Conquest was a compelling new collective performance conceived by acclaimed artist Pope.L (b. Newark, 1955). It was inspired by his iconic solo crawls, where the artist dragged himself across a number of different urban landscapes. Navigating the streets and parks of Downtown Manhattan, Conquest extended this irreverent and provocative forty-year tradition of public performance with an ambitious group crawl involving over 140 volunteers.
The artist selected participants who reflect the cultural and demographic diversity of New York City to crawl in relay a 1.5 mile-long route from the West Village’s John A. Seravalli Playground to Union Square via Washington Square Park’s triumphal arch. Crawling together, strangers experienced the struggle and vulnerability of giving up their physical privilege, satirizing their own social and political advantage. As the course of Pope.L’s Conquest unfolded, we were all offered an insight into the power and contradictions of collective action.
Director and Chief Curator, Public Art Fund
Recommended Viewing Locations & Times:
9:45am – 10:45am: Kickoff Event at Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground (West Village)
11:00am – 11:45am: NYC AIDS Memorial at St. Vincent’s Triangle
12:30pm – 2:15pm: Washington Square Park
2:45pm – 3:30pm: Finale line at Union Square Park (South Steps)
Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration
Conquest is part of Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration, which is the title of a singular concept that buttresses a trio of complementary exhibitions: Conquest, Choir, and member, organized by Public Art Fund, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Museum of Modern Art.
Visit PopeL.NYC for more information.
Beginning at Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground in the West Village, the relay-style crawl traveled east, past Jackson Square, through the NYC AIDS Memorial on Greenwich Avenue and across Washington Square Park and under its Arch, before heading north to culminate on the south steps of Union Square Park. Traversing several of Manhattan’s most historic neighborhoods, the route drew attention to power dynamics, privilege, and cultural representation in the city, while the crawlers will build off of each other’s grueling efforts to complete the challenging course.
An open call for participants was announced in August, and volunteer performers were selected by Pope.L to reflect the city’s diversity with regards to age, race, gender, and physical ability, and to include people of different professions and socioeconomic backgrounds, from all five boroughs and beyond.
For Conquest, participants were organized in groups of five, with each group crawling one of the 25-block segments that comprise the total route. When the first crawler in a group reached the end of their block, they were relieved by the first participant in the next group, forming a blocks-long relay that emphasized the interconnectedness of all people. Participants were encouraged to crawl in a way that challenged them most and spoke to their ability level, whether military style, hands and knees, or another variation. To further challenge participants, each crawled with props including a blindfold and flashlight, and was asked to crawl with one shoe, effectively emphasizing each of their personal struggles, while altering their experience as they crawl together. The procession was led by a sweeper, and each group was accompanied by a perfumer, who scented the air with a mix of teakwood and tobacco, adding to the absurdity and theatricality of the performance. Pope.L walked alongside the groups, giving support where needed yet allowing the focus to remain on the power of the collective.
The artist and Public Art Fund’s Director and Chief Curator, Nicholas Baume, kicked off Conquest at 9:45am with remarks. A trumpeter played at both the start of the crawl in Seravalli Playground and at the finale in Union Square Park. Welcoming the final groups of crawlers at the south end of Union Square Park – in front of the historic equestrian bronze statue of George Washington – Pope.L greeted each of them with a hug. Once the last participant has mounted the platform, they doused the artist with several bottles of faux Flint water, referencing the struggles surrounding the many water crises occurring throughout the United States today.
“People who are forced to give up their verticality are prey to all kinds of dangers,” said Pope.L. “But, let us imagine a person who has a job, possesses the means to remain vertical, but chooses to momentarily give up that verticality? To undergo that threat to his/her bodily/spiritual categories—would that person learn something?”
Pope.L: Conquest is curated by Public Art Fund Director & Chief Curator Nicholas Baume, with Public Art Fund Assistant Curator Katerina Stathopoulou.
About the Artist
Pope.L (b. 1955, Newark, NJ) is a visual artist and educator whose multidisciplinary practice uses binaries, contraries and preconceived notions embedded within contemporary culture to create art works in various formats including writing, painting, performance, installation, video and sculpture. Building upon his long history of enacting arduous, provocative, absurdist performances and interventions in public spaces, Pope.L applies the same social, formal and performative strategies to his interests in language, system, gender, race and community.
Pope.L studied at Pratt and later received his BA from Montclair State College in 1978. He also attended the Whitney Independent Study Program before earning his MFA from Rutgers University in 1981. Pope.L was Lecturer of Theater and Rhetoric at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine until 2007 when he joined the faculty in the Visual Arts Department at The University of Chicago, where he is currently Director of Undergraduate Studies for Visual Arts. Pope.L is represented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.