Artist, author and anti-war activist Joseph DeLappe forges digital protest

Artist Joseph DeLappe came to the Konover Auditorium to share his unique experiences relating to his work with “mixed reality” artistic protest in the fusion of digital spaces and reality. (Courtesy/UC San Diego)

Artist Joseph DeLappe came to the Konover Auditorium to share his unique experiences relating to his work with “mixed reality” artistic protest in the fusion of digital spaces and reality. (Courtesy/UC San Diego)

An active member of the video game and digital art community since 1983, artist Joseph DeLappe came to the Konover Auditorium to share his unique experiences relating to his work with “mixed reality” artistic protest in the fusion of digital spaces and reality.

DeLappe began to conceptualize his theme of performance pieces in public digital spaces when he had the idea of getting other art students together to recite a scene from the hit TV show “Friends” in an early online shooter game called “Quake,” where public servers host players from around the world to shoot and compete.

“When it first started out, I had no idea what the response would be. It was an experiment to see if these digital town squares of the world could possibly be a new space for dialogue and performance art,” DeLappe said.

After receiving a large amount of attention from the projects that followed this idea, DeLappe began to move toward putting a more powerful message behind his public art pieces. Provoked by seeing the attention gained by the design contest to memorialize the fall of the World Trade Center, he felt that memorials to the deaths of American soldiers or civilians don’t proportionally represent the number of deaths on the side of the opposition.

Certain controversial and thought provoking artwork soon followed this newly forged theme like conducting another performance piece in a modern military online shooter game called “America’s Army,” created by the U.S. to peak interest in military recruitment. Similar to old games like “Quake,” it is free to play and open to the public. DeLappe would then enter games, drop his virtual weapon and use the chat feature of the game to post listings of U.S. soldiers that had died in Iraq.

The responses he received from the gaming community were mixed and became the topic of many message board threads. Over time, people took notice and DeLappe’s work became the topic of articles through WIRED magazine and other notable news sources.

“For me, the memorial work he did during game play of an online video game designed to recruit young people into the military was a very powerful juxtaposition and was unlike any protest I had seen before,” said sixth-semester digital media and design major Fabio Ufheil.

Carrying this momentum forward, DeLappe shifted his focus to drones to portray them in a light he saw fit as a cowardly form of a weapon. One of his projects was in collaboration with all disciplines of students at the Fresno State University campus. Here, he built a one-to-one ratio, full sized drone out of plastic polygon sheets and positioned it on a prominent lawn on campus, set in a crashed position. Later an event was held that engaged students by having them write the date and name of Iraqi deaths on the body of the drone in permanent marker.

“I thought the scale drone piece on the college campus lawn was the most powerful installation he did. I actually served in Iraq when Obama was increasing the number and utilization of the drones and had to live in the local villages as part of the assignment we were on. When the drones were increased, we had to experience terrible things like the news of neighboring villages losing children to drone strike. These are weapons of mass destruction and people don’t know it yet. It just really feels good to see that kind of awareness being made,” retired military member James Seward said.

DeLappe closed his talk with some thought-provoking dialogue from the audience by answering a number of deep questions about his past and future art works and philosophies. Lastly, the audience was welcomed to the front of the stage to come and stamp their paper bills with the green drone stamp to become part of his art activist movement and post them online. You can see more of DeLappe’s work at killbox.info and www.delappe.net.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.