Lunch at the Art/Life Institute

Annie, Montano, Carrellas, Cody

A Conversation With Linda M. Montano, Barbara Carrellas, and Gabrielle Cody

This interview took place in 2001.

It was a lovely spring day. Linda Montano made a delicious potato soup and Indian spiced tea. We brought chocolate chip cookies and apple pie with whipped cream. After we got all our personal news and gossip out of our systems, Linda led us in a relaxing meditation. Then we put on the tape recorder to chat about our many years of collaboration.

Gabrielle Cody

Annie, how long have you and Linda known each other?

Annie Sprinkle

Well, I met Linda when she was in her yellow year. That's how I count. How many years is that? Red, Orange, Yellow, 85, 86 ... 87. That's fourteen amazing years, plus maybe about a hundred past lifetimes.

Barbara Carrellas

Annie and I met at the New York Healing Circle in 1988.

AS

I met Barbara a year after I met Linda. Barbara and I were lovers for about three days.

She showed me where my G-spot was.

BC

When did you do Summer Saint Camp with Linda?

Linda Montano

That was the summer of 87 wasn't it? In 1984, on December 8th, I began a performance titled, 14 Years of Living Art, based on the Chakras or Hindu energy centers inside the body. Having studied meditation with my guru, Shri Brahma-nanda Saraswati, founder of Ananda Ashram, Monroe, NY, I always found his teachings on the Chakras very exciting and I wanted to experience each energy center intensely, so I concentrated on one each year wearing the color associated with the Chakra and performing private disciplines which focused my attention on the Chakras' qualities. Two aspects of the experience were public: my seven-year, monthly visits to the New Museum, where I did one-to-one Art/Life counseling with visitors who came to my window installation, and the two-week Summer Saint Camp that I conducted for seven years at the Art/Life Institute, Kingston, NY. Luckily Annie and Veronica Vera saw my ad for Summer Saint Camp in Franklin Furnace's bathroom and came to the Art/Life Institute, and we had an incredible, intense meeting of minds, hearts, and bodies and intentions and friendship. For each of the seven days, we explored one of the Chakras; it was friends being together, that's what the Summer Saint Camp was about. And it began a love that has grown, and I consider Annie beyond the beyond. There are no words for our friendship.

AS

I first learned about Linda Montano in my History of Performance Art class (with Cathy O' Dell at the School of Visual Arts) and was totally turned on. I did my term paper on 'Sex in Performance Art,' and I included Linda because I thought that her work was incredibly erotic, in a subtle way. During that first fertile week, the seeds were planted for what was to become my first one-woman show, Post-Porn Modernist. Linda baptized me an artist. And I fell madly in love with her. After my parents, Linda has been my biggest influence, and my greatest inspiration. She's absolutely hands down my favorite artist. Whenever I see something she's done or written or performs I'm just touched beyond words to the depth of my soul, in every pore.

LM

Well, on that theme of collaboration, it feels like there is a Siameseness with us and Barbara and all of us. We extend each other. Annie permissioned me to go into areas that were locked and forbidden and tabooed. And the encouragement to sacralize the first and second Chakras with her, with her blessing, basically changed my work considerably and my direction. So it's really a sisterhood that was born. And Annie's gift is collaboration and being a community maker and a taboo breaker, and it has changed my life. I can't take seven steps without seeing the influence of her work. One of the most outlandish, the most wild, groundbreaking things we did together, the three of us, Annie, Barbara and I, is that we stormed Texas with the unspeakable, with material that's absolutely sacred but dangerous.

BC

Was it performance art or was it just a group live sex show?

AS

That was the MetamorphoSex project.

LM

I feel every woman on the planet would benefit from the kinds of places that Annie and Barbara are able to take them, and it's about not just performance, it's about ritual and it's about initiation, which are central to our growth and to our passage to the next step of maturity. And until our bodies and our costumes and needs are ritualized and initiated by wise women, there is going to be a lot of misdiagnosed, and misapplied performance.

AS

Do you remember when we went to the Hell Fire Club [an S/M club]? What did we do there? Somebody wrestled but I can't remember, was it you and me, or Susun Weed and Barbara?

BC

I remember liquid Crisco oil.

LM

Remember the human pony?

AS

I delighted in taking my guru, my mother superior, Linda, an ex-nun, to places she wouldn't normally go. I took her to a friend of mine's whorehouse, and on a tour of 42nd Street peep shows and porn palaces. I took you to Plato's Retreat, a huge swing club...

LM

That was my favorite. And then you took me to the lap dance place. And I was very like: 'Annie what should I do now? Should I sit? Should I stand up now?' One of the things I'll never never never forget -I think it was Plato's Retreat - it was walking in and having a waft of red energy, but it had no thorns in it, everyone was there consenting to be there. Everyone was there for the same purpose. It was so hot and so heavy.

AS

Just as I took Linda into the underworlds of the first and second Chakra, she gave me permission to go into the heart Chakra, and my more spiritual, priestess personas, and to bring those into my work/life. Which is what I think took me out of commercial sex work, into a much broader world. I went from a one-Chakra world to a seven-Chakra world. That was tremendously liberating for me and deeply satisfying. She took me to a Zen Buddhist monastery, to the university she was teaching at, and to the Ananda Ashram. We spent about nine New Year's Eves at Ananda. We did a ritual every New Year's Eve, sometimes with vibrators and sometimes without. She's been my guide into all kinds of important life stuff. Now she's guiding me into the worlds of menopause, financial frugality and death.

LM

And we can't forget the years you would invite not only me, but four hundred thousand, million, trillion of the most unusual, wonderful, free beings in the world, who came through your doors in New York City. It was extraordinary. It was two rooms and a bathroom and a small kitchen that became the richest, most creative rooms in the world. They were temples, they were studios, they were photo studios, they were performance studios, they were the center of your writings, of your photography, of your love, of your people, and a permission to celebrate life. One of Annie's incredible talents is organization. And an ability to transform spaces through four ounces of effort, but tremendous energy. One of Annie's teachings is 'magnificence of heart,' compassion.

BC

Your apartment would be littered with newsletter makings. And then you'd go, 'Oh sorry I forgot to mention I have a photo session this afternoon.' Suddenly, the bed would come apart, pieces of plywood were going down the hall. So inherently theatrical! And there always seemed to be enough stage-hands. Then, the more people arrived, you realized Annie's attention did not become diluted, but rather the whole experience was enhanced. And even if you didn't particularly like someone ... you'd realize they had something to offer you... You never left without learning something, or having a creative idea.

AS

Well... Linda of course introduced me to the idea that life could be art, and life could be performance, and I think that was important key information for me.

BC

Linda, let's face it, you're one of the wackiest artists who has ever lived. And wacky means anything can be art. You gave us permission to be artists. Annie, I've never seen you cry as hard, laugh as hard, feel as cosmically light or physically dense as I have when you are in Linda's presence. And I've seen you absolutely tear your guts out working with her, and float working with her. It's such a big experience for you, that it seems to take in all of your being.

AS

Yes. She spins all of my Chakras.

LM

Transgressive people doing transgressive work. I don't know if I could come under that category, but I know Annie and Barbara do. And it's a ministry, it's a sacred calling. And in India they would be honored as those saints that touch the Tantric world of opposites, where there is no good or bad, there is just the calling. And it's been at a price, a very, very high price. And we all go back to our blood families, and we pull out those personas that we have to pull out to be around those people, and then we integrate them back in and go back out and do the calling or the ministry.

AS

I think that our work together has not been focused on career or money or whatever. It's really been using sexuality as a theme to help us all grow and learn. In the workshops and performances we facilitated together for ten years we saw some incredible magic, beauty, truth, acceptance, transformations ... so rich...

BC

I think because the trust between us is very strong.

AS

Barbara, let's talk about your background.

BC

I went into theater when I was fourteen. Because it was erotic, it was powerful, it changed the way people felt and acted. I was always drawn to doing plays with sex in them. Tennessee Williams was my absolute favorite because of all of that smoldering heat. I was trained at Trinity Square Rep Company before there was a conservatory, when you just went and soaked it up. Fast-forward in time. I had a business where I was general managing Broadway shows. At first we were doing a lot of 'high art' in commercial theater. We premiered Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women, Cloud Nine and A Coupla White Chicks and the Broadway musical Nine. As the 1980s went on and the big British invasion created mega-musicals, the objective was to dazzle not to move people. And by 1988, I had come to the end of a chapter when I was the executive producer of Colleen Duhurst and Jason Robards in Ah Wilderness, and Long Day's journey.

1988 was a pretty dark autumn. AIDS took many of my theater friends. I had been working with Louise Hay's philosophies for some years and I found this group based on her work. Bing bang boom, I'm at the New York Healing Circle and this wonderful, childlike spirit with red hair and something fluffy and polka-dotted caught my attention: 'Annie Sprinkle!' I knew her because I was a porn fan. We got to know each other better at Joseph Kramer's Tantric Group Rebirthing ritual, where you breathe rhythmically for three hours straight, at the end of which you tense your whole body, and let go. The Big Draw orgasm was very, very hot.

Annie was doing her Post-Porn Modernist show at the Harmony Burlesque. I went and I thought, 'That's it! That's what I want! That's what I haven't seen in so long, that's what I'm looking for, that's what we should be doing.' Everything changed. January of 1990, the show was being presented at The Kitchen. I went as often as I could to help. For instance, Annie's altar wasn't rolling on stage properly. So I invited the owner of one of the huge Broadway scene shops to come see this wonderful show. The next day he delivered free casters that made the altar work. I would watch the audience. Literally guys with AIDS would walk in leaning on people, and leave under their own steam.

I left my general management firm, and set up shop with another woman [Denise Cooper], and in 1991 we produced Post-Porn Modernist in a New York run commercially. We started managing a handful of performance artists. It was clear that artists like Annie couldn't expect any funding from the government without hideous strings attached. It became my intention to help Annie and artists like her: Lipsynkca, Miss Coco, Shelly Mars, Penny Arcade. I learned how to help artists become commercial successes, if they were ready for it.

I couldn't believe the effect Post-Porn Modernist had. Annie was getting offers for a lot of gigs. She was trying to do it all herself and needed help. For me, it was really important that Post-Porn Modernist really look right. So that when she was showing her cervix or peeing or masturbating, which are scary things that can look very dirty, it all looked theatrically professional.

AS

Barbara negotiated excellent contracts for me ... She was great at getting really good money. She brought me up to a professional level.

BC

Annie brought me here to Linda. I was terrified to ask Linda if I could come to Summer Saint Camp, because I was not an artist, I was just a manager. Annie got me my artist back. She helped me get my courage to ask Linda, who said 'yes.'

What was really rewarding was watching Annie make that transition into believing she could act, and becoming a heartfelt actress. There were points in Post-Porn Modernist when things were happening 100 per cent in the moment. And others that she never could have done six times a week if she hadn't learned to act.

AS

I didn't know what the fuck I was doing.

LM

I would like to ask a question. How do you feel, as artists, that we can affect or effect the need of young women to become initiated without guidance? And how do you feel that performance art ... how can we head our work in the direction of even a more cross-generational healing?

I'm thinking of those who are called to make gestures that are particular to their own genetic and/or personal evolution and of when they are taken out of context and imitated by another generation, without either the confines and/or the safety. Is there a way we can 'Take Back the Night' in terms of what we've put out? How can we keep it sacred for those who will be misled by not seeing it correctly?

BC

In other words, why did you lose your teaching job and tenure? Someone who didn't see MetamorphoSex, or maybe just heard about it, thinks we were doing something we weren't, and they are going to try doing the same thing, but they didn't have any idea what it really was about. And then it becomes a live sex show.

AS

We have to let them make their mistakes. I did a visiting artist presentation at NYU yesterday. This student comes up to me at the end and she says, 'Yesterday I did a dance piece to your video Zen Pussy and no one will speak to me any more.' She was devastated. I gave her my phone number immediately, and said, 'Call me, I'm here to support you.' I've made plenty of similar kinds of 'mistakes' in the past. We learn from them.

LM

That's absolutely true. But I think what I'm addressing here is that they're going into places that they may not be ready for, or for the responsibilities of having gone where they went. Or have the strength to take some of the censorship of where they've gone. Or have the maturity to...

AS

But that happens in porn and prostitution all the time.

LM

OK. One thing is, I have some reluctance to go the San Francisco Art Institute this semester because of a particular incident that a professor had in his class that became a kind of talk-show controversy. I am really at a place in my post-menopausal stage of life — and it's either coming from proximity to blood family or a complete closing down of all permission slips, or a punishment of myself for not having any kids, and then over-indulging them in strict morals — that I don't know what I would say if I went and did something at the Art Institute and saw some of those people. I don't know if I'd say 'Let's stop now.' Or 'Bravo.' Or 'God, you still have your job.' Or 'What is this all about.' Or 'Let's do it differently so we can initiate ourselves differently, so we don't have the consequences of censorship for having explored real time, real space, real bodies, real flesh and real issues.'

AS

You're talking about the '**** factor.' Gaby, that's a phrase we coined to describe something like Murphy's Law, but it's specifically people oriented. It's about when people throw a big wrench into the works.

We did a workshop and there was a woman named **** who seemed to have had a wonderful, positive time. Six months later, after talking with what must have been a very sex-negative therapist, she decided our work had not been a good thing for her, and she felt that she had gone too far. She sent a very accusatory letter to everyone who had been in the workshop. We had created such a safe space and gave the women plenty of choices. But the work could be challenging. So later this woman freaked out and felt she had been exploited and violated. I was devastated. So, we retired our wonderful project in which twenty-four women were transformed for ever for the better. To continue the project seemed too huge a responsibility and risky. And it had been the best thing we had ever done together.

LM

I'm also addressing a call to future permissions, for me and for all of us, that if we are true to the calling, then we're willing to take risks even when we're in the presence of our non-community. We have to be extremely strict with our futures and proceed according to the truth, and take the consequences of our choices. Every action produces a reaction. What can we live with? What can we risk?

BC

****'s change of heart affected Annie deeply. I had taught so many sex workshops at that point I was used to the fact that there are a few people who want to be right and others who want to be happy.

lm: I think these **** factors are sacred clowns, and I guess I'm calling to myself for more courage. To not be frightened by the clown, the Giuliani clowns, the police clowns, the censorship clowns, the lawsuit clowns...

GC

The academic clowns.

LM

Yeah. I had a hard time. I'm trying not to whoop my muse into submission or silence. And yet, also evolve into the next step which may not look like what I've done before. I'm not sure it that's coming from damage control or evolution of vision, or pure cowardice. I think it's the computer. What has happened is that fathers and grandfathers are hanging out in places that their grandchildren and nieces and nephews are hanging out in in real time, real space, and real flesh, and real issues. And the incumbent shame of persona-change chat rooms, diversions into what they consider deep-down morally destructive to themselves and the culture, is then transposed. So I think people are working on Annie Sprinkle's level, but they're doing it at different times, different places, with different permissions. The ones who are doing it in real time, and obviously have been taught by her how to work that way, are up for a certain level of censorship.

AS

The fact that I could be invited to go to NYU as a visiting artist and show a bunch of porn, and get paid for it, blows my mind. I couldn't do that even five years ago. It would be too controversial. Now it seems there's far less controversy. When I carne on stage at NYU, these twenty-year-old girls were applauding wildly. That is shocking, because I come from a place where it was old guys in raincoats applauding. My audience is now twenty-year-old girls! They may spend more time on their computer. But they're doing sex research. Maybe they won't be performance artists, or sex workers, but it will happen on Internet sites. It's going to take different forms.

I have a question. As we get more well known, how do we stay humble and modest, and not get self-absorbed and stuck in our own PR legend?

LM

Visit your mother more. Blood family is humbling.

BC

I seldom get fed up with people who are searching for something higher. Annie you're on a quest, on a mission. When you do something 'for yourself it winds up helping two hundred people.

AS

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without Linda and Barbara, I would certainly not be in this Critical Performances book series. And Gaby, thanks for creating this opportunity. Perhaps we should each do a summation.

LM

I'm looking forward to more Art/Life adventures with this Catholic woman Barbara here, and this incredible soul sister Annie. We invite the readers to create, appropriate, beneficial, well-intentioned experiences in Art/Life that lead to higher consciousness.

BC

Annie keeps me dangerous. I hope she does the same for you.

GC

May I quote: 'You are dear, divine, and very very pure. Let no one, no thing, no ideal or idea obstruct you.'

AS

How do I lose twenty pounds of ugly fat? And can you pass the chocolate chip cookies please?

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