Richard Roe

Tyler Coburn


Artist Novel, 10.8 x 17.6 cm, 72 p, language: English, publisher: Sternberg Press, ISBN: 978-3-95679-464-3.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2030/294).

Literary synopsis

Richard Roe is the fictional memoir of a legal person. The name is one of the oldest used in English law when the real name of someone is withheld, or when a corpse can’t be identified. Richard Roe is a known unknown, a one-size-fits-all, a potentially everyone and actually no one. Divided into seven fragmentary sections, this memoir gives voice to the legal fictions that creep around the margins of selfhood—and that increasingly dictate the terms of economic and political process. It draws on numerous concepts of personhood from legal, psychological, linguistic, and metaphysical realms, including ancient Roman juridical theory; medieval writings on materialism; and arguments, of the last two centuries, for the legal personhood of corporations, rivers, and other elements of the natural world.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Richard Roe is a multi-part project commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary and curated by Cory Scozzari, comprising an orchid hybrid that Tyler Coburn has named after the legal person 'Richard Roe'; the fictional memoir written by Roe; and a performance of that text. The project builds on a convention particular to Singapore, wherein orchid hybrids are named after politicians and celebrities – in effect, as a means of cultural diplomacy. In the summer of 2017, Coburn developed a relationship with an orchid grower in Singapore who cultivates many of its famous hybrids. For a fee, he let Coburn legally name one of his flowers. As this name (Aranda Richard Roe) has entered the registry of the Royal Horticultural Society in the United Kingdom, it is now bound to every version of this hybrid in the world.

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