Over the past 25 years, Joseph DeLappe has been pioneering a relatively new art form — not just mixed media or new media, or political commentary through art — but all of them combined.
As one of his newest works, he invented “Killbox,” a computer game that explores the cost and consequences of drone warfare.
For an earlier project, titled “dead-in-iraq,’ he went online to the U.S. Army’s popular “America’s Army” game, entered the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and recorded what he calls his “performance within the computer” for later display.
Both works can be seen — along with other videos, a weaving made of mouse pads, sculptures made of computer game components and other DeLappe creations dating back to the late ’90s — in the new exhibit, “Memory and Resistance: The Work of Joseph DeLappe,” opening Saturday, April 15, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.
“There’s a new series called ‘Thrift Drones,’ ” DeLappe said. “I’ve been haunting thrift stores for the last year and a half and buying interesting pictures that have sky in them, and I’ve been putting in tiny images of predator drones. We’re showing probably a hundred of these on the main wall as you walk into the gallery space.”
DeLappe, who recently won a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship in recognition of exceptional creativity and scholarship, sees the world of computer gaming as fertile ground for new ideas in art.
“It’s a huge cultural phenomenon. It’s an industry that makes more money than Hollywood filmmaking does. The art world pretty much ignores it, and for me, that’s just a reason to do it,” he said. De Lappe believes the way to find the experimental edge in art is to venture into areas most people don’t recognize as art,
“That’s a rule I live by. I like the challenge of it,” he said. “And when I started engaging in politics in my work, I became the artist I was meant to be.”
The Sonoma exhibit will feature DeLappe’s 20-minute “dead-in-iraq” video, edited down from his interaction with the “America’s Army” game, an extension of the U.S. Army’s recruiting effort, on and off from 2006 to 2011.
“The ‘America’s Army’ game is one of the 10 most popular freely downloadable games in the world,” he said. “I would go into the game in live sessions online and instead of playing the game, I would drop my weapon as a form of passive resistance. And I would start typing in the names of actual U.S. soldiers who died in the conflict, as a protest and as a memorial.”
Although the Army was aware of what he was doing, it made no effort to stop him, DeLappe said.
“I know they found about it through reporters who were asking me about it, and they eventually called the developers of the game to ask them what they thought about what I was doing. I thought they would pull the plug,” he said.
“But they didn’t. They said as long as I wasn’t using foul or offensive language, or interfering with the game play of others, they didn’t care. So I just went on.”
For “Killbox,” DeLappe went one step further, creating his own game to make a political point about remote-controlled, unmanned drone aircraft.
The experimental edge of art
What: “Memory and Resistance: The Work of Joseph DeLappe”
When: April 15-June 18. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Where: Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, Sonoma
Admission: $5-$15; 12 and under free
Information: 707-939-7862, svma.org