Throughout my projects I profile the space where water meets the land, traditionally marking the periphery of urban society, what lies beyond rigid moral constructs, a sense of danger and possibility.
A revolutionary-era submarine battle in Brooklyn harbor; a Roman-era spectacle in a water-filled arena in Queens; an island off of Delaware reclaimed as a private monarchy: a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the streets of Havana: Duke Riley excavates and transforms both site and history in his multi-media installations. Describing himself as an “artist-patriot,” Riley says “I combine populist myths and reinvented historical obscurities with contemporary social dilemmas, connecting past and present, drawing attention to unsolved issues.”
Since the late 5th millennium BC, maritime passage has been instrumental in the development of civilization, facilitating mobility, trade, transport, protection, competition, and warfare, and shaping communities, countries, and cultures worldwide. See You at the Finish Line charts two water-borne journeys through time, myth, politics, and art: the flight of homing pigeons across the Florida Straits and a river-boat race in China restaging the creation of the zodiac. Evolving over several months in various locations, and engaging human and animal collaborators, both Trading with the Enemy and The Rematch feature Riley’s signature combination of spectacle, activism, and hand-crafted sculptures and paintings, along with multi-channel videos that capture events and perspectives otherwise inaccessible to the viewer, offering provocative visions of past and present. Duke Riley’s historical interrogations are highly specific in site and subject—here, the United States embargo on trade with Cuba and the ancient mythology of the Chinese zodiac—yet intricately layered with revelations about the global intersections of geography, commerce, and power, examined through a storyteller’s nuanced lens.