Step aside you sportsmen, writers, bigger boys and comedians who have variously topped my admiration tree – I have a new hero and his name is Duke Riley. The Brooklyn-based artist is the master of quirky, unusual performance and installation pieces which often have a historical angle. They often involve booze but don’t be fooled, there’s big ideas at play behind the mayhem. His new project will see him re-run the famous Chinese Zodiac animal race with the participants being rowed across a Chinese river (a big iguana will replace the dragon).
The ancient legend about the animals’ race across the river gave rise to the custom of years being associated with different creatures and corresponding characteristics projected onto people born under certain animals’ years.
Duke Riley’s Rematch takes place on April 15, and has been organised “in the spirit of art, community, and competition.” Each animal will be placed in a gondola and rowed by an expert while an opera singer performs pieces from the animals’ perspectives, giving their version of events from the original race.
Duke says: “No calendars will be reset at the finish line nor will any closer understanding of that mythical day be realised. The only realisation will be a brief moment of divine absurdity between two shores.”
He has already made scouting trips to China and is documenting every stage of the process in great detail, as is the case with all his madcap projects.
In the past he has staged a reenactment of the most spectacular type of Roman entertainments – battles waged on water – organised a St Patrick’s Day Parade in Havana, retraced a hobo census in a hidden prehistoric river in Cleveland and tried to assail a British ship from a homemade submarine in homage to a similar effort which took place during the American ar of Independence (ending in his arrest, not for the first time).
Aside from the photos and videos he posts about each project, duke also often records his work in hugely detailed drawings or artefacts raising questions of memory, identity and the interaction between myth, legend and reality.
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