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William Pope. L

Artist 138

William Pope. L

Intersecting Racial Identities The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street

Pope.L also known as William Pope.L, (born 1955) is an American visual artist best known for his work in performance art, and interventionist public art.

He works in multidisciplinary practice uses binaries, contraries and preconceived notions embedded within contemporary culture to create art works in various formats, for example, 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 some of the same social, formal and performative strategies to his interests in language, system, gender, race and community.

Pope.L is among the foremost contemporary performance artists who addresses labor, race, and identity in projects both searing and humorous.

Today’s focus is on one of his iconic pieces ‘The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street ‘(begun in 1990), in which Pope.L donned a cape-less Superman costume, strapped a skateboard to his back, and dragged himself up the entire length of Manhattan’s Broadway - a visceral, ridiculous, poignant display, or, in his words, “public prostration in motion.”

In varying fits and starts, the performance took nine years to complete, with each installment lasting as long as Pope.L could endure the knee and elbow pain (often about six blocks). It is among 30-plus “crawl” pieces that he has performed over more than three decades of work as an artist.

William Pope.L in his own words, “People who are forced to give up their verticality are prey to all kinds of dangers. But, let us imagine a person who has a job, possesses the means to remain vertical, but chooses momentarily to give up that verticality? To undergo that threat to his/her bodily/spiritual categories—that person would learn something. I did… Now I crawl to remember.”

Pictures of the denigrated superhero dragging himself through the business district are among the clearest and most iconic images in Pope.L’s oeuvre, but for him, the documentation isn’t as essential as the actual experience of exhaustion and self-imposed labor that comes along with performing the work.

For this reason, the 57-year-old Pope.L often invites participants to collaborate with him, organizing large group crawls and interactive installations.

Such performances attempt to address societal concerns through an abstraction of grand themes such as labor and identity politics.


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