Riley’s contemporary interpretations of historical maritime crafts—such as scrimshaw, sailor’s valentines, and fishing lures—confront the catastrophic effect that the oil, food, and beverage industries have had on the environment through single-use plastics. The works are presented in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jan Martense Schenck and Nicholas Schenck Houses, alongside a selection of historical scrimshaw from our collection, directly connecting environmental injustices past and present.
In his contemporary interpretations of scrimshaw—ink drawings etched into bone by sailors—Riley replaces the medium’s customary whale teeth with repurposed plastic containers, detergent bottles, toothbrushes, and other waste. The works incorporate the maritime imagery traditional to scrimshaw, but expand it to portray international business executives that the artist identifies as responsible for the perpetuation of single-use plastics. Also on view are Riley’s fishing lures and sailor’s valentines, similarly created with detritus found on northeast coastal beaches. The exhibition juxtaposes corporation-driven pollution with new short films by Riley that highlight New York community members working to remediate plastic damage and restore our waterways.