What do you do if you’re a performance artist, and you pass your local church and hear words in your head telling you to say all the Psalms in that church? Linda Mary Montano responded to this prompt by creating a performance outside the Vortex Theater in Austin, Texas, where she dressed as Saint Teresa and stood on a 14-foot lift to sing the Psalms seven hours a day for three days.
During the Shout Out Saugerties festival, she will be joined by area residents in a performance that incorporates the Psalms, to be held at the church she was passing when she first received the prompt: the Reformed Church on Main Street in her hometown of Saugerties. On Sunday, October 14, members of the public are invited to attend for a short or a long time between 2 and 5 p.m. to observe, and perhaps respond to, The Psalms R Us.
Montano is internationally known for projects mingling life and performance, as when she spent seven years wearing a single color per year, cycling through the colors associated with the seven Hindu chakras, or regions of the body. She stayed in a space of the same color for a period of each day, listening to a specific tone for the given chakra. And then she did it all in reverse for another seven years.
In 1983, she joined Tehching Hsieh in his Art/Life: One-Year Performance, in which he invited Montano to be tied to him at the waist with an eight-foot rope. They never touched for that year, were in the same room 24/7, kept separate jobs and recorded every conversation.
Early in her career, she went several times for a whole week wearing a blindfold. One of those weeks was spent in a store window on Manhattan’s Canal Street for a piece on women’s liberation.
Montano calls such performances “endurance pieces” and relates them to her strict Catholic childhood and the two years she spent as a nun. A bout of anorexia led to her departure from the convent, and she drifted away from Catholicism as she moved into the world of performance art. However, she has given credit to the ascetic discipline of religion for inspiring many of her works and giving her the fortitude to complete them. She lived in the Zen monastery in Mount Tremper for three years and was brought back to Catholicism, with the help of the Psalms, while caring for her ailing father in the period leading up to his death.
She explained her endurance performances as “invitations to transcendence and healing and time elimination and right-brain consciousness. Motor plasticity, cerebral plasticity – there are all these good things that endurance can offer.” And if the performer is experiencing such changes in consciousness, “that’s extremely contagious. It can buoy and lift and invite the audience or viewer or reader.”
When I arrive at the rehearsal for The Psalms R Us, the church is echoing with a recording of the Psalms, read by nine-year-old Desmond Conrad-Ferm. Laura Kopczak, in an orange dress, sunglasses and a long brown wig, is raising and lowering a pair of iridescent angel wings. Montano, dressed as a nurse, instructs Katie Cokinos, who is standing at the pulpit, to laugh into the microphone so sound engineer Roger Henninger can set the levels, while church member and facilitator Leica Siebeking watches patiently from the back of the sanctuary.
Instead of speaking, each of 12 black-clad performers – corresponding to the 12 apostles – will laugh and cry from the pulpit, in response to the recording of the Psalms, the ministrations of the angel and the nurse and the performer’s own personal intention, chosen in advance but not discussed.
“I grew up Greek Orthodox,” remarks Cokinos. “As a girl I wanted to know why I couldn’t go up there,” to the pulpit and altar. Indeed, a feminist approach to religion is a component of this performance, which incorporates several aspects of Montano’s work in a bite-sized pastiche: the endurance concept, optional blindfolds, the theme of the heart. As the nurse, Montano will be using a stethoscope to check each performer’s heart before and after their 15 minutes at the pulpit.
“Having lived in an art gallery in 1975 for one week with a fake stethoscope taped to my heart, with my dog Betty, doing a performance titled Listening to My Heart, I feel comfortable resurrecting the heart theme,” Montano wrote to performers in an e-mail. “Then, I needed to listen because my heart was breaking. Only art could save me. And a month ago I was taped to a 24/7 heart monitor for unspecified possible ‘heart issues.’ Breaking? Age? Of course, what happens in my life appears in my art, so here it is: the stethoscope; but now, I am the cardiologist and doctor and nurse.”
Partly because I attended the rehearsal to write about Montano’s work, I was invited to join the piece when other performers dropped out. So now my life is also merging with her art. This should be interesting.
Shout Out Saugerties presents The Psalms R Us on Sunday, October 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Reformed Church at 173 Main Street in Saugerties. Audience members may attend all or any part of the performance by Linda Mary Montano, Laura Kopczak, Katie Cokinos, Tina Piccolo, Richard Brandes, Jeff Economy and Alanna Medlock, Josepha Gutelius, Beth Loven, Tobe Carey, Jennifer Lewis Bennett, Violet Snow, Beth Wilson and Suresh Pillai.
The Psalms R Us, Sunday, October 14, 2-5 p.m., Reformed Church, 173 Main Street, Saugerties.
Shout Out Saugerties schedule
The second annual arts festival of Saugerties is running for the month of October. Here is the schedule for the week of October 12 to 18. For events later in the month (readings, workshops, films and more), see www.shoutoutsaugerties.org. All locations are in the heart of Saugerties.
• Oct. 12-14:
Woodstock Film Festival screenings at the Orpheum Theater, 156 Main Street. For schedule, see http://woodstockfilmfestival.org.
• Friday, Oct. 12:
6 p.m., Yoga + Live Music, Pop-Up Design Gallery, 114 Partition Street
• Saturday, Oct. 13:
10 a.m., On Location Shooting: Photography Workshop with Michael Nelson, 22 John Street
1 p.m., History Scavenger Hunt with the History Whisperers, front patio of the Exchange Hotel, 217 Main St.
2 p.m., Street Haiku: Poets Sari Grandstaff and Will Nixon will write haiku on demand, Love Bites Café, 69 Partition St.
7:30 p.m., Classical Indian Music Concert with Roshni Samlal (tabla) and Camila Celin (sarod), Reformed Church, 173 Main St.
• Sunday, Oct. 14:
12 noon, Walk down Partition Street with Arm-of-the-Sea Theater to Esopus Tidewater Site: Healing Ceremony for the Earth and Water
2-5 p.m., The Psalms R Us with Linda Montano, Reformed Church, 173 Main St.
• Tuesday, Oct. 16:
6 p.m., Liquid Democracy with Joan Reinmuth, Inquiring Mind Bookstore, Main and Partition Streets.