"Dead in Iraq" (DeLappe, 2006)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
When examining the impact of technology on our daily lives, the abundance of digital experiences that involve learning new hardware devices, patrolling hostile gaming environments, and dealing with the physical after effects of extended computer use are becoming commonplace. Examining most of these digital circumstances and the media that supports them is Reno, Nevada based artist Joseph DeLappe. From his public interventions in networked games such as demonstrating against the US's ongoing conflict in Iraq with "Dead In Iraq" to investigating the aesthetic effects of extended mouse usage with the "Artist Mouse" project, DeLappe's work explores both the political conflicts between mass produced pop cultural objects and the devices that manipulate and control them. Gizmodo caught up with DeLappe to discuss his work and approach to creating projects that challenge not only our perception of how we use electronic products but why we engage with them in the first place.
Interview and images after the jump...
Name: Joseph Delappe
Education: MFA Pictorial Arts, CADRE Institute, San Jose State University.
Affiliation: Chair/Associate Professor, Department of Art, University of Nevada, Reno.
Exhibitions: "ex_XX:: post position" CADRE Anniversary Exhibition to coincide with ISEA '06, Works/San Jose, San Jose, California, 2006, "Simply 7", Stremmel Galleries, Reno, Nevada, 2006, Stuttgarter/Filmwinter, Festival of Expanded Media", Stuttgart, Germany (received the Wand 5 Award), 2004, "East of Fallon, Highway 50, Nevada", Media Art Gallery, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV, 2003, "Art Sheffield 03 - City Wide Contemporary Art Event", Persistence Works, Sheffield, England, 2003, "Office Space 2 - Manager's Games", d3ms collaborative, installation, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2003.
GIZMODO: In your project, "Dead in Iraq", you enter the networked PC game "America's Army" (AA) with the character name "Dead-in-Iraq" and manually type in the name, age, service branch, and date of death of every service person who has died in Iraq since the beginning of the conflict. Despite getting killed by actual players in the networked game, once "reborn" you continue to type the names until you are done. Since AA was initially created by the military as a recruiting device, how has this reality affected the reception of your project? Do you encounter much resistance by both troops who play the game and/or civilian supporters of the military effort in Iraq?
JD: The reception of this project has been varied. In the game, I am generally pilloried by other players. Comments such as "stfu dead in iraq", "nobody cares", "shut up" etc. are commonplace. Occasionally I am team killed and often find myself kicked from particular servers. This is, of course, to be expected - as an act of online remembrance and civil disobedience, the work truly raises the general ire of those participating in this game environment. What has been fascinating and unanticipated by me is the level of dialogue that has ensued on the various blogs and comment spaces associated with online news stories regarding the project. On the blogs, the reactions are roughly 50-50 with righteous gamers furious that I would impose myself into any game space for any reason other than to play the game ("we are trying to escape", etc). The project is often dismissed as chat spam. Others are more thoughtful in their consideration of the work - considering this taxpayer-funded recruiting/marketing game as an appropriate space for such an act of memorial and protest. I have received emails and engaged in online dialog with veterans, soldiers, and, in one instance, the relative of a soldier who had been killed in the war. I have received hate emails, been flamed mercilessly - balanced by respectful dialogue and input from those questioning or supporting my efforts.
"Heart Mouse" (DeLappe, 1997)
GIZMODO: Your "Heart Mouse" took two ordinary Macintosh mice and created a hybrid device in the shape of a heart. How does this morphing of physical shape effect the use of the device and why did you choose a "heart" shape as a final configuration?
JD: The "Heart Mouse" was one of the first pieces made for the "Mouse Series". The piece is related to my first mouse project, the "Vagina Mouse". I started working with Apple mice soon after completing a significant installation project, "Masturbatory Interactant" which explored computer interaction, male sexual obsession through a frustrating automated mechanical/digital process. The "Vagina Mouse" was a simple, yet direct, culmination of the concepts involved in the aforementioned installation piece. The "Heart Mouse" was, perhaps, a softer expression of similar ideas. During this era Apple equipment was made with a surface oddly similar to human skin - complete with texture that was roughly equivalent to pores. The "Vagina Mouse" and the "Heart Mouse" both work to bring the hidden essence of industrial design and ergonomics to the surface. I eventually gave the "Heart Mouse" a good friend for a wedding present - he and his bride had met online in a chat room.
"Mouse Surveillance System" (DeLappe, 2001)
GIZMODO: With "Mouse Surveillance System" you took an Apple Pro Mouse and affixed a video camera on a custom built mount in order to record all of the user's mouse movements in real time. The movements and sounds from its everyday use are captured, cataloged, and presented as a video installation. Why did you choose the mouse for this piece and what was the most surprising thing you discovered about how people use this ubiquitous input device?
JD: I created the "Mouse Surveillance System" as a way to track my mouse movements during game play (the work complements "The Artist's Mouse"). The limited lateral motion of the mouse back and forth across the mouse pad is complemented by lifting and dropping of the mouse - creating dramatic imagery that was unexpected. I used this device to create a short video, with sound that is projected, in the installation, upon a floating screen in the shape of a mouse pad. The mouse-mounted camera creates a video image that is at once fluid and constrained. My intention was to create a context for the consideration of obsessive mouse activity. Gaming is crucial to this installation as to much of my other work exploring mouse movement. The extreme motion of the mouse during game play offers an opportunity a video study of obsessive mouse activity.
"The Artist's Mouse" (DeLappe, 1999)
GIZMODO: Similar to the "Mouse Surveillance System", "The Artist's Mouse" affixed a pencil to a regular mouse and replaced a mouse pad with a sheet of paper so that every movement could be marked, drawn, and catalogued in real-time. How did this prosthetic attachment effect the way people used their mice? What were you trying to say about the daily dependence / addiction we have to our computer mice?
JD: "The Artist's Mouse" and "Mouse Surveillance System" have not been used by anyone save for myself. This is in part due to my skepticism regarding "interactive art", but more so as these devices are, quite literally, my art making tools. "The Artist's Mouse" was also initially inspired by my [other] installation work, "Masturbatory Interactant" (1996-7). The work involved a laser barcode reader, a pen-like device that randomly scanned bar codes covering the surface of three rotating drums on a kinetic sculpture. Over time, the continuous motion of the drums and the spring-loaded, mechanized arm holding the scanner to the surface of the drums deteriorated the integrity of the barcodes - a repetitive, mechanical action that slowly worked to scrape away at the printed barcodes. The resultant marks looked a bit like drawings made by a seismograph. These marks eventually inspired the creation of "The Artist's Mouse".
The computer mouse, the basic interface technology, became the focus of my creative investigations into interactivity, offering the chance to work on small, discrete objects that could be artistically transformed in a matter of days as opposed to the aforementioned project which took two years to complete. One of the first pieces I made as part of the series was "The Artist's Mouse", incorporating an aluminum appendage and compass arm as an enhancement for my Apple Desktop mouse. This invention called for activity. A nascent interest in computer gaming for soon became intertwined with this new invention. The use of this device to attach traditional artist materials to my mouse was first utilized for game oriented works such as "Playing Unreal", 1998. For this work, I replaced my mouse pad with drawing paper, roughly 10" squares, upon which I recorded, through frenetic, abstract marks, my progress in the game. The rapid mouse movements inherent to first person shooter (FPS) game play were ideally suited to create works that were wholly unexpected, elegant and curiously aesthetic. I utilized "The Artist's Mouse" to create a number of gaming related projects including "Playing Chess", using a black sumi-ink and brush, and "Work/Play" to record all of my computer activity over a period of three months, creating three circular drawings of graphite on 22" square paper.
I view each drawing as a recording of an abstracted process - physical records of the virtual mapped through a performative action. The time spent engaged in computer game play often defined not only the actual realization of the artwork itself but the physical dimensions of the marks, structure and composition - all related directly to the level of play, winning, losing, living, dying. These works represent an examination of interactivity through a kind of reversal of process - transient game play transformed into permanence, in a kind of forced feedback loop. These past few months I have returned to using "The Artist's Mouse" after a hiatus of several years. All the original mouse drawings were destroyed in a catastrophic flood of my basement studio this past New Year's Eve here in Reno, Nevada. As a way of reclaiming these works and the process used in their creation, I have started a new series of mouse drawings and updated "The Artist's Mouse" into "The Artist's Mouse.3" using a new, Apple Pro Mouse.
"Joystick Ball" (DeLappe, 2002)
GIZMODO:"Joystick Ball" is a tangled up collection of joysticks from past to present, signifying an undeniable similarity between consumer gaming input devices. What was your intention with this piece and what types of future input devices do you envision for home console hardware?
JD: If one carefully considers the nature of interface peripherals: computer mice, joysticks, game controllers- these are all truly devices of abstraction. [They] have no real utilitarian use outside of their required context connected to a computer. Consider the word "peripheral", these are literally secondary devices for "interaction" with machines. These are clumsy attempts towards allowing humans to achieve access to technologically mediated experiences. The joysticks incorporated into a sculptural ball, with the cabling flowing away from the construction is on the one hand a purely formal, sculptural expression but at the same time a fully loaded conceptual object. I think of the work as a re-organizing project - a way of creating an organic, almost living object. This work and others using game consoles and mice are ongoing explorations of human machine interface technologies. In a way, I am trying to explore interactivity by simply focusing on these devices - turning them into artworks is a way to further amplify their essential uselessness.
"War Movie" (DeLappe, 2005)
GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?
JD: Prior to the destruction of my studio space, I had been working on a major new project that incorporated live, networked video, highly realistic miniature dioramas as kinetic sculptures, all to be incorporated into a work entitled "War Movie". This piece involves the creation of realistic, miniature dioramas that will function as tiny movie sets. I am turning my small basement studio into a miniature movie studio where I will be creating an ongoing, live edited "War Movie" that will be transmitted in real-time, full-motion video onto the internet. The dioramas are inspired, and at times directly copied from infamous photographs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dioramas will be kinetic - some on slowly spinning platforms, others undulating. The dioramas will each be recorded by one of four cameras variously positioned. Each of these cameras is connected to a custom made digital switching/editing circuit board that randomly selects one of the four cameras before switching to another camera view. The resulting live edited image from the kinetic dioramas will simulate a documentary style image that will constantly be fed to the Internet using Axis Video Server technology. The intent is to mimic the style and substance of war documentary footage utilizing a synthesis of analog sets and special effects with digital recording and transmission technologies.
I had been working on this piece for just under two years to begin transmission this past February when the entire project was destroyed in the flood. I am currently in the process of re-thinking the project [since] almost nothing was salvageable from the project. I do intend to go forward and start this project anew starting this fall with the possibility of incorporating live projection using HD cameras and projector of the video signal in a given installation space in concert with the networked video transmission of the imagery. I am also continuing to revisit my mouse drawings and will continue to record all of my mouse activity into a growing series of new works. I also intend to keep working on the growing "Mouse Mandala" - I anticipate moving into a new university sponsored studio space this coming fall - this large space should allow for this work to be completed. I anticipate that this work will eventually be at minimum 25' in diameter. I will also be continuing with the "Dead-In-Iraq" project until the end of the war.