Philagrafika 2010: Duke Riley at the Historical Society

Guest Post by Jena Osman.

Last night Philagrafika officially initiated its Out of Print component with a reception for Duke Riley and his project Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird. The Out of Print series has commissioned artists who are deeply engaged with history to work with research documents found in one of five amazing archival repositories in Philadelphia. The research for Riley’s project came from print materials housed in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and focused on Petty’s Island—a little known island situated between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey in the middle of the Delaware River. The island is not open to the public (it’s owned by Citgo and is populated by fuel storage tanks), but that didn’t stop Riley from investigating the landscape firsthand.

In his historical research he discovered that in the mid-19th century, the island was inhabited by caretaker and pig farmer Ralston Laird, his wife, and ten children. Laird and his family were eventually forced to leave, and it is this fact that inspired Riley’s project. In Riley’s interpretation, Laird was the victim of foul play, exiled from his lawful kingdom. Riley takes it upon himself to pay homage to “the royal ancestors of the Laird kingdom” and to document a massive intervention created by the Laird Kingdom Liberation Army.

The LKLA (via Riley) has written a letter sent to Hugo Chavez, demanding that the island be returned to its rightful owners. While we wait for Chavez’s reply we can enjoy a lovely display of china plates that commemorate the Laird ancestors:

Duke Riley described the project at the reception and took a few questions. When asked “where does something like this lead?” he responded that he did not see himself as an activist and his work was more about asking questions than giving answers. He also stated that Venezuela was giving the island to the state of New Jersey and that it would eventually be turned into an environmental preserve with public access.

Laird’s great great grand-niece, Cathy, made a cameo appearance during the Q&A and shared some of her genealogical research discoveries.

Parks Harper, assistant to Riley (and possible LKLA member) was also spotted at the reception.

For more on Petty’s Island and Riley’s project, check out this recent article.

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Categories: Artists, Current Events, Exhibitions

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