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Media art as a mode of intervention has taken many forms. From 1996 to 2002, for example, Yucef Merhi’s hacked into Hugo Chavez’s emails and displayed them in a piece titled Maximum Security (1996-2002). More recently, the German artist duo that works under the moniker of UBERMORGEN presented another Web-based intervention titled Google Will Eat Itself. This virtual, auto-cannibalism intends to “generate money by serving Google text advertisements on a network of hidden Websites. With this money we automatically buy Google shares. We buy Google via its own advertisement! Google eats itself - but in the end "we" own it!”

More recently, however, this sub-genre of media art has been utilized by the artist Joe Delappe. Delappe has been an artist-in-resident at Eyebeam, which is New York City’s premier exhibition space for media art. There are two projects that he is currently working on; one is called Dead-in-Iraq, and the other was based on Mohatma’s Ghandi’s famous 1930 salt walk march in protest of the British salt tax. The project lasted 26 days in which Delappe used a treadmill that he built as the physical counterpart to the peregrination conducted in cyberspace. DeLappe made the 240 mile trek at Eyebeam as well as in Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world. His other piece titled Dead-in Iraq was no less political, though obviously more pertinent in its response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Delappe began this work-in-progress in March of 2003, and entails his intervention into an online U.S. Army recruiting game called “America’s Army.” This game can be played by anyone, and consists of a kind of virtual training ground where players can “kill” each other.  

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While some players have more insidious online names like “Seek & Destroy,” and “Duke-The-Nuke,” Delappe enters the virtual killing fray in “America’s Army” with a moniker that is the title of his project: Dead-in-Iraq. The irony of Delappe’s intervention is that he does not try to engage any of the other players, that is, he does not try to “kill” them. The virtual landscape on which this killing game occurs runs the gamut of simulated backdrops including simulacra of Middle Eastern locales such as a virtual Baghdad. Although other players try to kill him, what Delappe does in the project is to type in the names of U.S. military killed in the Iraq war. The text that he inserts in his chat-line are the dead individuals identified and personalized via their name, age, gender, service and rank, and date they were killed. This simple gesture is incredibly powerful in myriad ways. One is that it serves to draw attention to the dead within the context of recruitment, while commenting on censorship in the U.S. concerning the war; for no images of war, for the most part, are allowed to be transmitted in the Untied States, and this is especially so concerning the caskets that return with dead U.S. servicemen draped in American flags. But the larger sociological and artistic issues that underscore Delappe’s work are quite unique.

On the one hand they evoke the Gulf war and the seemingly artificial and game-like quality to the bombings against the Iraqi army that were televised in the U.S.; this may have been one of the reasons for the Iraq war’s censorship. On the other hand, watching the Gulf War from within the safety of the American home was, in fact, like some twisted video game, albeit that the casualties were measured in real life and were not digital phantoms in a virtual game.

It is now the consensus among sociologists that children who engage in violent video games may make them aggressive via the excitement generated from violence engaged in virtual gaming. In doing so, the emotions evoked may have a residual effect after the game is turned off, for they become part of the child’s psychological armature that then overlaps into aggressive impulses in the real world. What Joe Delappe maybe saying in this project is that the inverse may also be true: That by conditioning potential recruits to see the enemy as one-dimensional robs the latter of their humanity, thus making it easier to kill them in an actual battlefield without guilt and impunity?  Joe Delappe’s performance oriented projects are imaginative forays into the interstices of reality/virtual, which sets him apart from other media artists working in similar registers.

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written by_Raul Zamudio
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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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