CHICAGO — I bend my head down, eyes shut tight, and reach my hands up over my head towards the center of the circle. While flinging my arms upward I make a whooshing sound, starting low and gaining volume the further my fingertips stretch away from my core. Fifteen surrounding bodies immediately repeat my actions, myself standing still as I watch them recreate my improvised movements. Directly across from me is the artist Linda Mary Montano, her gray curls bouncing up over the blue temporary tattoo of a diamond at the center of her forehead. Gracefully she throws her arms up over her head, my whoosh now projected out of her mouth. She and the strangers around me present their own personalized movements, each of us reproducing what the other performed. These “self-portraits” are one of many group exercises that served as a precursor to Montano’s “Sleepathon” last Sunday, the culminating all-night performance/ceremony/art piece of the Rapid Pulse performance art festival at Defibrillator Gallery.
Asked by Montano to bring a pillow, pen, piece of paper, and sleeping garments, all 15 participants came prepared to spend the night with the artist on cots that were temporarily set up in two neat rows against the gallery’s walls. The arrangement, which mimicked army barracks, orphanage chambers, or camp cabins, was a collaboration between Rapid Pulse Director Joseph Ravens and Montano. To Ravens, the set-up was a metaphor for finding family through community rather than blood, individuals joined together by their art rather than a given past. “Artists are often in this situation, especially queer or ‘othered’ individuals, who family has cast aside,” said Ravens. “Knowing someone ‘has your back’ is a very important thing, and without it we feel untethered. Finding a new family when one isn’t readily available is a testament to the human spirit and a product of our need to feel connection and communion with others.”
Montano led a series of exaggerated and guttural laughing and crying exercises to bond the group of mostly strangers. We were first instructed to walk intentionally through the space yet not create a conscious pattern, just glide through the room while passing and acknowledging each other’s energies. We were then asked to greet one another with high-pitched laughter and clasped hands, making sure to lock eyes before wandering to the next interaction. Forced chuckling from the group soon melted into genuine amusement, an act that seemed to me both contrived and profound as my abs became sore and the corners of my mouth began to sting.
After several iterations of these interactions, Montano had us lie down on our chosen cots, outlining a guided meditation of the seven chakras, a structure she incorporates into many of her performances, including one titled “An Interactive Lecture Honoring the 7 Glands of the Body” that was performed at Defibrillator for the public just prior to the “Sleepathon.” During the meditation I felt my root chakra, I felt my sacral chakra, I felt my solar plexus, I felt my body slip into sleep. Coming to just after the conclusion of the meditation, I slowly regained awareness as Montano instructed us to write a love letter to one of our chakras that needed healing or attention, and to read it out loud if we felt so inclined. I wrote mine to my sacral, while others wrote and read messages of love to their hearts, throats, and dicks. After listening to each other we drifted to sleep, our letters tucked safely under our pillows, attempting to pierce our dreams.
Surprised by how calm and impenetrable my night’s rest was, I awoke to a gentle prodding at 7:30am. The group was then led to the garden out back where we took our letters and ripped them up one by one and were asked to spontaneously summarize our attitudes towards the evening. My own short rambling explained how the night’s events had translated to both slapstick and relaxation, a combination of energetic laughter and exhausted, peaceful sleep. After sharing, we were given a certificate of graduation and a white rose that Montano had received a day or two before from a healer friend in the city. Montano ran out of roses before she ran out of participants, and seamlessly picked surrounding wildflowers to hand off as charged objects of appreciation. A fire then burned our ripped letters, and coffee was shared before we all departed just short of 9am.
Montano has conducted “Sleepathon” performances twice before, but doesn’t recall where or when they were performed. I assume they were just as hazy, casual, and enchanting as the evening I attended — Montano does not need specific markers to make the performances more impactful for her guests. This would be counterintuitive to the flow of the evening and her practice, emotional and spiritual impressions on her audience being more important than a physical documentation. My white rose has already wilted and I too will probably forget many, if not all, of the exercises and details of the night; however, it was exciting to be a part of something so energetically holistic, to sleep so close to others carrying out the same intention. Although the night was more mundane than eccentric, I still feel as if I performed for Montano, living one of my evenings with a more examined lens than a typical one of digesting cable on the couch.
“As an artist I can declare anything art,” Montano told me on the phone the next day when she had returned home to upstate New York. This was an appropriate statement considering her long history of works that intertwine with daily life, performances that fold a considered practice into the normalcies and doldrum of the everyday. “I declare the workshop art, the sleep we had art, and all aspects of the evening art,” continued Montano. “By doing that it gives everyone a hint that we are all in this together and can make art out of anything — sleeping, waking, dreaming. It is about mindfulness, and artists are supposed to catapult us into poetry and changing consciousness that can be used for daily life.”
Linda Mary Montano’s “Sleepathon” took place at Defibrillator Gallery (1463 W Chicago Ave, Chicago) on Sunday, June 5.