I followed a citronella torch–lined path into the woods, where Ryan McNamara’s piece I I was causing a little disturbance of its own. Two human heads (McNamara and Sam Roeck) appeared as if discarded amid the twigs, their bodies fully concealed in holes dug beneath the earth. Eyes glazed and tongues lolling, the heads droned popular duets in a kind of listless, last-call karaoke—“Love Songs after Dark” on lithium. Fifteen minutes into the three-hour performance, an already intoxicated visitor—somehow oblivious to the crowd gathered to watch—accidentally kicked the first head, then, in his shock, stumbled back to step onto the second’s face, much to the horror of the audience. The heads continued undeterred, while the partygoer tried to play it off. “How many times has that happened today?” he tested a grin toward the photographer. “Only once,” the photographer shot back coolly.
Perhaps the pièce de résistance, or at least the one that got the most people talking, was a site specific seemingly Samuel Beckett inspired montage. Two men, buried up to their necks in the dirt, sang romantic songs like "Tonight" from "West Side Story" and "Up Where We Belong," from "An Officer and a Gentleman." It's too true: There are only so many venues, either in New York or elsewhere, where you can view men buried in the ground singing songs from films starring Debra Winger and/or Louis Gossett Jr.
"We got kicked twice, and oh yeah, it definitely hurt," said Ryan McNamara, the 32-year-old New York-based artist who created the performance. (Sam Roeck was his partner in crime.) "One guy literally kicked Sam in the head and then he stepped on my head to look at what he'd done. But people sprayed us from water bottles, they kissed us, they really took care of us." On Wednesday, he and Mr. Roeck went up to Watermill and "dug really big holes," large enough for them to sit in. For the three-hour performance, they wore T-shirts and shorts as to not overheat. This was at the risk of insects crawling all over them. "But it was mostly worms and stuff like that," he said.
...but wait… what was that? Singing? Coming from… the ground? “Love lift us up where we belong,” exhausted-sounding voices crooned. It was performance artist Ryan McNamara, buried, along with a fellow performer, such that only their two heads were visible above the carpet of pine needles. Microphones lay next to their mouths. They looked hot, and tired.
“Sarah?” Mr. McNamara groaned imploringly, calling out to The Observer by name. “Can you give me a raspberry?” The Observer dredged a soggy raspberry from her drink and deposited it in Mr. McNamara’s mouth. It was the least we could do. It’s tough being a performance artist.
The work that stopped many people in their tracks involved two men’s heads popping out of wood chips on the ground. The men, Ryan McNamara and Sam Roeck, sang “Islands in the Stream,” the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet. Some guests, preoccupied with their cameras and cell phones, stepped on them. “Would you like a spritz?” asked Gina Sarra, a retired teacher, before dousing McNamara. Roeck asked another spectator to scratch his nose.
Ryan McNamara, performance artist, buried in the ground and singing into a microphone
Meanwhile, in Watermill, Ryan McNamara was buried up to his neck. The performance/video artist appeared to be drowning in the sea of wood chips that carpeted the forest floor of the Watermill Center. The center, which hosted its eighteenth annual benefit on Saturday, celebrated founder Robert Wilson’s seventieth birthday with a panoply of performance-art pieces inspired by the evening’s theme of “Voluptuous Panic.” McNamara and another artist, also buried, sang soft lullabies into microphones propped on the ground in front of them. (One of them was a mournful ballad version of “Ghetto Superstar.”)
-Giovanna Campagna and Chloe Malle