Joseph DeLappe is a 2008 Commissioned Resident Artist at the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in New York City. He is an Associate Professor of the Department of Art at the University of Nevada where he runs the Digital Media area. Working with electronic and new media since 1983, his work in online gaming performance, electromechanical installation and real-time web-based video transmission have been shown throughout the United States and abroad. Delappe spoke about his work with Mathias Jansson. This interview took place via email in may of 2010.
Joseph Delappe @ Stanford University, April 2009 [link]
GameScenes: You were among the first Game Artists to perform online. Why did you choose this format? What games did you use and why?
Joseph Delappe: The first works I created that involved computer games were in 1998-99. I created an appendage to my computer mouse that allowed for the attachment of a pencil and later brushes - "The Artist's Mouse" was invented as a way of reverse engineering this ubiquitous interface device. Probably two-three years prior to this I had first started to serious play computer games - as I recall one of the first was free game that came with my apple laptop - I think it was a version of "Battlezone" (I had briefly played this game and a Starwars game on arcade systems in the early 1980's). After "Battlezone" I played through Bungie's "Marathon" series, games that came for free with equipment that was ordered for my lab at the university where I teach. There were other games, "X-wing" and such that were played along the way. The invention of "The Artist's Mouse" created a situation where I logically moved towards using this device while playing a computer game as the mouse action was rather intense during game play. As such, the first game engaged in this manner just happened to be what I was playing at the time, the first iteration of "Unreal". I replaced my mouse pad with 10x10" sheets of fine arts rag paper and proceeded to play using the mouse with pencil attached. The results were quite pleasing and unexpected - abstract drawings that literally mapped the experience of going through several levels of this very popular and violent FPS game.
Sometime thereafter games were released that utilized online gameplay. I think the first of this type that I tried was "Quake". I was immediately struck by the use of texting to communicate between players. Typing on a keyboard while immersed in a fully realized 3D graphic virtual gamespace on the face of it seemed wonderfully anachronistic. Anyway, to make a long story short - the texting is what stood out to me - in the end, similar to utilzing graphite pencils to map gaming experience (an intentionally anachronistic conceptual gesture), engaging in text based performance in online game spaces soon emerged as an idea. It was in the spring of 2001 that I engaged in my first online gaming performance - "Howl: Elite Force Voyager Online". I entered the game as Allen Ginsberg and proceeded to perform the entirety of his seminal beat poem "Howl", word for word. I had no idea whether this was interesting or important or innovative. I was not aware of any other artists at that time engaged in using FPS games for artistic purposes - I very may well be the first to engage this particular genre for performative actions - although artists such as Anne-Marie Schleiner and Eddo Stern were engaged in game based projects around the same time frame. I am not so sure about the timelines here, might be worth looking into, but for sure I was unaware of any other artists at the time working with chat performances in shooter games. I did later learn of a wonderful project to perform "Waiting for Godot" that took place in a chatroom well prior to my work - (can't seem to find anything about this online).
Joseph Delappe, "Howl: Elite Force Voyager Online", 2001, online performance
GameScenes: There is a long tradition in performance art to stretch the boundaries of what it is commonly understood as "art". The same trait is clearly visible in your own work. Which performance artist do you admire most, and perhaps, had the biggest impact on you?
Joseph Delappe: Most definitely. Linda Montano visited my university while I was in graduate school. Her work in bring art into life as performance - spending a year living with everything being the same color, being tied to the artist Sam Hsieh for a year, etc - these works I found very inspiring. As well Laurie Anderson's early NYC street based performance "Duets on Ice". Oddly, it has been primarily women performance artists who I find most interesting - excluded from the galleries and museums they took to the streets and to life to make their creative statements. I first engaged in performing in game spaces upon the realization that these online environments could be considered a new type of public space. I definitely consider my work to have a direct lineage to street theater/interventions, etc.
GameScenes: What should artist look for in online spaces? Is there something inherently challenging about online performances, compared to, let's say, real-life performances?
Joseph Delappe: The internet presents artists a new territory for creative engagement. Online games and communities are attractive to me as an artist for any number of reasons. There is definitely an intentional interest in reaching an audience outside of the artworld while at the same time being keenly aware of my context as a contemporary artist practicing in a complex history of interventionist performance art. I am also an artist living in an area that is possibly about as remote from the artworld as you might imagine - living in the high-desert of Nevada the internet and gaming in specific has presented me with a venue for creative exploration that allows my isolation as an artist to be negated. The potential for reaching a global audience is very seductive - although I must say that upon starting these works with "Howl" I had no sense that I was engaging in works that would eventually reach said audience in a very big way. Another motivation is that I have been working in computer media since 1983 - I recall vividly my first experience of artists working with the internet, likely in 1989, while at the same time coming of age as an artist during an era where "virtual reality" was the topic de rigueur. I have always been skeptical of the utopian underpinnings of the art, science and technology community. Something that most attracted me to computer games, shooters in particular, was for me that these games somehow represent the popular realization of the over hyped promise of virtual reality. That is, it is very curious that we can create amazing 3D simulated environments for internet based interactions yet these interactions seem so primarily focused on killing each other over and over again. As well, it is a subversive stance to say that online gaming environments represent a new type of public space. I am an artist very concerned with reaching an audience - with affecting change - one cannot do so working in a vacuum (whether that vacuum is the private artists studio or the art world). Very important to me that the work get out there in a way that both represents taking agency and presenting creative experiences that interrupt or intervene within these online contexts.
GameScenes: Hod did the audience react to your performances? And how about the critics? Back then there were not that many artists subverting the dynamics on online games...
I think it was in 2000 when I was invited to show documentation of the "Howl: Elite Force Voyager Online" performance at the Art Fair in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was invited by Refusalon of San Francisco to actually re-perform this work but discovered that the convention hall lacked internet access. As such, we played a looping document of the reading of "Howl" with the game - at times at quite a loud volume. This was quite fun and actually garnered quite a bit of attention from the visitors to this event. I do not recall any criticism being written specifically about this showing. My work in computer games really took off after the publication of an article by Matt Mirapaul of the New York Times regarding the "Quake/Friends" performance in 2003. I was threatened with legal action by Warner Brothers TV and quite excited by the exposure.
Your performances breaks the players' illusion of what is commonly called "the magic circle", the idea that game-spaces are somehow sacred and separated from "real life". You deliberately break this fantasy, making the players aware of the reality that lies outside the simulation, a kind of Brechtian Verfrumdungseffekt. How do players react to your interventions?
Joseph Delappe: I see these works as a way to break through and perhaps expand the notion of "the magic circle" in gaming. We do not "play" in contexts that are unrelated to our political, social and economic realities. Reactions during the first performance, "Howl" were mostly humorous. I recall one player noting "wow, poetry and shooting!". Reactions to my work have been most fierce within the context of the ongoing project, "dead-in-iraq", commenced in 2006. Other players routinely insult me, demand to know why I am doing what I am doing and are generally very hostile. There have, however, been instances of other players defending my actions, saying things like "what is wrong with what he is doing?" I even know of two players who at one point decided to stand in front of my avatar and take bullets so that I could continue my reading. What has been very interesting and unexpected has been engaging in debates on the internet outside of the game proper. These have evolved with the publication of numerous online and print articles about the work - upon reading some of the comments from the readers I decided to join the ensuing debates. These have proven very interesting and, as I see them, they represent a unique opportunity for me to engage in dialogue with those either experiencing the work first hand or interested in commenting upon the project, whether pro or con.
Joseph Delappe, "War Poetry: Medal of Honor, Allied Assault Online”
GameScenes: I am really fascinated by “War Poetry: Medal of Honor, Allied Assault Online”, a performance in which you read Siegfried Sassoon's poetry during a session of Medal of Honor. Why did you choose this artist and this game?
Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are two famous British soldiers who, during World War 1 wrote amazing poetry regarding their experiences in the trenches. Both of them were sent to a mental institution (where they met) due to their resistance to the war. Their poetry is amazing, moving and timeless. The notion of reciting their poetry was a specific reaction to the start of the War in Iraq in 2003. This was my first step in computer games into works that I would consider anti-war activism in computer games. The other works, "Howl", "Quake/Friends" and such have perhaps more of an ironic stance that indeed create critical contexts for the consideration of culture - they are a bit more fun. With the "War Poetry" project my work began to take on a more serious tone, again, reflecting the drumbeat to war - most definitely this work should be considered a precursor to the "dead-in-iraq" intervention.
Text by Mathias Jansson
Link: Joseph Delappe