Performance artist Ryan McNamara’s work combines heady historical references with pop culture, the conceptual with the obvious, and, perhaps most importantly, the spectator with the artist. Consider his 2012 show, “Still,” in which he filled a gallery with random items and forced all visitors to interact with them, posing for photos. McNamara then découpaged—a hobby usually reserved for bored housewives—sculptural objects with his selections from the photographs.
In 2009, McNamara premiered Ecks Ecks Ecks—AKA—Sacred Band of Thebes—AKA—In Memory of Robert Isabell—AKA—Any Fag Could Do That for PERFORMA 09; four years later, we’re pleased to premiere a video reimagining of the project, simply Ecks Ecks Ecks, conceived by director Pierce Jackson. In the original performance, 40 men donned togas that looked straight out of a high school play to fight-dance (is there such a difference?) to the sound of Skatt Bros.’ catchy, if menacing, 1979 pop song “Walk the Night.”
The Ecks Ecks Ecks video revisits the Sacred Band of Thebes performance—the men, the togas, and the pop music remain—but gives it a more focused point of view. “Artists often revisit work through artist talks, studio visits, etc., so in some ways Ecks Ecks Ecks never left me,” McNamara explains. “As time distances me from the experience, though, it has become a static element of my life, something set that I pull out every once in a while for others to view. This is in great contrast to what it was like to actually be in the 20 minutes of the piece; I’ve often said that it was the most alive I’ve ever felt. Creating this film nearly four years later allowed me to experience a glimmering of that feeling again. It also gave me a sense of what it must be for someone like Carol Channing to slap on her Hello Dolly! bonnet on once again after a hiatus—familiar but completely different.”
What the video adds is clever editing that directs your gaze in the way a live performance cannot, focusing on the dancers’ muscles, the fabric moving, and the interaction between people. That’s thanks to direction by Jackson, the director of PERFORMA TV, with generous support by Friends & Family. Jackson initially saw—and filmed!—Ecks Ecks Ecks in its original iteration in 2009, an experience he mined this time around. “What’s interesting is that when you are documenting a performance, you look for the most composed and cinematic angles. That year, I visited and documented nearly 80 performances and exhibitions during the biennial,” he explains. “This year, when I was mining my archive of performances to find a piece that would translate well to film, the memory of my Ecks Ecks Ecks documentation stood out. So in a fun, ‘meta’ way, what you’re seeing on screen is me trying to recall a video I made in 2009.” If this video is any precedent, we’re looking forward to seeing Jackson’s 2017 take on McNamara’s 2013 commission for PERFORMA, Me3m: A Story Ballet About the Internet.
RYAN MCNAMARA WILL BE PREMIERING ME3M: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET AS A COMMISSIONED PROJECT FOR PERFORMA 13. FOR MORE ON PERFORMA, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.