Point offers us a place where we are able to engage people at a women’s health festival. What a blissful ending. Linda and I meet inspiring teens, graffiti artists and a friendly chef. We eat arroz con gandules and drink lemonade. We step outdoors where a man in a van stops to write his hope on my sleeve. Linda gets several tags on her legs before leaving the scene, and the Bronx, for good. I cross the Bruckner full of hopes spelled on my legs, arms and hoodie. One of my shoes reads “courage.” The performance ends, yet people’s hopes outlive our three-day action.
Linda, I hope that you come back to the Bronx. Thank your for your mentorship and for three unforgettable days where art and life met.
"Hope" is an independent project initially commissioned by Longwood Arts Gallery/ Bronx Council On The Arts as part of “Born Again,” a project conceived by Nicolas Dumit Estevez for Longwood Arts Gallery/ Bronx Council On The Arts.
Photographs: Alex Villaluz