Artist Duke Riley Releases Mysterious Hotel Room Videos by Non-Essential Consultants
Duke Riley, known for riding around in a wooden submarine and coordinating a light show with 2,000 LED-equipped pigeons, sits in his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio wearing a bright orange raincoat and beanie. The studio is full of nautical trash-turned-treasures. Plastic tampons and toothbrushes made to look like fishing tackles sit on a table not far from a stack of suitcases, respectively labeled Chicago, Hawaii, New York, and Doral.
These suitcases are part of Riley’s latest work, In the Darkest Hour I Am By Your Side, produced by a corporation called Non-Essential Consultants, Inc. to which Riley licensed his name. Primarily a three-paneled video piece, featuring footage from a barely recognizable hotel room and a warehouse where a man feeds his blood to bedbugs, In the Darkest Hour raises a lot of questions. Riley does not give a lot of answers.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Jessica Klein: Who exactly are your main associates in the creation of this project?
Duke Riley: I have a very difficult time remembering names. I’m a very busy artist that comes in contact with many, many people. It’s something I really struggle with — just remembering people’s names — so I can’t really answer that question.
Duke Riley interview with Jessica Klien
JK: You don’t know the names of anyone you worked with on this project?
DR: I don’t. It’s really embarrassing.
JK: Does the video in this project depict people putting real bedbugs in a particular infamous hotel in Washington, D.C.?
DR: [unfurls piece of paper from jacket pocket] On the advice of counsel, the events depicted
in this project are speculative dramatization and do not depict actual events.
JK: Are the characters or actions in the video meant to represent any specific real people and/or events?
DR: On the advice of counsel, the events depicted in this project are speculative dramatization and do not depict actual events.
JK: Okay. Were you worried about a bedbug infestation while making this film with actual bedbugs?
DR: As somebody who lives in a major metropolitan area on the East Coast, having a bedbug infestation is something that I’m always worried about. They’re particularly common in the New York and Washington D.C. areas.
JK: This piece is comprised of three different videos that play simultaneously. Would you direct viewers to look at any specific panel first?
DR: I’d like viewers to look at my artwork any way they choose and to form their own opinions and analysis. Generally people can probably look at it all as one.
JK: There’s a man in the video’s middle panel, and there’s also a man that appears in the panel on the left. Is this the same man?
DR: I can’t be certain about all the different approaches that the film company used. With today’s technology, with CGI and deepfakes, anything’s possible as far as who the different people in the film could be. Like I said, I licensed out my name and image to be used because I’m a very well known artist. I’m not actually familiar with everything that went on.
JK: Do you ever have any concerns when you license out your name and image to a project like this, where you seem to be so unfamiliar with the specifics?
DR: I’ve tried to spend most of my time working on my artwork. It’s just about good management, really.
JK: How did you decide to use blockchain as a way for people to purchase individual squares of the video in this art piece?
Duke Riley’s artwork shattered on blockchain. As more fragments are claimed, the black space will unravel the footage from the film.
DR: I am very interested in the use of blockchain, particularly within the art world and as a democratizing approach to the way that the art market works.
JK: Do you think this piece could result in any legal repercussions for you?
DR: As an American living in the United States in a very litigious society, every time you leave your house you are at risk of being sued for something. I think that’s a shame.
JK: Why are you releasing this piece now? Are there any particular current events that correspond to it?
DR: I am releasing this piece now because typically, I like to release most of my projects in the fall — you know, before I go on winter vacation.
Jessica Klein is an independent journalist and contributor to Snark.art.