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Artist Audio: VLM

Artist Audio & Transcription: VLM

Transcription of Artist Audio: VLM

VLM: Hi, my name is Virginia Lee Montgomery, and my day job is working as a graphic facilitator. Graphic facilitation is the use of large-scale imagery to educate a group about an idea. And the method of graphic facilitation is used in various process meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences. And what I do specifically as a graphic facilitator is I perform the real time translation of turning words into pictures.

And I do this by standing in front of a large wipe board with large special markers. And as a presenter is speaking, I’m actively listening for big ideas, concepts, key insights. And I take all of that content and I distill it down into visual imagery.

FRANCESCA BALBONI, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton: I mean, clearly this requires a person with a certain skill set and which includes the way your brain works. How did you get into this line of work?

VLM: Yeah, so that’s a good question because it is very niche and it’s not something that I knew about when I first studied art as an undergraduate at the University of Texas Austin. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City at age 21 in 2008 that I encountered graphic facilitation unexpectedly while working as an admin at a marketing firm. 

And I should preface by saying that I think like a lot of millennials that graduated around 2008 and understood the extent to how terrible the economic collapse was and how limited the job market was, I, as a young artist excited to live in New York City, really was just taking any job I could find. And that happened to be being an admin at a marketing innovation consultancy firm.

But there I saw graphic facilitation being used in a focus group setting where I think the actual project was for a deodorant company. Maybe it was like Axe body spray, and they invited all these different teenage boys from New Jersey to come in and share their preferences about deodorant body spray. And there was a graphic facilitator in the room capturing every comment every teen boy was saying about deodorant and turning it into a large visual mural.

And I was just in awe. And I thought, okay, I have an art background. I’ve been able to survive speaking corporatese in this setting. I think I can do this. And so, it was in that moment that I thought, I’m going to kind of pivot. I’m going to pursue graphic facilitation.

And I think part of the connection that I also see between it is that, you know, both activities, whether they be graphic facilitation, working for a corporate client, or being my own visual artist, and I’m creating artwork in a tune to my own symbolic system. They both use symbols as methods of communication. And so, there is a strange, surreal slippage between the two where the same vocabulary of symbols that I might deploy while creating a visual mind map for a corporate client is very similar to the same vocabulary of visual symbols that I might deploy in my own artwork. Just in one instance, it’s being used for the very genuine intentionality to be very transparent about what the meaning is and what’s going on in that scene. And then versus for my own artwork, I really allow those symbols to be as cryptic as they want to be or need to be. I mean, I think my artwork is much more of kind of a space for my own subconscious to kind of run amok.

A lunar moth on a lock of blonde hair. Honey drips over the image
VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery), Pony Cocoon (video still), 2019, digital video with sound, 5:05 min, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase with funds from Beverly Dale, 2020.304 © VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery)

Artist Bio

VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery) is an artist working at the intersections of video, performance, sculpture, and sound design. For over a decade, VLM has worked as a graphic facilitator, performing “the real time translation of words into pictures” at group meetings like TED Talks and corporate conferences. The language of symbols translates to VLM’s work, where delicate Luna moths (hand-raised in the artist’s studio) and the severe, pony-tailed Business Witch dance in and out of surrealist imaginings. 

VLM has had solo presentations at the New Museum, Times Square Arts, the Lawndale Art Center, and False Flag, among others. She received her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin and MFA in Sculpture from Yale. VLM currently works in Austin and Houston, TX and New York, NY. You can find her at hellovlm.com or @skinnyaliens on Instagram.

Photo by Ka-Man Tse for Time Square Arts, NY, NY, 2019.