The New York art world has been doubly besieged by performance artists and by talented young people named Ryan. Ryan McNamara is both of these things, and over the past few years his many performances—a variety show featuring no variety at all; a romantic play where his character falls believably in love with a charismatic stepladder—have been a reliable and rare mix of personal and social analysis and pure viewing pleasure. McNamara seems to be a born performer, and in his piece for PS1’s Greater New York, “Make Ryan a Dancer,” he took on the new challenge of becoming, in six months time, a dancer. The results of this effort will be on view in a performance on Sunday. Here, McNamara talks about the project.
AW: When did you become interested in performance, and specifically, dance?
RM: When I was a teenager, I started taking photo classes at community college (my all-boys Catholic high school didn’t offer art classes). No one else was around, so I started taking photographs of myself in increasingly bizarre poses. When I got a video camera, I realized that my body’s transitions between these poses were more interesting than the still images. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was working in dance. Now that I’m investigating dance in a more purposeful way, I’ve become infatuated with some of dance history’s heavy hitters, like Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. I also think a lot about the work of living choreographers Sarah Michelson and Tere O’Connor as well.
AW: One of my oldest friends danced with Merce Cunningham for many years, and it has been interesting to be an observer of that world and to watch the lives of young dancers transform. You said that you’re looking at this project in terms of disabilities. Does that relate to the transient aspect of both performance and of the life of a young body?
RM: It’s amazing the toll life takes on the body. We abuse our bodies, and for the most part, our bodies take it. Dance is one of the more interesting forms of bodily abuse. There has been a shift in my outlook on “Make Ryan a Dancer” that is profound to me, in the way that understanding something very obvious can be. I went into this project viewing my body as this malleable substance that just needed to be exposed to instruction in order to metamorphose me into something else. I now see my body as a series of limitations that I must evade in order to get what I want. I had this moment after class one day when I realized that we are all disabled, more or less so depending on the movement hierarchies we are operating within. No matter how hard I try, I will never have my ballet teacher David Hallberg’s beautiful feet, or my stripping teacher Kira Blazek’s amazing ass.
The Finale, 4:30PM on Sunday at MoMA PS1 in New York