Duke Riley’s three-channel video installation Non-Essential Consultants, Inc. combines narrative and documentary filmmaking to portray an allegorical history implicating a duo of outlaw operatives responsible for a bed bug outbreak in Washington, DC. In the past two years, the city has become one of the most infested regions in America, according to the Department of Health. Though they are frequently correlated with poverty, bed bugs have also affected some of the most luxurious hotels in the city.
The video revolves around a single sculptural element: a vintage 21 x 15 inch Samsonite suitcase, which has been retrofitted with an arrangement of scientific machinery and medical equipment used for drawing blood and breeding bed bugs. The suitcase’s breeding chamber, which will be empty during the exhibition, doubles as a diorama of a luxury hotel room within which the narrative is set. The room is located in a notorious hotel, located just blocks from the White House, which has become one of the most potent symbols of the convergence of corporate and political power in the United States.
Harkening back to late 1960s spy thriller entertainment such as Mission Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the James Bond series, Non-Essential Consultants, Inc. evidences a similar state in American history today: a public distrust of both government and the media. In addition, rapid technological advances have led to new national security threats that have outpaced the public’s ability to process them. Amidst widespread feelings of disenfranchisement, the suitcase and its former inhabitants serve as reminder that societal shifts often manifest from the simplest and most unforeseen origins, highlighting the inevitable permeability of even the most complex and fortified power structures.
Duke Riley: Non-Essential Consultants, Inc. is presented as part of the Performa 19 Biennial, and is made possible with generous support from Cristina Enriquez-Bocobo, The O’Grady Foundation, Michael Gruenglas, Mac Premo, quiet, and Joshua Rechnitz. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The events depicted in this exhibition are a speculative dramatization and do not represent actual events.
About the Artist
Duke Riley has had solo exhibitions at Magnan Metz Gallery, New York City; the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland; the Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY; and the Havana Biennial (2009 and 2015), among other venues. He has received numerous awards and commission, including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant, the U.S. State Department’s SmARTpower Program in China, and the MTA Arts For Transit commission for the Beach 98th Street Station renovation. In Spring 2016, Riley partnered with Creative Time and the Brooklyn Navy Yard to produce Fly By Night, a public art project which was presented again in 2018 by 1418 Now and the London International Festival of Theater. Born in Boston, he received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence, before moving to New York, settling in Brooklyn, and earning his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute.