Ryan McNamara

Color Collar Clash


Showroom MAMA’s curator Gerben Willers invited the performance interview duo SandWitz to interview a selection of MAMA’s artists of 2013. The second interviewee is Ryan McNamara (US, 1979). In his most recent performance projects, McNamara explores the limit between controlling, and letting go and does so by letting objects, assistants and the public interact in the very moment. In his first major solo exhibition Still [2012] Ryan and his assistants invited visitors to participate in a performative scene, in which they, dressed up by Ryan, posed for a photoshoot. For Showroom MAMA Ryan developed Survey. Here, visitors were invited to fill in a questionnaire resulting into a tailor-made performance, done by Ryan and his assistants. All performances have been filmed during the 5 days that Ryan was working in the Showroom, and could be watched on live streaming. A selection of these videos with props used during the performances, were installed in the exhibition space.



SandWitz is a performance interview duo with Jesse van Oosten (1986) and Dieuwke Boersma, (1985). SandWitz changes the rules of an interview and lets the interviewee decide on his or hers dream public space location, where the interview will take place. Further, the interviewee decides on the appearance of us the interviewers and can go as crazy, intelligent, poetic, or plastic, as he or she wants to As a result, a new taste of interviewing is created, one that gives access to a new content and triggers a new conversation.


Ryan’s answers to SandWitz’s starting questions of an interview:

1.   SandWitz: Choose or describe your ideal location for an interview.

Ryan: I would like you to take me to the most colorful spot in the city.

2.   SandWitz: Decide on or illustrate what you want us as interviewers to look like.

Ryan: I would like you all to dress as purple and green



This time, the SandWitz dressed up in a crackling green and purple costume, including a dramatic collar, a theatrical headdress, fashionable ‘Ryan’ shades, green champagne, some of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits, and a huge box full of performance props. By the time Ryan arrived, the two slices of the SandWitz were dancing in front of the most colorful sculpture in town. Ryan McNamara’s colorful experience, entailing a smooth performative photo-shoot, brainwashes, a lot of exclamations of joy, green champagne, scripted and non-scripted situations, a silver box with a secret content, and some serious talk about art and life and controlling and letting go, was about to start.




R: Oh my god, I’ve never seen this before! This is crazy!!

S: Thank you!! So, why did you decide to let us be green and purple?

R: I have been thinking so much about colors, because of the show at MAMA, where you can choose colors on the survey. And these are two colors that are in the show. I realized how important colors are to me. Even though it seems like, because I do performance, that I don’t think so visually, but for me it’s really important. And these are my two favorite colors.

S: YAY, we are your favorite colors!

R again looking at SandWitz’s costumes closely: Ohh my God, that is so amazing!! Even the shoes!

S: We didn’t know exactly how to take colorful. “Colorful”. What does it mean? Does it mean a lot of different colors?

R: It’s true. I know. Or would it just be a lot of one color, you know.

S: Or a lot of different people

R: exactly!

R. contemplating again: Ohhh my god this is so crazy! I am sooo happy!

S: Muahaha

As an experiment, SandWitz planned to take (the in meantime confused) Ryan on a speedboat for a non-scripted performative photo shoot, which  included some secret green product placement. Such as Ryan is doing in his current exhibition “Survey” at MAMA  


S: Lets go, uhmm it is time for a commercial break… we did not script what happens now, so errrrr….so just let go…

(Ryan looking slightly confused at SandWitz)


SandWitz and Ryan arrive at the dock, where the speedboat is waiting

S: Hello!! Hellooo!! Hey!! (To the boatman) We’re gonna do a photo shoot on the speedboat!

Man with a heavy Rotterdam accent: Yeah right, I know. Er… come aboard, you can sit at the back. And where d’you wanna go?

J: Eerrmm, where it’s most colourful!

R: Wowwww

Since being on a speedboat is not the best place for an interview, the following conversation can be summarized like this:

Sandwitz: “WHOOhaaaIEEEH” “ and  “WhahAhahAH”,

Ryan: “This is crazy” – “Oh my god”. “Ooohhh. Ahaaaaa. Wowww”. “Soo beautiful.” “Awww soo nice!”

The costumes: GRRXBEH^*&#YE




S: WHY??


S. Not hearing what Ryan said: OKAY.


After a literal brainwash of 15 minutes, and some serious exciting bounding, SandWitz and Ryan came back on land.

S: Ryan, you must think this is quite a weird interview!

R: Haha err yeah, this is the weirdest interview I ever had!

S: No worries, we will go back now to our colorful spot, where will get into some real questions

Back at the most colorful spot in public space of Rotterdam

S: So the reason why we have been carrying around this silver box is… Well open it and then we will explain

R: Okay, so I should do this? All right

S: Let’s do it!

Ryan opening the box

S. joking: PAWWWWW!!! Hmm no not funny mwahah

R: Oh wow I’m a little n

ervous! Here we go. Okay. Ohh look! [taking out a green styrofoam dove] Beautiful! That’s so sweet! Golden eggs! – that’s so beautiful! There are so many things in here! [taking out a small kitsch cat sculpture]: awwww this is so great!

S: It’s your cat, Celebrity.

R: Ohh you guys know so much about me!

S: Of course! We might have not a script, but we do know a lot

R: Yeahhhh this is soo crazy! How do you guys know about my CAT??

S: Internet

R: awww number one!! [medal] I’m gonna wear that.


S: So the reason why we brought this box, and decided not to script what to do with it, is because in your work we saw a tension between planning, as making a survey, picking out all the props before, etc., but in the same time it is also the very in moment itself in which your work happens and speaks. To be able to speak about the meaning of this tension in your work, we tried in a sens

e “to do” your work, and collected some props. How do you choose your props? Because it looks quite random, but we had this feeling that it’s not, because you can do so many things with them. How do you make a selection?

R: No, it’s not really random. You have to create the biggest variety. But also, you have to look for things that work w

ell with bodies.I’ve done many projects where we come up with what we gonna do right then, so I now know, what works, and what doesn’t work.

S: What about the different objects we put in the box, do they work?

R: Well it needs to be big, because the audience needs to see it. Something the body can interact with [grabs the cat]. You could just put this here [balances the cat on his shoulder]. Things that you can do with your body always work very well, like this [still balancing the cat on his shoulder] is good, but it doesn’t work well with the body. I do not use unusual objects. I use something that’s very normal and everyday, like a rope, and food. Very basic things can become very unusual when you bring them together.

S: At Showroom MAMA, you have been in a sort of production phase the last couple of days, how do you prepare in such a short time for the performances?

R: Every time I do something like this, I have to admit that I do try to prepare. But I am doing so many performances, that all of the scenarios that I prepared run out very quickly. And I really like that actually. Day 1: gone. So sometimes it’s almost like letting the scenario speak to you. What are all these things? It’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together.

S: So, you use the qualities of the objects?

R: Yeah exactly. In a way it’s almost easier than coming up with something, out of nowhere. It’s almost easier because you let the things talk to you. It’s almost like cheating. My job is to make all of these things somehow interesting by putting them together. But the objects all have their own interesting inherent qualities.


S: And how do you let the assistants you are working with have a voice in the process? Or is it really you directing the scene?

R: What is interesting to me, in working with these people, is finding out what’s inside of them. It’s a really amazing way of meeting people. Really in a very real way. We are not acting it out. It really is up to that person and their inherent qualities that they bring with them. Everyone, every single person, all can come up with something interesting. So, what I hope for, is that in these scenarios I sort of set up the dining room table, and then everyone else can make the food. It’s almost like directing the set, and kind of creating a situation in which people can interact and do their own thing.

S: Is that also what you see as your role as an artist? To set up the table and then give people…?

R: I hope so. I like taking people comfortably out of their comfort zone. It makes them do things they would never do otherwise. And that’s exciting to me. I think that we all want that opportunity. That’s why I choose the job that I have, to have this opportunity.

S bluntly: That’s why we look like this!

R: Yeah, that’s why you guys do this! You guys understand this! It’s like, if we didn’t call this art, than this would just be insanity.  

S: So do you see art as safe place for craziness?

R: Yeah, I hope so. I like to think of it like that. It allows us to still be sort of professional and not being locked up in the hospital.

Jesse tries to balance the kitsch cat thing on her collar, with the golden balls put around it

R: Oohh see this is so perfect!  This is like a challenge! We could put so many things on it! We could setup a performance with all of these balls here trying to balance them on your collar. And that would be really interesting! I think that actually having a real challenge is more interesting than acting it out. Really doing something that is hard.

S: Yeah, it’s also the challenge that pushes you really to do it instead of acting it.

R: Yeah because it’s real, is a real situation. That’s also when I’m working with new people, when I say: I want you to throw shoes at me. That means I REALLY want you to throw them on me. I don’t want it to be like a fake throw. Just really throw it at me, than it’s a real impact. I’m not an actor that acts. I’m not good at acting. I’m never like a character; I’m never trying to be something that I’m not. They are like versions of myself that are bigger, or louder, or cruder, or.. just different. There is never something that I feel is completely foreign to me.

40S: You also have been talking about performance as a subversive act. How do you feel about this in the current show you have at MAMA? Is it something that you are seeking for, or is it something that happens?

R: One of the things that I have been interested in about performance, and why I talk about being subversive, is that because of the lividness of it, there’s not a script. It’s not a two or three-dimensional object you can just remove. If I start saying terrible things in the middle of a performance, you can try to stop me, but I will respond. If there’s a painting that you don’t agree with, just remove it, and its silenced. And that’s kind of an interesting thing. I’m also interested in subverting the role of the artist. This idea of the artist as a creative genius who works by himself in the studio, laboring for hours, and then all of a sudden out of it comes this masterpiece.

S: *sacred singing*

R: This project is absolutely the opposite of that. I’m working with people. I’m asking the audience for their input, they can collaborate within it. But the funny thing is, I’m asking for input, but at the same time, I’ve created questions. I’m the one who directs it, so it’s kind of a clash of these two things within me. There’s a part of me that wants to let go, and there’s a part of me that wants to control. So I’m not pretending that like, ‘oohh whatever you want to do, it’s okay’. No, I understand that I’m controlling the whole thing, from beginning to end. It’s almost like a dare, to take away the control from myself. It’s a challenge. How much do we control, how much do we let go. I think it’s interesting to keep thinking about it for the rest of my life.


Ryan looking at SandWitz: I find this scenario so funny! We are having a very serious conversation, but we are looking so ridiculous! The clash together is so interesting, really really nice! I want to send a photo to my mom!

S: Awww

Ryan ‘directing’ the set

R: Here we go. We should look very serious. We’ll pretend like we are having a very serious conversation. Like we have been. And then we are all in these ridiculous outfits and throw these little white balls.

To Aad the photographer: Could you take a photo? Yeah for my mom yeah…

R: Great, so we have to look very serious and on the count of three we throw the little white balls. So… we are talking about art… and life… life is really important… and art and life together, they come together in an interesting way…

S: but you need colors

R: colors are always important. Colors are always something that you really want to… like that piece behind us. It really has something to say about life and art.

S.: yeah… yeah…

R: 1, 2, 3…..(SandWitz and Ryan throw the little white balls and take a very serious pose) Ryan tries professionally to continue: …. that’s something uhmmm yeahh hahaha

S: hahahah


J: I’m getting really nervous about it!

R: Ahahah. One more time…

D: Wait I put my hand before my face. You see, I’m not an actor.

R: Okay here we go…

J: I don’t know what I’m doing

Aad the photographer: Oh this one is good! This looks like performance

R: This was the most unique situation I’ve ever had in my life!


Photography: Aad Hoogendoorn


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