Artist VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery) has been breeding and nurturing Luna moths since 2019. Her insect companions star in an interdisciplinary body of work that spans photography, video, research, and performance. Now, thanks to an unconventional artist-in-residence program at the LINE Austin hotel, VLM raises the native Texas moths inside a sleek hotel room.
“Being in a hotel is a very unusual circumstance for a working artist,” says VLM. “Oftentimes, when one thinks of artists’ studios, they are places that are dirty, loud, messy, chaotic. Everything is the opposite of a hotel, which is polished, calm, and clean.”
Hospitality spaces, however, are more familiar to VLM, who is a professional visual ideation scribe. Her career requires extensive travel to corporate conferences and TED talks, during which she creates large-scale illustrations that track the flow of ideas as they are presented in real time.
On the road, VLM has previously used “the surreal context of a hotel” as a venue to stage her performance and photography work. “This residency is an interesting role reversal because the hotel is actually my designated studio, as opposed to me kind of commandeering the space and proclaiming it my studio.”
During her six weeks at the LINE, VLM has a concrete-floored work space, a small bedroom and bathroom, and access to the downtown hotel’s boutique amenities. In exchange, she’s required to host weekly open studio hours and one public event where guests and curious passersby can ask questions and interact with her artwork.
The residency program launched in 2019, initiated by the artist support organization Big Medium as a novel way to address Austin’s lack of affordable space for artists. Big Medium selects six artists each year, with the LINE Austin offering the room pro-bono.
Invariably, hotel guests and tourists wander in when the studio doors are open. “I had a really interesting conversation with the bachelorette party that stumbled in,” VLM says. “None of them seemed to be actively engaged in contemporary art or experimental performance, but I showed the bachelorette party the Luna moth, and the Luna moth got to meet the bachelorette party.”
These chance encounters enrich readings of VLM’s work. “I think one of the best things about the residency is the peculiar context of being a working artist inside a hotel and being able to activate that performatively. And I often think some of the best performance art pieces are ones that seize the notion of the benign violation.”
“Conference Creature” by VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery)
When I visit, VLM lovingly shows me some human-sized Luna moth wings that she made for a performance that she will videotape at sunrise in one of the hotel’s largest, heavily-windowed conference rooms.
“Is it strange?,” she says. “Yes. But at the end of the day, it’s kind of like a strange moment of delight for whoever sees it. It wouldn’t otherwise disturb [someone] on their day to day, and that’s my goal.”
VLM embraces the fact that her art has varying levels of legibility depending on the audience who views it. If someone wants to examine her work as “an act of existential absurdity rooted in a feminist panpsychic notion of resilience,” she welcomes that understanding just as much as someone who can “enjoy it for the whimsy of the circumstance.”
The beauty of a hotel as a performance space lies in its multipart functionality as a place of employment; a site of convergence for conferences, meetings, and weddings; and a refuge designed for the purpose of leisure and rest. Introducing an artist into the routine cast of characters that create the distinctive culture of hotel life allows for the possibility for surprising disruptions and discoveries.
Through both her private work in the studio and the public film screening she will be hosting in the hotel’s lobby on February 24, VLM celebrates the unusual format of this residency, the conceptual implications it elucidates, and the communities it converges.
She jokes: “I feel like the fibers of the hotel carpet made their way into my soul.”
Virginia L. Montgomery’s LINE residency concludes Feb. 27. Her screening is 7 to 10 p.m. Feb. 24 in the lobby of the LINE Austin, 111 E. Cesar Chavez St. Admission is free.