A still from VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery)'s "Honey Moon"

4K Digital Video
03:00 min., color, sound
Courtesy of the artist

Austin-based artist VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery) has referred to herself as a “business witch.” In addition to being a multimedia artist who trained at UT Austin (BFA, 2008) and Yale (MFA, 2019) and creates sculpture, video art, photography, and performance, VLM also works as a graphic facilitator. At business conferences, focus groups, and the like, she diagrams the flow of discussions, translating people’s ideas into images. Also called “mind map scribing,” this activity provides live visualization for her corporate clients that inevitably seeps its way into her artistic practice. VLM also uses her graphic visualization skills on herself. In other words, she follows the contours of her own emotions, fantasies, and memories to produce surrealistic, ethereal video works that have been shown at the New Museum, George Eastman Museum, Women & Their Work, Lawndale Art Center, and Aurora Picture Show.

VLM’s aim—to arouse a “surrealist wonder for the world” in her viewers—has been augmented by her subscription to panpsychism. Largely inspired by her reading of When Species Meet by cultural theorist Donna Haraway, VLM advocates the idea that consciousness is not unique to humans, and that all creatures and objects are sentient beings. In terms of her artistic practice, VLM’s adoption of panpsychism has resulted in many whimsical yet introspective pieces; for example, picturing such items as an animate, three-foot-long blond ponytail (similar to VLM’s own hair) at play and rest in a hotel room in Pony Hotel (2018). 

If all objects and organisms have consciousness, they are therefore connected and equally deserving of kindness. Such a belief opposes hierarchies that justify any form of domination and calls for empathy in everyday life. Accordingly, in her exhibition Eye Moon Cocoon, VLM incorporated her dedication to luna moths, which she began hand-raising during the pandemic. This patient enterprise transformed the despair of that period into a positive focus on metamorphosis. As a gesture of gratitude that honored the moths’ devotion to the moon, VLM attempted to provide them access to the satellite and brought her moths to the moon rocks on display at Space Center Houston.

VLM’s interest in patience and compassion might relate to her personal history. In interviews, she has discussed openly her diagnoses of neurodivergence and severe dyslexia as a child. Her condition nonetheless has aided in her creativity, leading to explorations of the ambiguity of language and expressions of how her brain thinks in senses. Colors, textures, sounds, and gestures feature prominently in VLM’s art. Her videos present a visual vocabulary of recurring imagery and symbols, including circular shapes like eyes, bubbles, spirals, and holes; gestures of reaching, dripping, and drilling; and objects such as stones, syrups, pastries, and ponytails that are activated by manicured hands. 

In particular, the video Honey Moon (2019) showcases the faculty of touch via drips, circles, and French tips. With a title as literal as it is evocative, Honey Moon is a single 170-second take of two bursts of honey pouring over a glowing model of the moon held by the artist’s hand. As the gold fluid oozes over the orb and into VLM’s palm, the latter gently rubs the moon in a soothing manner. 

Shot against a black background, Honey Moon conveys dreamlike sensuousness, rather than a plot or narrative. It also recalls VLM’s panpsychist concerns for empathy, as her hand holding of the moon alludes to her support for non-human entities. Viewed as sentient, the moon is seemingly healed by the curative powers of honey, a salve that VLM gently applies. However, the suggestion of care is not only directed toward the moon but also in response to human needs. As VLM states, “Honey Moon asks that we slow down.” Shown amid the commotion of heavily trafficked areas, from Time Square to UT’s Art Building, Honey Moon offers a calming, meditative moment as a respite from the rush of our daily lives. – Kanitra Fletcher