Mapping the spaces in between: The material / virtual interface in Joseph DeLappe’s work

Natasha Chuk

Joseph DeLappe is an American digital media artist with many seemingly contradictory allegiances. For him, there is no hierarchy between digital and analogue creative practices: he favours neither. Rather, utilising the physical properties of exhibition spaces, computer devices, material sculpture, and his own body, DeLappe explores the net- worked environments of social media, video games and other web-based platforms, such as Second Life,[i] through performance interventions, as he addresses social and political issues in large-scale physical and virtual ways. His projects engage both the transience of virtuality through emerging technologies and the relative permanence of material objects. The results are provocative, spirited, and demonstrative of how combining analogue and digital creative practices can yield compelling results. In his influential essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Repro- ducibility,[ii] Walter Benjamin identified the spielraum, or playspace, as a unique margin afforded by advanced technologies that allows creators to experiment with form, perception, and ultimately, experience. This concept is the basis of an examination of a selection of DeLappe’s work and creative approaches to consider their aesthetic, formal character, and outcomes with respect to how various technologies are used in combination for play, or experimentation, as part of the creative process.

DeLappe’s artistic oeuvre spans many categories and many of his projects are ongoing and provisional, taking shape in stages, with new elements added as the works change. His website organises his projects by the following categories: sculpture/installation, interventions/actions, game art/performance, draw/paint, and imaging, yet these labels seem to be applied for convenience and do not describe the intricacy or creative process of each project. Upon closer inspection, his creative process, which is focused on experimenting with combining analogue and digital processes in unique ways to test their outcomes, is consistent among his projects. Of his creative approach, DeLappe explains: ‘I think all of my work has a strong foot in my awareness of art history, both in terms of performance and sculpture, and whatever it is I’m working on I actually really like to bring, in a way, kind of old, analogue technologies or ways of interacting with digital systems into my pieces’.[iii] This approach is evident in many of his works, putting into practice some of the ideas Benjamin observed in 1936.

Benjamin’s analysis of advanced technology is a suitable model for understanding the relationship between different media and the roles of the artist and audience in DeLappe’s work. He wrote of ‘second technology’, which at the time included primarily film and photography, as having results that are ‘wholly provisional (it operates by means of experiments and endlessly varied test procedures), and ultimately lies “in play.”’[iv] MGandhi’s March in Second Life (2008) [fig. 1], for example, began with a 26-day digital march across the 3D virtual world of Second Life in a recreation of Mahatma Gandhi’s (1869–1948) real-world Salt March protest in 1930.[v] The ongoing exchange between virtual and material forms was crucial to this project, including: the synthetic virtual environment of Second Life, daily text-based blog entries by DeLappe, exhibitions in New York City, and numerous screenshots of virtual interactions, which were posted to DeLappe’s blog and the photo-sharing website Flickr. The project was then expanded to include printed 3D sculptures of DeLappe’s avatar, which were exhibited in physical space. DeLappe’s description of the project highlights its complexity:

Over the course of 26 days, from March 12 to April 6, 2008, using a treadmill customised for cyberspace, I re-enacted Mahatma Gandhi’s famous 1930 Salt March. The original 240-mile walk was made in protest of the British salt tax; my update of this seminal protest march took place at Eyebeam Art and Technology, NYC and in Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world. For this performance, I walked the entire 240 miles of the original march in real life and online in Second Life. My steps on the treadmill controlled the forward movement of my avatar, MGandhi Chakrabarti, enabling the live and virtual re-enactment of the march. Post re-enactment, I created a number of artefacts including 3D rapid prototyped printed sculptures and three monumental 17’ tall cardboard sculptures of my avatar on Second Life.[vi]

At the centre of MGandhi’s March in Second Life—a project that was dependent on but not limited to the virtual reality (VR) of Second Life—is the implementation of real life (RL) materiality and physical labour. DeLappe positioned himself virtually and physically at the centre of this project by combining a physical commitment alongside a virtual one, walking synchronously in RL with his avatar in VR. This calls to mind Christiane Paul’s view of the significance of the material objects tethered to digital art. She writes, ‘While immateriality and dematerialization are important aspects of new media art, it would be highly problematic to ignore the art’s material components and the hardware that makes it possible’.[vii] DeLappe’s work required the physical space of the gallery, where his physical treadmill-based performance took place, and the material interface necessary to interact in Second Life. VR design allows virtual interactions by end users through limited physical movements: swiping fingers across a touchscreen, clicking a mouse, or typing on a keyboard. Users can investigate the virtual world without addressing its dependence on material components, including the computer hardware. DeLappe, however, understands the human-computer relationship differently: neither human nor computer is entirely at the service of the other and the material components of his projects serve to reinforce the significance of materiality amid virtual creations. In this way, his work follows Tiziana Terranova’s ideas around linking materialities in networked environments. She writes, ‘The informational dimension of communication is not just about the successful delivery of a coded signal but also about contact and tactility, about architecture and design implying a dynamic modulation of material and social energies’.[viii] DeLappe recognises the possibilities and limits of different media, methods, and outputs, making necessary their crossover to carry out a project of this magnitude. Moreover, his work emphasises the significance of technological experimentation, managing the labour of trials and rectifying the frequency of errors that ultimately determine how and through what means the project will take form.

In this sense, the multifarious labels applied to DeLappe’s work demonstrate the ambiguity of a single category, which is unfit to fully encompass the character of his work. This follows the logic of the meaning behind the era of the post-medium condition. In an analysis using film as an example, Rosalind Krauss writes about the complications regarding how to accurately describe the work, stating ‘the medium or support for film being neither the celluloid strip of the images, nor the camera that filmed them, nor the projector that brings them to life in motion, nor the beam of light that relays them to the screen, nor that screen itself, but all of these taken together, including the audience’s position caught between the source of the light behind it and the image projected before its eyes’.[ix] DeLappe advances this idea by interweaving disparate analogue and digital components without giving them hierarchical assignments, resisting identification within vague taxonomies and instead creating work as the sum of many parts, including virtual participation with other avatars in Second Life. In MGandhi’s March in Second Life he establishes a collaborative human-computer exchange that also calls to mind the first line of American film theorist Bill Nichols’ essay The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems (1988), his answer to Benjamin’s essay. Nichols writes that the ‘computer is more than an object: it is also an icon and a metaphor that suggests new ways of thinking about ourselves and our environment, new ways of constructing images of what it means to be human and to live in a humanoid world’.[x] With this in mind, DeLappe’s computer is not his replacement, rather, the machine is a co-facilitator of creation and action. This is expressed in the way he describes his decision to physically walk the 242-mile distance of the Salt March: ‘By virtually walking as Gandhi in Second Life and also committing to physically walking the 240 miles on a treadmill, I am furthering my efforts to investigate online game spaces as sites for interventionist, non-violent, creative action’.[xi]

By this sentiment, in order to advance his investigation of virtual environments, DeLappe was also compelled to physically commit himself to this exploration. As he values the interactive engagement of the body as a whole with the networked environment, he draws on a vital element of contemporary interactive art practices, where individuals engage with art objects through their sensory capabilities. Media historian Erkki Huhtamo writes, ‘the idea of interactive art is intimately linked with touching,’[xii] requiring physical activation by a user. DeLappe raises the level of interaction and contact in RL by adding the activity of walking to clicking, swiping and typing actions, as he connects his physical environment and movements to his avatar and its virtual realities. Unlike other computer-based motion sensing technologies, especially in video game consoles—the Nintendo Wii detects movements in three dimensions, and Kinect for Xbox360 functions through human gestures and spoken commands—DeLappe’s design began with a banal physical object, a self-propelled treadmill. However, he customised it to become, as he describes, ‘basically a reed switch activated by magnets on the flywheel, hacked into a keyboard where I have closed the circuit on the forward arrow key—essentially fooling the keyboard as if one were continuously pressing the forward key’.[xiii] By his design, his physical movements on the treadmill sidestepped the keyboard-based interface normally used to navigate Second Life. This choice directly invokes Huhtamo’s idea of an interactive artwork that ‘challenges us to compare art with a whole range of other human activities—from work to play—where physical contact is expected’. Physical contact is expected here for interac- tive purposes, and further, it is the artwork: DeLappe’s physical march on the treadmill mimics his virtual march in Second Life, making the physical act essential to its corresponding virtual act. Though tethered, there is a defined split between physical and virtual space: the former is more closely associated with work while the latter engages play. Yet, as the artwork demonstrates, even those boundaries are not clearly defined. This is due in part to a general increased interest in or utility of gamification, the employment of, as Patrick Jagoda describes, ‘game mechanics in traditionally nongame activities’.[xiv] MGandhi’s March in Second Life is perhaps first a historical re- enactment, but it also invokes Gandhi’s leadership as a political activist in the fictional, largely playful expanse of Second Life. The physical march in RL shows DeLappe’s commitment to achieving a sense of accuracy in his re- enactment and the virtual correlate in Second Life allows for amusement and diversion in VR. Stephen Wilson reminds us, ‘Historically, the arts have spanned both the material and the representationalworking with images at the same time as they celebrated the substantiality and sensuality of real things’.[xv] Viewed in this way, this project demonstrates a balance between work (physical labour) and play (virtual exploration), as well as constructs meaning through material and virtual matter.

Where others might allow the use of advanced technologies to encourage shortcuts, interpreting waiting as a weakness or a setback in the creative process, DeLappe discourages the use of these technologies on the basis of their time saving capabilities. The attitude that technologies can or should benefit users who aim to remove trivial tasks from their process was anticipated and promoted by some early computer scientists like J.C.R. Licklider, who favoured the emerging man-computer symbiosis. He wrote, ‘In some instances, particularly in large computer-generated information and control systems, the human operators are responsible mainly for functions that it proved infeasible to automate’. He went on to say these are not symbiotic, rather ‘‘semi-automatic’ systems’ that began as ‘fully automatic but fell short of the goal’.[xvi] This observation recognized an imbalance between the symbiotic relationship between humans and computers, and favouritism toward relinquishing to computers what humans could not do automatically. Through MGandhi’s March in Second Life, DeLappe created a system that rests somewhere between the conveniences technologies afford and the durational, material creative practices of performance art. Unlike virtual movement via avatar, physical movement requires nourishment and rest to succeed in doing, but in subjecting his body to this recreation, DeLappe facilitates an entangled journey through real and virtual space. This follows what Warren Sacks observes with respect to art that challenges the use of technologies by default by returning the material body to the work, ‘The central artistic, aesthetic focus on the body is in sharp contrast with the scientific and engineering pragmatics that dematerialized the body over the course of the invention and development of contemporary information technologies’.[xvii] As such, DeLappe’s human-computer design materialises Benjamin’s concept of ‘second technology’, the kind that inadvertently distances humans from nature, yet is also situated ‘in play’. Benjamin described this combination, explaining that: ‘seriousness and play, rigour and license, are mingled in every work of art, though in very different proportions’, such that through advanced, or ‘second’ technologies, an artist produces ‘an interplay between nature and humanity’.[xviii] In other words, second technologies have an inherent distancing effect between humans and nature, and DeLappe tempers this inevitability by balancing the input of nature and the human body with computational instruction and interaction. This design advances the possibility of locating worthwhile affinities between humans and computers, using the latter as a tool for human exploration and creativity, particularly with respect to perception and sensorial experience.

The convergence of physical and virtual movement is a consistent vehicle for DeLappe to explore the relationship between physical and virtual spaces, but it also speaks to the way he relates to computers, favouring the potential for his subjective investigation of game spaces, through the conflation of physical and virtual movement and ultimately creative expression. Building on human-computer collaboration and self-expression, DeLappe created Self- Portrait as Monster Truck (2011) [fig. 2], a short video he made in Second Life. His avatar, Joseph Grommet, is composed entirely of the pixelated, repeated image of a monster truck. This representational choice is significant not for its accuracy as a self-portrait, rather as a work that questions the necessity of the human figure by reinforcing the limits of representation in a digital medium that is equipped to produce photorealistic outcomes. Paul writes, ‘Avatars as a new form of self-representation have been fertile ground for artistic experimentation’.[xix] The absurdity of the visual comparison between a human being—or any animal—and a cluster of monster trucks subverts the expectations of what Second Life is capable of achieving and questions the conventions of self-portraiture and avatar creation. It also addresses the relationship between avatar construction, imagination, and their real world effects. Using Second Life as part of a study on avatar creation, D. Fox Harrell and S. Veeragoudar Harrell discovered three prominent creative stances toward avatar construction: Everyday vs. Extraordinary graphical appearance; Mirror (1st person) vs. Character (3rd person); and Instrumental/ Playful. Self-Portrait as Monster Truck seems to follow the third creative approach, which encompasses a range of possibilities, including ‘engaging in imaginative identity play’.[xx] In this work, DeLappe not only exercises representational freedom of the digital self-portrait but also the unique affordances of the mechanics of Second Life, which allow the ability to virtually play-act as a machine and defy real world laws of gravity by flying through the virtual sky.

This creative approach again invokes Benjamin’s ideas of play with respect to technology. In Miriam Bratu Hansen’s analysis of several of his essays, she observes that Benjamin first recognized an important ‘shift in focus from the toy as object (Spielzeug) to playing (Spielen) as an activity’ and developed the idea of ‘playingwhether the child uses toys or improvises games with found objects, materials, and environments’ to emphasise ‘the child’s penchant for creative mimicry, for pretending to be somebody or something else’.[xxi] According to Benjamin, these child impulses extend into adulthood, where second technologies serve to provide the margin through which creative experiments take place. As Bratu Hansen points out, he wrote, ‘What is lost in the withering of semblance, or decay of the aura, in works of art is matched by a huge gain in room-for-play (spielraum)’.[xxii] According to Benjamin, what DeLappe loses in terms of aura–the self- portrait’s ties to his handmade workmanship and its uniqueness–he gains in a playful margin for experimentation and creative expression. Self-Portrait as Monster Truck seems to build on this concept, working toward room-for- play by disrupting the pre-programmed strictures that favour the form and actions of avatars, and thereby moving away from representational likeness. DeLappe’s description alone of ‘multiple copies of a monster truck walking through the sky’ highlights the playfulness, almost ridiculousness, behind this creation and draws attention to the spielraum, or playspace, of VR to give form to DeLappe’s creative whims and experiments. Moreover, by calling this work a self-portrait, he again demonstrates an alliance between the self and digital form. This calls to mind an observation made by Michael Burden and Sean Gouglas in their analysis and potential of the algorithmic experience of video games in particular. They write, ‘the increasingly algorithmic nature of everyday functions and interactions creates an opportunity for self-reflexive videogames to be especially relevant as an artistic medium’.[xxiii] While Second Life is not strictly a video game, it shares video game mechanics and technical functions.

The connection between virtual and physical interactions and materialities is a theme that motivates most of DeLappe’s works, particularly the installation/actions dead-in-iraq (2006–2011) [fig. 3]. dead-in-iraq  is a site- specific work, named after the user identity that DeLappe selected for his interventionist participation in America’s Army, a multiplayer, tactical first-person shooter video game developed as a recruitment tool by the United States Army. The game is freely available and is designed to offer players an experience as a virtual solider training for America’s Army. DeLappe’s intervention in the game commenced in March of 2006, so as ‘to roughly coincide with the third anniversary of the start’ of the U.S. military’s involvement in Iraq,[xxiv] and was ongoing for five years until the US officially withdrew their remaining troops in Iraq. He participated in the game as a virtual protester, dropped his virtual weapons and, through the text communication enabling system in the game, recited the names, details (age, service branch, and rank) and dates of death of American soldiers killed in combat or friendly fire as part of the long- term U.S. military campaign in Iraq that began in 2003. Standing in protest within the game’s virtual battlefield, he continued his recitation until his avatar was killed. Because of the unique features of this video game’s mechanics, which allow for activity beyond the expiration of a character during gameplay, he continued his intervention: ‘After death, I hover over my dead avatar’s body and continue to type. Upon being re-incarnated in the next round, I continue the cycle’.[xxv] As Paul notes, ‘Virtual worlds offer a performative environment for realizing what is not possible or at least difficult to achieve in the physical world’.[xxvi]

In dead-in-iraq, DeLappe uses America’s Army as his chosen site to specifically address a gaming audience embroiled in army training. In this sense, DeLappe’s body and the physical world—with all of its social and political concerns—are analogue media that collaborate with digital media—the computer that hosts and connects to the virtual, social environment of America’s Army—to engage a peaceful anti-war demonstration and memorial to those who perished in the conflict. He fused virtual performance—his delivery unerring in its tone and persistence, as he ignored initial hostility from confused players—and political protest. This suggests the potential for online gaming spaces to serve as unique public spheres, or forums, through which political protest and engagement can take place. As with many political protests, DeLappe’s was met with resistance. The so-called magic circle of gameplay was disrupted by his unaggressive but incessant recitation, prompting gamers to question his actions. One asked ‘dead-in-iraq’, ‘What’s your point?’ Without breaking character, DeLappe disregarded questions and taunts from this and other players, and continued without responding. This raises questions about the political veracity of this work as well as the relationship between contemporary art, society, and political issues. DeLappe addressed these issues in a separate interview, noting the questions that come to his mind as he approaches works like these, such as: ‘How does art function in our society? Are we a separate kind of realm or are there ways of actually connecting on some basic, real level with the world?’[xxvii] These connections appear to be forged by DeLappe’s awareness of the operational character of second technologies and the benefits of their experimental combinations with other creative approaches, namely ways of bridging the gap between real world actions and virtual settings. After some initial discomfort and verbal retaliation, in each performance of dead-in-iraq, the America’s Army participants continued gameplay despite DeLappe’s persistence. Over the course of the project, he added 4484 names to the dead-in-iraq memorial, which were commemorated both fleetingly, as he announced them during gameplay to a select audience, and through a twenty- minute video documentation created at the end of the project (viewable on DeLappe’s website and YouTube).[xxviii]

dead-in-iraq invokes Benjamin’s concept of the spielraum both figuratively and literally: the dynamics of a virtual social environment provided a stage for DeLappe’s recitation through the disruption of gameplay, and thus game space. Normally, dying by gunshot in the virtual realm of video games signals a setback in achieving the goals outlined in the game. Players have the option to return to the game, fully restored, for another chance to advance in the game, but DeLappe saw the opportunity to exploit a loophole in America’s Army, which allowed for avatar action beyond character death. He continued his perform- ance in his character’s post-death state, which inevitably alluded to the dead soldiers to whom he referred and figuratively joined in this virtual demonstration. Given the final outcome of the projecta completed memorialthe project appears to have been less focused on proposing peaceful alternatives for war and was more focused on creating and performing within the in-game playspace.

This suggests that a valuable part of this project was using America’s Army as the stage for this performance to not only address DeLappe’s intended audience but also to construct this memorial in this particular virtual site. As Alexander Galloway writes, ‘One of the central theoretical issues in video gaming is how and in what way one can make connections between the gaming world and the real world, both from the inside outward in the form of affective action, and from the outside inward in the form of realistic modeling’.[xxix] In this sense, DeLappe temporarily occupied America’s Army to use it as a relevant backdrop for his memorial, as the game represents a connection between virtual gaming and real world military training.

DeLappe’s series of drone projects—Cowardly Drones (2013) [fig. 4], The Drone Project (2014), and The 1,000 Drones—A Participatory Memorial—address a different issue related to combat and military action, primarily through the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, of the U.S. military. Drones are controlled by ground operators through teleoperation or, more technically, waypoint-based routing, which refers to a configuration of invisible points used for navigation. Unpiloted, they move and carry out tasks autonomously, having been programmed to sense, capture images, and dynamically respond to their environ- ments in various ways. They have sparked controversy for a number of reasons. They have been known to errantly fall from the sky in various parts of the United States, causing millions of dollars of damage and a general sense of unease.[xxx] Though their capabilities and purpose range dramatically, they are prone to system failures and mistakes and, in these events, the centrality of their control, and thus accountability for their errors, are unclear, making them difficult to monitor and sometimes understand. Renata Lemos Morais writes, ‘In drone technologies there is a double-logic of inaccessibility: at the same time in which drones are blurring the distinction between public and private space, between geographical boundaries of overseas warfare and domestic surveillance, they are also making accountability harder due to the very nature of drone operations, which are mostly covert’.[xxxi] DeLappe’s drone projects are a response to these negative reports and observations, especially with respect to the recent dramatic increase in drone use by the U.S. military. Peter Asaro writes, ‘Since 2001, the number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the US military grew from 70 to 7000’.[xxxii] This significant increase in drone use has resulted in an uncertain number of civilian casualties. Asaro continues,

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates the total number of people killed by the 344 drone strikes so far in Pakistan as between 2562 and 3325, with as many as 881 of these being confirmed civilian deaths (Bureau of Investigative Journalism 2012). Casualties from drones strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been tracked or analyzed by journalists, nor does the military release their own estimates, but it is likely to be significantly higher given the greater number of missions flown in those war zones.[xxxiii]

Directed at the U.S. military, one journalist describes the use of drones as by, ‘power-damaged people’ who ‘have been granted the chance to fulfill one of humankind’s abiding fantasies: to vaporise their enemies, as if with a curse or a prayer, effortlessly and from a safe distance’.[xxxiv] The term ‘cowardly drone’ has consequently emerged as a popular colloquialism. The identifier ‘cowardly’ refers to the severed connection between command and action, and the relative anonymity with which missives are deployed. Noting these rebukes, DeLappe’s projects address different aspects of the use of drones and their outcomes, including the memorialisation of innocent victims of the drones’ targets. The series began with Cowardly Drones, a digital image online intervention. For this project, DeLappe collected images of U.S. military drones that are presently in use and digitally vandalised them with the word COWARDLY, placed prominently across the body of the drone, and reposted them online with the intention of propagating his political stance against them upon their discovery by those who search for them via popular web browsers. The publicly available digital images became the canvas for political protest; digital posters that capitalise on the ridiculing label attributed to drones and their operators. The goal behind this project is to contribute to or altogether replace existing images of U.S. military drones online in the hope that the public might become more aware of their failures and negative outcomes. The Drone Project (2014) and The 1,000 Drones—A Participatory Memorial more elaborately demonstrate DeLappe’s negative opinion of military drone use and establish a connection between analogue and digital creative practices.

Both of these projects are sculptures/installations that create binaries between the unmanned, immaterial forces of drones versus physical, highly subjective group participation, and digital technology versus the individual material object. The Drone Project was created as part of an artist residency at the Center for Creativity and the Arts at Fresno State University in California. With the help of 3D modelling software and over 100 students, interns and volunteers, DeLappe created a ‘full-to-scale sculptural reproduction of a MQ1 Predator drone’ that memorialises, through handwritten application across the body of the drone (in English and Urdu), ‘the names of 334 civilian drone casualties from Pakistan’. The condition and arrangement of the drone sculpture were constructed to look as though it had made a crash landing, underscoring the unpredictability of pre-programmed autonomy and the frequency with which drones are known to unexpectedly fail. This project bears similarities to dead-in-iraq as the residency culminated in a performance event at the instal- lation site in which the names of the victims were read aloud. Moreover, by creating the project through sizable collaborative effort, DeLappe engages the physical material input of participants with the immaterial, abstract event of the drone failure. Similarly, The 1,000 Drones—A Participatory Memorial builds on the group participatory model used in The Drone Project by opening the work to the potential for a larger community-driven contribution. DeLappe used 1000 scale paper replicas of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone and invited participants to write the name of a civilian drone casualty on the craft’s wing. The paper drones were threaded and exhibited in cascading chains that hang from the ceiling. DeLappe’s description of the project offers his motivation and creative approach:

The project is an adaptation of the 1,000 Cranes or ‘Senbazuru’ tradition from Japan. This tradition holds that anyone who folds one thousand cranes will be granted a wish. Since World War II the tradition has been associated with the atomic attacks upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima – the folding of the cranes has become a wish for peace. Through the act of participating in this work of creative remembrance, the intention is for we, as Americans, to recognize and remember those innocents killed in our ongoing Global War on Terror.[xxxv]

The names included in the project were pulled from lists of drone casualties that took place in Pakistan and Yemen. DeLappe also notes that the list of ‘names of civilian drone casualties from [American] wars in Afghanistan and Iraq does not exist—these victims are noted in this work as “unknown”’.[xxxvi] As in his dead-in-iraq and The Drone Project, this detail stresses the importance of naming the victims, if only through the recognition of their anonymous depar- tures. The paper drones act as material representations of the victims’ absence, becoming the objects through which they are memorialised and formally connected to the unpiloted object that killed them. Compared to some of DeLappe’s other projects, especially MGandhi’s March in Second Life, The 1,000 Drones—A Participatory Memorial favours the physical, relational, and material aspects of artistic creation, downplaying second technologies as if to allude, in some ways, to similarities between them and the drones themselves. This signals recognition on DeLappe’s part of the ways that digital and analogue creative processes can be used in various combinations and manipulated to engage the most relevant aspects of each to fulfill the needs of his projects, which encapsulate the spectrum of material and virtual possibilities, particularly through experimenta- tion. With this in mind, his ability to organise and mobilise users of networked digital media, such as video games, and combine virtual and real world actions, would benefit from more developed gamification, or directed play, to affect real world change. Recently, numerous efforts have been made to encourage social change via video game platforms. One way is through establishing a new genre of video games known as ‘newsgames’, a digital game that accompanies a written text to provide further understanding by way of model and virtual experience. Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer describe it as, ‘synthesizing the principles of the print spread into an experience rather than a description’.[xxxvii] Bogost’s flash-based newsgame Cutthroat Capitalism, for example, accompanied a print story of the same name in an online issue of Wired magazine in 2009.[xxxviii]

Other games have emerged, which are designed to place players in the role of someone who is directly affected by a certain problem. Referencing the game Darfur is Dying (2006), created by the U.S.-based design studio Take Action Games,[xxxix] Bogost writes, ‘If a game about the Sudanese genocide is meant to foster empathy for terrible real-world situations in which the players fortunate enough to play videogames might intervene, then those games would do well to invite us to step into the smaller, more uncomfortable shoes of the downtrodden rather than the larger, well-heeled shoes of the powerful’.[xl] The hope and enthusiasm surrounding games that are designed to educate and inform with the goal of affecting real world change, often referred to as ‘social issues games’, also are espoused by game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal, whose research focuses on the problem-solving benefits of play and the goal-driven, collaborative settings of video games’.[xli] This perspective recognizes some of the unique features inherent in most video games. Similarly, in an analysis of popular commercial video games, Shawna Kelly and Bonnie Nardi argue, ‘Because games encourage players to be both creative and strategic in coming up with solutions to problems, they are useful tools for proactively thinking about the future and making sense of complex system models’.[xlii]

By combining virtual and real world engagements through his projects, DeLappe seems to recognize the potential of using existing games and virtual worlds as readymade sites for intervention, creative action, and to raise awareness about real world issues. As an artist, he guides participants through a combination of visual art, performance, intervention, and installation to make his ideas accessible on multifarious levels. Paul notes digital art’s ‘connections to previous art movements, among them Dada, Fluxus, and conceptual art,’ which ‘focus on concept, event, and audience participation, as opposed to unified material objects’.[xliii] As his works demonstrate, DeLappe operates with and within the creative space between transient exchanges—via performance and networked interactions—and more durable objects—like material sculptures and installations—to address social and political issues. The works that balance physical and virtual elements potentially engage a larger audience and thus affect greater real world change. Moreover, they maximise the spielraum, or playspace, of media technologies and encourage audiences to thoughtfully consider both the relationship between facets of ‘work’ and ‘play’ in created objects and emphasize the relationship between art and society.


  1. Joseph DeLappe, The Salt Satyagraha Online: Gandhi’s March to Dandi in Second Life, 2008. Screen shot of performance reenactment in Second Life.
  2. Joseph DeLappe, Self-Portrait as Monster Truck, 2011. Screen shot of looped video.
  3. Joseph DeLappe, dead-in-iraq, 2006–2011. Screen shot of game- based performance intervention.
  4. Joseph DeLappe, Predator Drone—‘Cowardly’ from Cowardly Drones, 2013. Digital image.


[i] Launched in 2003, Second Life is a 3D virtual online environment in which users, known as residents, can join for free. See http://

[ii] Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility’, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3 1935–1938, trans. Edmund Jephcott, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 101–133.

[iii] Joseph DeLappe, interview by James Chimpton for Steve Lambert and Jeff Crouse, Neighborhood Public Radio, 91.9 FM, August 2008, accessed 20 October 2014, see

[iv] Benjamin, 107.

[v] On March 20, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi, a preeminent Indian independent movement leader against British rule, led a group from Sabermanti, arriving on April 5, 1930 to the coastal town of Dandi, approximately 240 miles away, in what came to be known as the Salt March. He and tens of thousands of followers made salt from seawater in peaceful protest against a British tax on salt, which imposed an expense on an Indian staple that was otherwise available in abundance and for free. Many joined Gandhi’s lead and made or found salt deposits, which led to approximately 60,000 arrests, including Gandhi’s.

[vi] Joseph DeLappe, ‘The Salt Satyagraha Online: Gandhi’s March to Dandi in Second Life’, Joseph DeLappe, accessed 13 August 2014,

[vii] Christiane Paul, ‘The Myth of Immateriality: Presenting and Preserving New Media’, in Media Art Histories, ed. Oliver Grau (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), 252.

[viii] Tiziana Terranova, Networked Culture: Politics for the Information Age (London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2004), 8.

[ix] Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 25.

[x] Bill Nichols, ‘The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems’, in The New Media Reader, eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 22.

[xi] Joseph DeLappe, ‘Sunday, March 16th start point…’, Reenactment: The Salt Satyagraha Online, 16 March 2008, accessed 25 October 2014,

[xii] Erkki Huhtamo. ‘Twin—Touch—Test—Redux: Media Archaeological Approach to Art, Interactivity, and Tactility’, in Media Art Histories, ed. Oliver Grau (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), 71.

[xiii] Joseph DeLappe, ‘Starting location March 20, 2008…’, Reenactment: The Salt Satyagraha Online, 20 March 2008, accessed 20 October 2014, http://saltmarchsecondlife.wordpress. com/2008/03/20/starting-location-march-20-2008/.

[xiv] Patrick Jagoda, ‘Gamification and Other Forms of Play’, boundary 2 40, no. 2 (2013): 113–144, 10.1215/01903659-2151821.

[xv] Stephen Wilson, Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 24

[xvi] J.C.R. Licklider, ‘Man-Computer  Symbiosis’, in The New Media Reader, eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 75.


[xvii] Warren Sack, ‘Aesthetics of Information Visualization’, in Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts, eds. Margot Lovejoy, Christiane Paul, and Victoria Vesna (Bristol and Chicago: Intellect, 2011), 139.

[xviii] Benjamin 107.

[xix] Christiane Paul, Digital Art, second ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 239.

[xx] D. Fox Harrell and S. Veeragoudar Harrell, ‘Imagination, Computation, and Self-Expression: Situated Character and Avatar Mediated Identity’, Leonardo Electronic Almanac DAC 09: After Media: Embodiment and Context 17, no. 2 (2012): 75.

[xxi] Miriam Bratu Hansen, ‘Room-for-Play: Benjamin’s Gamble with Cinema’, Canadian Journal of Film Studies 13, no. 1 (2004): 5.

[xxii] Ibid.,10.

[xxiii] Michael Burden and Sean Gouglas, ‘The Algorithmic Experience: Portal as Art’, Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research no. 12, issue 2 (2012): 1604–7982.

[xxiv] Joseph DeLappe, ‘dead-in-iraq’, Joseph DeLappe, accessed 14 August 2014,

[xxv] Joseph DeLappe, ‘dead-in-iraq’, Joseph DeLappe, accessed 14 August 2014,

[xxvi] Christiane Paul, Digital Art, second ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 244.

[xxvii] Joseph DeLappe, interview by James Chimpton for Steve Lambert and Jeff Crouse, Neighborhood Public Radio, 91.9 FM, August 2008, see inside-the-artists-studio-with-james-chimpton-absml/.

[xxviii] See

[xxix] Alexander R. Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 71.

[xxx] See Jordan Crandall, ‘Ontologies of a Wayward Drone’, Theory Beyond the Codes, 2 November 2007, accessed 20 October 2014,, and Arthur Kroker and Marilouise Kroker, ‘Night Sky Drones’, Theory Beyond the Codes, 23 September 2014, accessed 20 October 2014, http://www.ctheory. net/articles.aspx?id=732.

[xxxi] Renata Lemos Morais, ‘Sky High, Skin Deep: Dark Technologies of Mediation’, Theory Beyond the Codes, 15 September 2004, accessed 20 October 2014,

[xxxii] Peter Asaro, ‘The Labor of Surveillance and Bureaucratized Killing: New Subjectivities of Military Drone Operators’, Social Semiotics 23, no. 2 (2013): 196–224, esp. 196.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 197.

[xxxiv] George Monbiot, ‘With its deadly drones, the US is fighting a coward’s war’,, last modified Monday 30 January 2012, accessed 20 October 2014,

[xxxv] Joseph DeLappe, ‘1000 DronesA Participatory Memorial’, Joseph DeLappe, accessed 13 August 2014, sculptureinstallation/the-1000-drones—a-participatory-memorial/.

[xxxvi] See project description,—a-participatory-memorial/.

[xxxvii] Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari, and Bobby Schweizer, Newsgames: Journalism at Play (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010), 2.

[xxxviii] See Scott Carney, ‘Cutthroat Capitalism’, Wired Magazine, October 2009 and flash-based game, accessed 20 October 2014,

[xxxix] See Take Action Games, ‘Darfur is Dying’, accessed 20 October 2014,

[xl] Ian Bogost, How to Do Things with Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 19.

[xli] See Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011).

[xlii] Shawna Kelly and Bonnie Nardi, ‘Playing with Sustainability: Using Video Games to Simulate Futures of Scarcity’, First Monday 19, no. 5 (2014), accessed 2 October 2014,

[xliii] Christiane Paul, Digital Art, second ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 11.

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