Joe Riley is an artist and Master of Yachts 200-ton Offshore Limited Mate. He has sailed aboard 112' schooner Argo, biked atop abandoned railroads in the U.S., paraded a mobile radio network in Ukraine, and helped organize the longest student-led occupation in United States history while studying at Cooper Union. In 2013 he was faculty at Bruce High Quality Foundation University, a resident at Izolyatsia (Kyiv, Ukraine) in 2014, and teaches letterpress printing and metalworking at Cooper Union. He is a collaborator with the artist collective Futurefarmers and a participant in the 2016-17 Whitney Independent Study Program
My work teases anecdotes out of stories and toward material form. I am interested in how stories become part of a landscape or myth, how they are told and re-told, and what is lost along the way. My research often finds its focus in such technologies as railroads and radios, ships and semaphores— things we build, use, and romanticize—in order to exchange our experiences and signal our existence.
I seek out histories of obsolete technology and forgotten spaces as source material for my practice. Moments where these sources resonate with contemporary political, cultural, and economic conditions, become coordinates which I use for mapping my work. From there I build sculptures, make prints, rig sound installations, or navigate performances which recontextualize these sources by reviving an old idea and propelling a new tale forward.
The conflation of old and new in my work tracks the trail of anecdotes that fall in the wake of a story told and retold. Missing details and faded characters fascinate me, and in following them through my work I’ve picked up parallel histories of itinerant printers and abandoned railroads, Soviet bloc dictators and American soap opera cowboys, protests and pizza pulleys, free education, pirate radios, fake student ID’s, and more. I craft material-driven works from such tellings, and with those works comes the hope of confronting political and poetic consciousness. It is this hope and its many derivative anecdotes which determine my practice.