According to legend (The Shengxiao), five thousand years ago the Jade Emperor held a race amongst twelve animals across the Mighty River in China in order to determine time. This would become the Chinese Zodiac. The rat won – but cheated. Nevertheless, this event established an order that has remained for centuries. 5,000 years later, Brooklyn based artist Duke Riley sets out on an epic quest to China to set the record straight. Selected from over 1,000 candidates by the US State Department for a pioneering new program (smARTpower*), Duke is among 15 artists selected as cultural ambassadors across the globe. Over the course of precisely 45 days, his mission is to create an art project that engages local community. In the spirit of fairness, Duke proposes a rematch of the Chinese zodiac race. Complete with live animals, each ferried separately across a river in gondolas paddled by local oarsman, twelve local singers, local artisans and community, his art and process will engage a most unusual form of cultural diplomacy. A modern day Robinson Crusoe, an immensely gifted visual artist, a renowned tattooist, Duke was an unlikely choice by the US State Department. In 2007, Duke made the front page of all three major NYC papers –mistaken as a suspected terrorist — while being arrested for sailing a revolutionary war-style submarine on the East River as a part of his art project “After the Battle for Brooklyn.” Duke’s latest quest will up the ante on his past adventures stateside and take him on an unprecedented journey to the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao. Duke Riley Goes to China centers on an artist, but in genre, it is more quest film – a highly entertaining yet irreverent tale of adventure, absurdity, and unconventional arts activism. A classic fish out of water story, how will Duke and his able team navigate China to wrangle twelve live animals, boats, rowers, singers, and local community all within the compressed 45 day timeline? As the clock ticks, a complex and confusing myriad of rules and uncertainties about the permits required by the Chinese authorities to pull the project off arise and it becomes increasingly uncertain that the event will be permitted to take place. While the race and the road to get there offers high entertainment, just underneath that surface, the art itself, its concept, and its context in contemporary society offers much deeper food for thought: unlikely methods of cultural exchange and diplomacy; the nature of performance art; changing perceptions in small town China and the subtle message that this might be a time in Chinese history when “fairness” can allow change.
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Duke Riley Goes to China
Rebel artist Duke Riley embarks on an epic journey to China to reenact a legendary race among 12 animals that determined the Chinese zodiac.
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Duke Riley Goes to China