Skip to main content

Joe Riley




Joe Riley is a research-based artist and historian pursuing a PhD in Art History, Theory and Criticism (Art Practice Concentration) and the Program for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research (PIER) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Joe’s writing, grounded in archival research and fieldwork, focuses on the hydro-politics of knowledge, inclusion, and documentation in the ocean sciences, the commodification of ocean life forms such as kelp, the design and engineering of seacraft, and histories of maritime social practices. Tentatively titled Ballast the Sea, Joe’s 3-part dissertation is an account of participatory marine biological research and interactions of marine scientists and artists in the study of a globally migratory form of seaweed; a critical reading of artist Allan Sekula’s maritime artworks and writings; and an analysis of ballast in relation to intersecting histories of how we model and understand colonization, racial capitalism and globalization, and the transformations of the shape and use of waterways across life forms and epochs. With the artist Audrey Snyder, Joe designs and builds large-scale sculptural installations that reverse-engineer vessels and instruments such as cars and boats, and infrastructures such as railroads and maritime shipping networks. Their work together and as collaborators with the collective Futurefarmers has been exhibited at venues including The Bowtie Project (Los Angeles), Socrates Sculpture Park (New York), Artes Mundi 7, and Sharjah Biennale 13. Alongside marine ecologist Danielle McHaskell, Joe and Audrey are engaged in a Getty Pacific Standard Time project that references the transportation of seaweed biota in contemporary cargo ship ballast tanks, and speculatively re-thinks the laboratory work ethic through the re-design of the research bench as a rocking chair ecosystem in which rest and contemplation generate growth. In 2021-22, Joe was a Fellow of the Institute for Practical Ethics at UC San Diego, researching the hydro-ethics of race and gender and the problem of documentation in oceanography, focusing on the career of ichthyologist Anita Smith Hall (1911-1999). Previously he was an Ocean Fellow with TBA21-Academy’s Ocean Space in Venice, Italy (2020), a participant in the Whitney Independent Study Program (2016-17), the Art & Law Program (2018), and the Interdisciplinary Art & Theory Program (2018-19). A student organizer with Free Cooper Union, Joe holds a BFA from Cooper Union (2013) and has taught at UC San Diego, Cooper Union School of Art, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Bruce High Quality Foundation University.