VIRGINIA LEE MONTGOMERY
Moderated and Text by Nicole Kaack
May 11, 2018
Karen Hesse Flatow: We’re very lucky to have Virginia here with us today, speaking with Nicole, who has been leading all of our conversations. When we first started these dialogues, we were motivated by an interested in allowing artists to take the lead in speaking about their work without having to wait for a critical audience.
Virginia Lee Montgomery is a hybrid artist from Texas and New York. She received her MFA in Sculpture from Yale University in 2016 and her BFA from The University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She also works as a professional Mind Map Scribe. Her art practice operates in the inverse, through dream logic. This is intentional. She employs video, performance, sound, and sculpture. She works with circles. Montgomery’s work is about memory, materiality, and making holes into the uncanny to open a portal for truth. In addition to OPEN MIND here at CRUSHCURATORIAL, Montgomery currently has work in An Unbound Knot in the Wind, curated by Alison Karasyk at CSS Bard. This summer she will be an Emerging Artist Fellow at the Socrates Sculpture Park.
Selva, whose work you see on the floor, is a sculptor from Barcelona, Spain. She lives and works in Spain, and she received her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from Yale University. Aparicio makes work about memory, materiality, and intimacy.
Nicole Kaack is an independent curator and writer from Northern California, currently based in Queens, New York. She works as the Dedalus Fellow in the Museum Archives at the Museum of Modern Art, where she has assisted with archival displays for the upcoming 2019 reinstallation of the Museum of Modern Art, as well as for Being Modern at the Fundacion Louis Vuitton in Paris. Kaack is the cofounder of the newsletter Of Missing Out and co-director of the artist publication prompt:. Kaack’s writing has been published by Whitehot Magazine, ArtCritical, Art Viewer, SFAQ, NYAQ, and ArtForum.
Nicole Kaack: [to Virginia] I thought it would be nice to launch in with the text, ‘OPEN MIND,’ that you wrote for this exhibition. I was so stricken by the image that you recount again and again of Selva’s hands making this incision into a cadaver’s skull. Perhaps we could focus on how that image informs the title of the show and continues an investigation into the transformations between material and memory.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Absolutely. Selva and I had a really intense bond in graduate school. As the text lays out, we had our studios side-by-side in this removed corner of the Yale sculpture building. Our practices shared many interests, even though what we make is very different. A lot of what we do is about being out in the world, constantly absorbing experiences with our bodies and our minds, and later trying to translate that through whatever it is that we make. And always being hyperaware of the paradox of contextualizing that within the ivory tower situation of Yale.
There was this one strange, surreal morning when I was coming back from taking business classes at the Yale Management School, which was this really intense experience that I was seeking out for the sake of research. It’s actually, extremely hard to even get inside that ecosystem because they don’t want MFA students. It’s a separate entity that exists outside of the academic pedagogy. I was the first MFA to successfully get business school access. Selva had similarly started up a relationship with the medical school at Yale and was actually taking anatomy classes through the surgery group, spending most of her time in the morgue hanging out with dead bodies. Versus what I was doing in terms of weird anthropological but very earnest research with the business school students.
One morning, when we were about to go to our departmental meeting, Selva just grabs me. She just keeps saying to me, “My hands, my hands.” And I’m slowly putting together what happened. I was the first person she encountered after she left that particular medical community, so she’s recounting the memory but building it out spatially with her fingers and also with these rapid eye movement blinks. She was telling me this because she’s trying to ground it in me. In like 20 minutes we’re about to go sit down around a departmental meeting board room, and talk about, I don't know, who put black paint in the sink, and eat donuts. The kind of bullshit that you experience in grad school. So I had this 20-minute window with her, where she was trying to tell me about the experience of cutting open this body.
It’s one of these moments where we’re realize, ‘Oh my god, yeah, this is really what we’re doing.’ How weird is it that we now have to sit in a department meeting and talk about bureaucracy. The strangest thing that I later realized, when talking with her a year later, is that she had no memory at all of telling me any of this. It had been internalized, but it was also interesting actually understanding how trauma and shock operate within the body. You can be moving forward in time, saying things, speaking things, but have no conscious memory of what was going on.
I was on the phone with Selva, and we were both talking about what it is to be making work. We were recounting, trying to trace back to the last time that we were together, and I mentioned that moment of when she cut open the head. She’s like, “How do you even know that I did that?” And I say, “Girl, you told me.” So I started telling her what she did. She was totally freaked out that I remembered it and in such detail. I was like, “Yeah, I’m storing information in my body constantly, Selva.” And she says, “That’s so weird, because I’m just interacting with dead bodies all the time.”
Nicole Kaack: I like the idea that the body can be separate from the mind and still have that sense of storage. These ears offer some sense of the things that they’ve heard, can still function following a different logic.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: There is that classical philosophical argument about the difference between mind and body, which I love on a romantic level. But I also grew up with a very close family member that had Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which breaks down the body while the mind stays perfect and brilliant. That’s a really fascinating thing to watch, that literal separation between mind and body. It’s a horrific disease where the synapses, the nerve endings, just start to erode, but your mind stays crystal clear. So you become really aware that the body is just a functional vessel for a soul. You still are interacting with someone’s consciousness, even though they may not have the ability to relay information out. Selva and I both have this obsession with the question of what is a spirit and how do you interact with it. Selva’s always talking about the “husk,” the material. She’s very aware of bodies, but curious about when it quits being a body and starts being material.
Nicole Kaack: Or when does a body cease to be human, perhaps.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: When does the body cease to be a human and when does it cease to be a recognizable form. Selva was explaining to me that when you’re actually working, there is a breakdown process that continues to occur, regardless of the capabilities of deep freeze. It’s never truly a suspended form. At a certain point, it does get cut, cut, cut. Or it just starts to break down. And then, you don’t recognize it.
Nicole Kaack: Thinking about husks and synecdoche, in terms of representations of yourself within your films, might we talk about your literal body surrogate, the ponytail. How does that function?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: For the past six years I’ve been traveling with this four-foot-long ponytail in my suitcase to different jobs around the country. I’m a graphic facilitator, so I do professional mind map scribing work. At conferences or private meetings for any type of client, from pharmaceutical to fashion, whenever there’s a group speaking together in a room, I’m there in an organizational capacity, trying to map out the conversation. Almost every week I get on an airplane and fly to a different location. I’m in New York for five days and then I’m going to Seattle — that’s where Ponytail and I are going. When you become hyperconscious of being embodied as moving in space or identify as dislocated, you develop a desire for forms of psychic consistency.
The blonde ponytail prop comes from the fact that the consistency between these different events and locations is that I’m always returning at the end of the night and sleeping in a bed. What is the material that I’m interacting with at that moment? Clothes, bed. But my direct point of contact is usually my hair. If I have to leave that for the business environment, how can I still preserve that consistency as a material structure? Perhaps the blonde hair lies on the bed eternally, until I return to it again. Regardless of where my physical body was, at least that was a consistent thing in time and space. It’s always there, sleeping on the pillow. It’s there right now. It’s totally bananas, but it’s the thing I’ve been doing. Then, over time, I started documenting it. A lot of this video is the ponytail in hotel rooms.
In terms of making this work, I thought, I don't know if I can make a three-hour film of just ponytails on pillows. I could, but… I don't know if I want to. The ponytail body-prop surrogate maneuver came as a means of facilitating a tangible form of psychic dislocation. It also allows me to make something that I could then bring with me in a suitcase, sets up a system within the confines of my usual business job.
Nicole Kaack: You purposely sought out business classes at Yale and are now in this job which places you in contact again with that kind of corporate environment. Something that you speak to in OPEN MIND is the function of internalizing yourself enough to mask your encounter with situations that are other or unfamiliar.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I’m here with you. I don’t know what everybody’s relationship with their body is, but I am super aware of myself as a spirit inside a thing. I see this, my body, as an apparatus for my spirit to move. And I work from there. I’m really interested in absorption. Psychic absorption. It’s hard to map out things that are invisible that you’re absorbing all the time. That’s why memory is really fascinating to me.
I also wonder what it means to, as an artist, try to build an installation that then refers to metacognition. Because this in itself is its own type of artificial apparatus.
Nicole Kaack: Or logic.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Yeah! It’s like a logic. I’m really interested in circles or when things start to spin. I think about it in terms of spatial dimensions. What’s the difference between a circle and a sphere? Because they’re fundamentally the same thing, they both have this [gestures] going on. But when one circle starts to bisect another circle, that starts to bisect another circle, that starts to bisect another circle, you get a sphere. And then, in the progression of that build, you start to spin. When something starts to spin, and spin, and spin, and spin, that opens the possibility of a glitch. Or for something from the real to come forward.
Nicole Kaack: I love that motif in your various videos. I think it’s in Water Witching, as well as the ponytail piece. The image of a drill coming through an image and disrupting it. Sometimes you layer it, you stop a moving film so that you can push through again with the drill.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I’m really obsessed with drills and making video art. In a sense, I’m just looking for some type of meta-narrative. In every single video art piece I make, there is this drill that comes through the plane. Because I figured that my interest in videos is the fact that they aren’t real. I say that in the most loving sense, but they’re not real. This is a rock. This is real. The videos don’t feel real to me. I loved the realization that I could take a static frame, print it out, mat it on foamcore board, sync up a snippet from the sequence, put it back on the foamcore board, penetrate that from the back with the drill, re-record it, bring it back into the time, and then synthesize it all together as this optically weird moment that’s super analog.
I totally respect people that are using trippy CGI and VR. But I’m interested in trying to actually rip apart time and see what happens. I’m hitting it with a drill, then using that penetration to create something that functions in the yonic form of the spinning circle. That gesture is the mark of a circle, a hole. A hole is a portal from which things emerge. In every video, now, it’s a motif. I’m hoping, if I continue to make video art long enough, that one day I’ll just have a master film that’s just thousands of holes.
Nicole Kaack: It’ll be next to the three-hour ponytail.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Yeah, I know, right? I just obsessively make work as a way of processing this thing that we’re all in together. But I also want to penetrate it, to try to get at something.
Nicole Kaack: For me, the drill image comes back to an idea of cyclic time, which also comes up in the cadavers that Selva uses for her work and in the narrative of the coins as well.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Coins and bodies, two things that are so linked up with capitalism and movement and progression of time.
Nicole Kaack: There was that quote in OPEN MIND where you said something to the effect that it’s only about moving forward.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Yeah, it’s a forward progression.
Nicole Kaack: Or keeping moving.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: It’s something that I’m hyperaware of, especially having previously worked in innovation consulting for many years. I’m an artist, but I’ve also spent a lot of time working not in the arts and not around artists in this high theatrical space of perpetual movement. I always find it really interesting to hear artists or art theorists talk about perpetual motion machines, while actually seeing how those operate within a business context inside capitalism — innovating only in the capacity that there’s a planned obsolescence, so that way you can innovate again. You become aware that the primary objective is to keep the money circulating. It’s never about solving a need.
I’m fascinated by the history behind glitch coins. The US Mint tries really hard to keep them from happening, but they are continuous. The machine actually can’t be regulated. They try to fix whatever in the code that’s making the glitch, but then a second error occurs; a US Mint employee sees the object and immediately starts to fetishize it, and actually illegally takes it out of the Mint. Then it gets released into dorky numismatics and coin boards that I go to.
Nicole Kaack: When did you first encounter these?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I was taking this class by a professor named Paul Kockelman on the anthropology of information. It made me wonder, if a machine was speaking back to us, what would it say? I’m pretty certain it would only speak in poetry and in things that we can’t really linguistically map out. It would operate in a space beyond language. But what is the space beyond language? It’s a space of temporal gesture.
I’m thinking, if I was a machine and I’m trying to make a mark to show that I’m cognizant, what would that mark be? I’m willing to take the romantic leap that it’s probably just making a mark that shows something off center, some type of refusal to fit within a larger schema. The glitch coins are insanely fascinating. The Mint keeps trying to program them from not happening and they keep happening. And Mint employees keep stealing them. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful.
Selva and I have spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a circle and a square. We’re thinking about these really, really deep desires of mark-making and wanting to make one’s self known. Selva told me that there’s actually a waiting list to donate your body to Yale. Yale is highly competitive to get into it when you’re alive. It’s also super competitive when you’re dead. There are people that really, really, really want to donate their bodies.
Nicole Kaack: To science?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: To science or, ‘I consent to have my body used by the pedagogy for the sake of knowledge acquisition.’ I remember hearing that and saying, ‘Oh my god, so there’s a surplus of freezers.' And she’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That’s so wild. Thinking about surplus, thinking about access. Glitch coins really are evidence of access. I mean, they’re a type of excretion. Then thinking about bodies, bodies that are trying to get it, bodies that are trying to get out, and then the fact that Selva, with all of her technical skill, can get inside there. I don't know exactly how she gets permission to do what she does, but she’s tapped into a community that supports her and really believes in her works. There’s a deep level of earnestness and research there that I just love.
Nicole Kaack: Cycling back to the idea of consumption —both in terms of giving yourself and in relation to the economic invention— I am curious about the anonymity of these corporate spaces and hotels in your videos. As a hotel guest you are consuming that space, but also being consumed by it. Your purchasing power makes you object somehow. It comes back to the idea of innovation as cyclic movement. The impetus is only to have more users or to have users keep using. In that way they become almost a commodity themselves, right?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: My viewpoint on innovation comes with a degree of cynicism. I’ve worked for an innovation consultancy group that helped the Guggenheim as a client. Seeing how that operates within an art context can be horrifying. It really drains the fantasy element out of these spaces. Everyone knows that Pfizer Pharmaceuticals or Google follow this track of innovation, but don’t think about it happening within a gallery or a museum context.
Nicole Kaack: Or think about institutions or art spaces as investing in that.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Or they don’t understand that these are institutions and they have desires and those desires don’t always emerge from a humanist perspective. And that there are degrees of consumption that happen inside that.
I’m obsessed with cheese Danishes. I’ve made a lot of artwork over the years about cheese Danishes. There was a moment when I became aware that I was melting or that I have the capability to melt. I became aware of myself as a body receiving input that overloaded my capacity reconcile it — when I saw a cheese Danish at a business conference.
It was oozing with oil, sitting out all day under the fluorescents. I was exhausted and I was looking at this exhausted pastry buffet. I thought suddenly, ‘We’re both made of oil and fat and we’re falling apart. We’re going to get thrown away and replaced at the end of the day.’ Another consistent signifier is the coffee, which is of course meant to energize because caffeine quite is literally a way of putting oneself up. The carbohydrates in the pastry are there not only to be filling, but also something that chemically soothes the body.
So it’s fascinating to see both of these as structural clinical offerings that are always present. I’m traveling around the country constantly and going to different offices and encountering that display everywhere, even in every airport. It’s as though the cheese Danish is the meta-neoliberal totem. They’re not even from Denmark. They’re actually just American made-up food that we call Danish. It’s amazing. Also it’s a circle, an eye. And oil.
Nicole Kaack: You play with destroying it in various ways.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: It’s an amazing experience to hold a cheese Danish in your hand and put your finger through it. I highly, highly recommend that as a sensorial experience. Because you’re going to eat it, so you might as well just watch what happens when you do this. [gestures] That was part of what made it in the video. A lot of the macro shots were filmed in my hotel room.
They’re just everywhere, cheese Danishes. They’re insanely creepy to me. There’s something about them and the proliferation of food deserts. They won’t go away.
Nicole Kaack: I like the ways you are consuming this setting that you’re in, using or abusing it as both the content and the means.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I don’t really know where the boundary is. I think often about what makes it into the work. What are the experiences that you have on a day-to-day that you’re synthesizing in your mind that come into your work, and then what are the experiences that you’re not having on a day-to-day that come into your work?
I’m of the belief that everything is being integrated all at once, that its almost impossible to separate a conscious and subconscious moment. I think about that in terms of moving between spaces so often. I’m a part of that hotel culture. I’m a Courtyard Marriott member, and I have hella points. Sometimes I feel more a part of that system than I feel like member of the New York art world. I’m really a participant within that sphere.
I feel really comfortable inside hotel spaces, which I know a lot of people find alienating. If you spend enough time inside them, you become really familiar with the vernacular of the materiality. I was actually at a hotel convention just a week ago. It was the hotelier’s convention for Choice Hotels, which is the meta-brand to a lot of economy budget hotels. Every year they have this convention that gathers 14,000 franchise owners.
It’s a trade show for all the material things that you see in hotels. The vendor that makes doorknobs is there. You see doorknob, doorknob, doorknob, doorknob, doorknob. The vendor that makes ceiling fans. You see ceiling fan, ceiling fan, ceiling fan, ceiling fan. The vendor that makes little plastic stir straws. You see straw, straw, straw, straw. And then there are pillows. I’m usually placed in the education rooms which talk about organizational management for optimizing the speed of room cleaning. On my breaks, I walk through these seemingly endless spaces of hotel objects, knowing that as soon as I get off the clock and go back to my own hotel room, there will be the ponytail.
Nicole Kaack: I was curious to hear that for you the ponytail functions as a memory space or a means of creating safety and constancy. I personally wouldn’t have interpreted it that way at all. It seems more directly an object surrogate for you, almost interchangeable in the way that you are describing these spaces that are home but interchangeable.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Hair is a timeline. Something happened here [pointing] that’s different from what happened right here. The surrogate ponytail is actually made from horsehair for violins. It’s musical grade hair. I have no idea what that pony ate, but it’s in there. I like the linearity of that object. It’s an inanimate timeline that I am quite literally projecting upon. It’s not only a projection where I am naming it as myself, identifying with it. There is also a metaphysical level, where I am trying to send my mind into the hair inside the room. The ponytail is a conduit for these exercises in psyche projection.
I love that Selva’s piece Tejo (Hopscotch), 2018, is also a linear progression of time. The body is time. Hopscotch has a beginning and an end; it’s actually modeled off Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, which is about moving through different levels of Hell until you reach Paradise.
Nicole Kaack: So what’s hell in your…?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I don't know. I feel like I’m still just looking at all the different doorknobs at the hotel convention. I keep opening portals to different spaces, but I am not sure what the end point is. Maybe if I make enough videos and drill enough drill holes, there’ll be that clarity on the other side.
Nicole Kaack: Do you want to talk about future projects?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I have two things that I’m working on at the moment. I just received the Emerging Artist Fellowship from Socrates Sculpture Park. It’s one thing to write a proposal, then suddenly, when it gets approved by the board, you realize, ‘Oh my god! That’s amazing, but now I’ve got to render this thing.’
So I’m making a project called ‘Sword and the Sphinx.’ The model is a historical French garden sphinx, which are these mythological femme objects that were inside gardens all throughout French palaces. Beautiful, strange, weird, surreal objects. A lot of them were actually defaced and destroyed during the French Revolution.
Nicole Kaack: Were they particular representations?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: They were just symbols of luxury and so the peasant class rejected them. I’m also interested in psychoanalytic theory and its relation to French culture. And I think about how horribly women were treated as objects within the French court system. It is a very strange paradox when you think about the French sphinx as a historical object.
For the Sculpture Park, I’m procuring one of these and making a mold of it so I’ll have a copy of a copy of a copy. Because, as I mentioned, a lot of the original ones in France were destroyed, so a lot of the ones that you see, in the gardens at Versailles for example, are actually copies from Italy or Germany.
For the other part of the project, I will be working with a blacksmith in northern Vermont who makes swords. I’ll forge the sword, put it in the sphinx, and place both outside in the garden. The object will be an invitation to anyone who wishes engage. To some extent, I am thinking of the metal as a conduit. I’m also interested in that desire and what it reveals about us. There is also the violence of penetration, but then the question of what it means when something doesn’t reveal a secret or doesn’t let go.
This summer, I’m also going to make a marble moon, which is part of my interest in sculpting time. That’s the way I think about my videos. It’s important to me that I really make everything. I shoot my own stuff. I edit it. I do my own color correction. I do my own sound. There’s no right or wrong way to make video art, but I identify more with the video artists from the ‘70s that did it on their own. I’m interested in that style of making.
Nicole Kaack: Like lower production value?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Not always lower production, more knowing that the mind behind the camera has a particular goal and that the same mind was the one to create the system. I’m interested in being able to see a hand or a trace that comes from a single author.
Nicole Kaack: That necessitates you being so much a presence in your work, as well.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I really love being a human, and I really love making work that’s evidence of my experience of being a human. I really love looking at other work that another human made that’s about their experience of being a human. I have been making all this video work, which exists in a realm of things that I can’t really touch. But I can touch stones. So, even though I don’t have traditional stone-carving skills, my desire to make the marble moon comes from wanting to know what those are.
I reached out to a quarry in Vermont and I’ll be doing a residency there to learn stone carving. It’s actually the same quarry that a lot of the marble in Washington, D.C. comes from. I’m thinking about the physical source material that makes up a lot of objects that we invest with resonance and power. I’ll be there trying to make the moon. Perhaps I also like the idea that I can see the real moon in the sky, but can’t touch it. I can then have a surrogate to interact with.
Karen Hesse Flatow: Does anyone have any questions?
[Audience member]: Going back to the analog question, it seems to me that you make your videos with these analog cuts of photographs. Where is the line for you between digital effects and analog?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I don’t have a hard technical answer, but I use a lot of old BitTorrented software, like Final Cut 7. For me, I draw the line at software that feels old, gritty. Or has a high level of consumer usability. That is opposed to AfterEffects, which requires a lot of deep time to get the special effects moving around.
It’s really hard to draw these lines. I’m eternally impressed by other artists making moving image work and curious about their technical skill vocabulary. ‘Holy moly, you know a lot of applications!’ A lot of what I might do is drag my camera through sand, drag my camera through water, and use an old, gritty application. I suppose my answer has more to do with ease of use and easy consumer availability. I print a lot of things off a home printer or at Kinko’s. Again, just trying to use whatever’s visible, but that will also give evidence of the tooth of an image.
[Audience member]: It sounds like you interact with a lot of worlds outside of art, for example, the business school at Yale. What drives your belief in doing that? Instead of spending time in the business world, you could just be painting or doing something else.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: That’s a fair question. I got into business because I’m poor and I had to have a job. I don’t come from an art family and don’t have connections. I actually got my first job at the innovation consultancy on Craigslist. It was one of those weird anonymous ads: ‘Are you a fun, creative person? We’re looking for an assistant!’ That was how I got into that. I ended up staying with the job, not because I loved it, but because they paid me health insurance. I’m in a lot of different realms outside the art world. The transparent answer is that it does come down to class. I have to. It’s hard because I don’t like feeling mercenary, but I have to pay my bills.
Nicole Kaack: Sometimes there’s a function to keeping your mind for the work that is your real work, that you do at home. Or at the Courtyard Marriott.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I’m really into it now. I think about it in terms of alternate social systems each with their own parameters and outputs. I am so transparent because I think of myself as a thing inside a system. This is what’s excreting out of me.
I know some artists like to keep some stuff secret. But it’s all out there. My clients can look at my website and see my work. But earnestly, I show up, I do my job. I don’t break my NDAs. Everything’s fine. They don’t care that I’m sticking my fingers through cheese Danishes.
[Audience member]: I was more curious about how you seem to find some inspiration from that work.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I find inspiration everywhere. Perhaps it is less that it is inspirational and more that it’s entering my brain and then it gets stuck there. It’s just coming out of me. Do you dream? Do you have a vivid dream memory?
[Audience member]: Sometimes.
Virginia Lee Montgomery: You’ll make a salad and then, that night, you’ll dream about tomatoes. There’s a direct correlation between chopping tomatoes and seeing the tomato in your dream. I spend a lot of my time moving through the world, but what I’m looking at is so different all the time. I’m very aware that my subconscious can’t always find a connecting thread between it all.
So it ends up looking like a doorknob, tomato, pink iPhone, cheese Danish. Totally unrecognizable as anything. In reflection you realize the cognitive abilities of the mind to create meaning between all those different things. That’s why, as an artist, I’m hyperaware of how much chaos there is in the world and our inability to reconcile it. We’re getting fed so much information at all times, and it’s just hard finding the logic that connects them. Again, that’s the awareness of your mind’s ability to logic. All goes back to metacognition.
[Audience member]: You’re going into these different worlds and to different things in your subconscious, remaking it and presenting it in art. To some extent, you’re sort of funneling experience from the business world into this, which is the art world. Who do you think you’re speaking to?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I honestly have no idea. I’m always trying to speak to the mirror inside my mind because that will give me feedback. What I mean is, the experience of looking into a mirror and holding up your hand. Something that looks like you also holds up a hand. There’s a correlation. This, that.
That might be my audience. If I’m lifting up a hand and someone else lifts it up, too, that’s a meeting point. It’s strange knowing that your inputs don’t match a lot of other people’s inputs. What do you filter in, what do you filter out? I’ve done projects that have been very targeted towards groups of people. That’s my skill set as a graphic recorder. I have a very specific symbolic language that’s developed within an agency style. If someone says the word “innovation,” I draw a light bulb. That sign holds meaning because that group of people think that ‘innovation’ and ‘light bulbs’ have the same register. It’s fascinating for me to make art and talk to other artists because the registers are just so diverse. I definitely feel like it’s a process of information gathering and boundary mapping. I show the cheese Danish, and half the room puts their hand up, and half the room doesn’t.
[Audience member]: In terms of your clients being able to locate your work online, do they ever realize that you’re funneling this corporate environment into your work? Is that ever an issue?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: No, it hasn’t been an issue. I don’t think they’re interested, because they’re more engaged in whatever it is that they personally care about and I look different from that. And that’s totally cool. The most fascinating thing about it for me is the variety of psychic registers.
Contemporary art in general is deeply alienating to a lot of people. They don’t know what it is. They don’t know what the end goal is. When I try to tell them my end goal is to drill a hole into a dream to find the moon, they don’t know what that means. But that’s what the goal is. A gesture to the space beyond language.
Something really strange is happening right now in the cultural paradigm where so much information is being revealed at once that the process of weaving it together becomes the next task. Or can it be weaved together? I don't know.
[Audience member]: In a lot of your previous works, you’re breaking through some material. Finger going through the wall, drills, Danish. You talked about your sphinx, stone. Is it significant that you’re not breaking through? Is there any relation to Excalibur?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: I love mythology. I love the writings of Jung. A lot of people dismiss him as being mystic but there’s a lot of deep truth to that his writing on eternal symbols. I don’t have any formal training in psychology at all. I’ve just picked up things on the fly, doing market research in hardcore Manhattan advertising capitalism for years.
As far as holes, there’s definitely something there. I’m fixated on the gesture of pushing through, the idea of breaking some type of fourth wall, whether that exists on a material level or on a social level. I really do think it’s through rupture that some type of truth comes out. Maybe the truth is non-truth. The meaning of the word “truth” becomes really volatile.
Karen Hesse Flatow: How important is the narrative of the film to you?
Virginia Lee Montgomery: Well, all my films operate on dream logic, which is an oxymoron. When you have a dream, it holds total meaning to you, but when you tell it to a friend they can’t relate.
For me, there is meaning. When I point at something, I can name it according to the space. But the viewer may not always get it. The high-level synopsis of PONY HOTEL is that it is the tale of three ponytails.
There’s the real ponytail, which is on my head. There’s the prop ponytail, which eternally sleeps on a feather pillow awaiting me. And then there’s the rainbow, fantasy ponytail, which exists kind of inside me, inside the black box space of my mind. PONY HOTEL is a braided narrative of an encounter with each one.
The film starts out with an incantation and a jump cut every minute. If you study spell casting structure or commercial video editing structure, they actually follow a similar rhythm and time sequence. Once that happens, the cheese Danish appears. That’s the beginning totem. It’s penetrated and opens to the PONY HOTEL. Inside, the ponytail’s going through a series of emotional moments. It’s wiggling around, figuring out its body. It gets really lonely and tries to seduce a lamp. Then it starts to look for things that it can connect with. It finally decides to have phone sex with the phone. That isn’t a rewarding experience and it feels dejected. But then it has this moment of self-realization when it looks in the mirror. It realizes, ‘Oh my god! That’s what I am. I’m the ponytail.’ In that moment it becomes a loop. The circle conjures the drill which comes forward, pulls out. You’re in the next level, which is the black box scape where rainbow ponytail appears.
The way I dreamt this was such that the long ponytail growing on the outside is directly mirrored by a rainbow one growing inside. So I’m actually trying to drill a hole into my brain to reach the rainbow ponytail. [laughs] And that is the structure of PONY HOTEL. Thank you guys so much for coming. [applause]