On September 21, Public Art Fund will present Conquest, Pope.L’s largest group performance to date. Inspired by the artist’s iconic crawls in which he dragged his body across the urban landscape, Conquest will navigate the streets of Downtown Manhattan continuing the irreverent tradition of his more than 30 performative works that have taken place since 1978. In this iteration, a group of 100+ volunteer participants that reflect the cultural and demographic diversity of New York City will crawl in relay a nearly 1.5 mile-long route from the well-to-do West Village to the new granite steps of Union Square via the triumphal arch of Washington Square Park. In choosing to give up their physical privilege, participants satirize their own social and political advantage, creating a comic scene of struggle and vulnerability to share with the entire community. Public Art Fund’s presentation will be the artist’s most ambitious yet, putting on full display the power and contradictions of collective expression. Pope.L: Conquest will take place on Saturday, September 21 in Downtown Manhattan.
“Working at the margins of the mainstream art world for decades, Pope.L has created a profound and compelling body of work unlike that of any of his contemporaries,” says Nicholas Baume, Director and Chief Curator of Public Art Fund. “Deeply engaged with performance, visual arts and language, Pope.L’s boundary crossing work takes on the myths of American culture, provoking us to see ourselves and the forces that shape us with bracing clarity. As an epic group undertaking, Conquest promises to extend the richly layered metaphors around race, power and vulnerability in his solo crawls to further explore diversity, collectivity, struggle and achievement.”
Beginning at Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground in the West Village, the relay-style crawl will unfold over five hours on sidewalks and through a series of parks. Participants will be organized in groups of five, with each group crawling one of the 25-block segments that comprise the route. When the first crawler in a group reaches the end of their block, they will be relieved by the first participant in the next group, forming a blocks-long relay that emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people. Participants will be encouraged to crawl in a way that challenges them most and speaks to their ability level, whether military style, hands and knees, or another variation. To further challenge participants, each will crawl with props including a blindfold and flashlight, and will be asked to crawl with one shoe, effectively emphasizing each of their personal struggles, while altering their experience as they crawl together. Pope.L will walk alongside the crawlers, giving support where needed yet allowing the focus to remain on the group of crawlers. From Seravalli Playground, the performance will travel east, past Jackson Square, through the NYC AIDS Memorial on Greenwich Avenue and then Washington Square Park, before turning north to finish at Union Square Park. Situated in several of Manhattan’s most historic neighborhoods, the route draws attention to power dynamics, privilege, and cultural representation in the city, while the crawlers build off of each other’s grueling efforts to complete the challenging course.
“The crawl is an absurd journey to an uncertain goal,” Pope.L says. “The raw physical struggle of the journey suggests homelessness and a loss of hope and status but takes place in a tree-lined upscale environment where wealth, speed, and verticality are king… What sort of progress is this performance? Is it a comedy of errors or business as usual or a critical mirror held up to a great American past-time called success?”
An open call for participants will be made later this month, and volunteer performers will be selected by Pope.L to reflect the city’s diversity with regards to age, race, and ability, and to include people of different professions and socioeconomic backgrounds, from all five boroughs and beyond. Details on the exact timing of the performance will be released later this summer.
Conquest is the free, outdoor component of Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration – a trio of complementary exhibitions organized by Public Art Fund, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Museum of Modern Art. Addressing the artist’s boundary-breaking practice, the three-institution season of Pope.L’s work utilizes both public and private spaces, and will address issues and themes ranging from language and gender, to race, social struggle, and community.