art theory

Coffeeshop Chat with David Eckard

The sculptor/performance artist explains his TBA collab with Linda Austin, and his evolving approach to material creations.

Apparently, ArtsWatch editor Barry Johnson’s favorite coffeeshop is the new epicenter of Portland’s performance universe. There to meet Barry, I ran into THREE performers whose work I’ve reviewed: Philip Cuomo, Maureen Porter, and David Eckard—actor, actor, and sculptor/performance artist. Tempted as I was to hide behind a copy of the Mercury and have my coffee quietly, I introduced myself to the actors, and then the actors to a performance artist (an animal of their genus, if a species or two removed). Cuomo is about to direct “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” (a Peanuts cartoon sequel), and Porter’s most anticipated project is “Sweet and Sad” (part of Richard Nelson’s trilogy) with Third Rail. Watch this space for more about them as the theater season progresses, meanwhile…


Eckard will appear at a First Thursday live talk show this evening to explain his imminent TBA piece, “Three Trick Pony.”  At the coffeeshop, he looked deceptively ordinary in a business-casual plaid button up and a beard—but we’ve already seen him nearly naked. In his video piece “Comet,” shown in April at the Museum of Contemporary Craft and viewable online, Eckard wears nothing but a loincloth and a metal harness set with shelves around his hips, over which he sifts a chalky substance (the sands of time?) while spouting original beat poetry in homage to bright-burning friends from his activist past. Not only a performance artist but also a sculptor, Eckard often crafts the structures he’ll inhabit while performing. By his own admission, it wasn’t always so. “When I first started sculpting, I had this exalted sense of ‘the object,’” he confesses, “and I didn’t want anyone touching or messing with my work. In my mind, there was performance, and there was sculpture, and they were completely separate entities.”

Over time, though, the parts began to fuse, as Eckard observed that performing with a given ‘objet’ imbued both him, and it, with new life. Much of the work we’ve seen from him in the last few years builds on this discovery, framing Eckard as almost a bionic man, performative abilities enhanced by his own creations. He used a giant yellow megaphone as a mouthpiece in 2004’s “Podium,” unfurled a one-man platform with winglike banners for 2011’s “Cardiff,” and transformed his body into the aforementioned pseudo-hourglass for “Comet.” Even when a sculpture piece is shown on its own, Eckard has found that his performance audience still associates his actions with the object. Hence “he did this with that” stories enrich the piece’s mythology and meaning even after its performative moment has passed.

Eckard’s natural next evolution? Letting someone else play with his toys. For TBA 2013 offering “Three Trick Pony,” previewed earlier this summer at Conduit’s Dance+, Eckard created props for modern dancer Linda Austin to use in whatever way she chooses—and he’s been surprised by a lot of her choices. “I’d make a piece, and I’d envision how it could be used, how it would bend—and then Linda would come up with a completely different movement.” For instance, what he thought of as a box, in her hands became a plow. “I’d go, ‘Oh wow, okay’ and take the thing back and reinforce the hinges.” Through this conversation of invention and reinvention, “Three Trick Pony” emerged as a choreographic sequence that’s performed three times. For each pass, Eckard’s objects are arranged to exert a different force on Austin’s movements. General themes that spring to mind as Austin grapples with objects larger than herself echo those Eckard has faced in “Comet”: aging and adjusting, the chaos of fate. But in this instance, as the dancer faces different kinetic challenges, she combines a consistent strategy with agile reactions in order to overcome.

Hear more about the  piece tonight at Din Din Supper Club, or catch it in action at PICA’s TBA.

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard's sculptural creations in "Three Trick Pony."

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard’s sculptural creations in “Three Trick Pony.”



A. L. Adams also writes monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

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