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Joe Riley




Joe Riley is an 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. His 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.

Joe’s dissertation, Toward an Ecocritical History of Contemporary Ocean Art and Science since 1970, delves into histories of interaction between artists, oceanographers, and endangered marine organisms in late-20th and early 21st-century ecological art. Mobilizing evidence from research spanning the studio, laboratory, and archives, he argues for a critical oceanic turn led by interdisciplinary and multispecies networks situated in Southern California. The dissertation tracks this development through ecocritical case studies of Helen and Newton Harrison’s Survival Piece VII, artist and writer Allan Sekula’s late-career engagement with marine environmental traumas, and a participatory ethnographic account of seaweed research conducted by artists and scientists in relation to intersecting histories of how we model and understand colonization, racial capitalism, and globalization. The project contributes a unique revision of standard narratives of ecological art by embedding its inquiry in art practice and environmental science methods.

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 2023-24, Joe’s research is supported by a Kenneth & Dorothy Hill Fellowship and a Getty Library Research Grant. In 2021-22, he 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, CalState San Marcos, Cooper Union School of Art, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Bruce High Quality Foundation University.