Killing poetry for art
Imagine that in the middle of an intense bout of online role-playing game glory, another player—an opponent, a presumed enemy—walks up to you and says something like, “Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze/Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder’d seas.”
You’d probably shoot him to death.
Joseph DeLappe’s performance piece, The Poetry of Gaming.3 will take place at 6 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the Nevada Museum of Art. DeLappe will read poetry by the renowned war poet Siegfried Sassoon (the above couplet comes from “The Dragon and the Undying"), from within the confines of the popular WW II first-person-shooter video game “Medal of Honor.”
The poems will be simultaneously typed to online gamers and read out loud to the museum audience. The onscreen action will be shown on the NMA theatre’s main screen. The quality of the reading will depend less upon DeLappe’s oratorical skills than on how often he gets gunned down by other gamers—and, besides, as DeLappe says, “How I read is defined by how fast I can type.”
For DeLappe, the piece is partly about the unpredictable synthesis of two disparate worlds: the superficial, violent, virtual world of online gaming and the literary world of war veteran poets. The piece is a kind of “protest” but with “a level of wry, satirical humor.”
DeLappe performed a related piece, Quake/Friends, last spring at UNR, where he’s an art professor. DeLappe and collaborators recited lines from the sitcom Friends within the gory “Quake” video game. Quake/Friends drew the attention of The New York Times, where it received a favorable review. It also got a different kind of attention from Warner Brothers, which owns “Friends.” Warner eventually decided not to pursue its initial claims of possible copyright infringement.
The Poetry of Gaming.3 is billed as a performance though it’s a hybrid of forms. It is, as DeLappe said in an interview with Jon Winet, “part cyber-documentary, part staged photography, part video art, part performance.”
Another DeLappe piece, on display in the NMA through Nov. 30, adds an element of sculpture to this loose list of forms.
East of Fallon, Highway 50 can be approached from many vantages. First, there is the physical object: an 8-foot tall rotating wheel, the inner surface of which has been made to resemble a monotonous section of America’s Loneliest Highway. In the center of the wheel are mounted two lights and a camera. Through the gaze of the camera, the image of two headlights on a nighttime road is simulated. This image is then broadcast, in real time, as a projection on the gallery wall and as a live internet broadcast at www.delappe.ws.
The piece is about place: There is Highway 50, the actual road in the middle of Nevada. There is the sculpture, in the gallery on the second floor of the NMA. There is the projected image on the wall next to it. There is the live image on the Internet. And, of course, there is our mental abstraction of Highway 50 or some other such night road culled either from the memory of experience or from innumerable films.
Most Web-related gallery art, DeLappe says, “is so dense—it’s beyond any navigatable level. It’s so esoteric.”
There is rarely a recognizable image—which contradicts the general spirit of the Web, he says.
“There’s all this hidden code and depth, but all we ever see is surface—and to magnify and even celebrate that is more beautiful than to try to complicate it …you go to the Web page, and there’s just this road.”
It’s an absurd level of process to arrive at a simple, beautiful place—what DeLappe happily calls “over-engineered uselessness.”
Thursday’s performance will include The Poetry of Gaming.3, a short lecture, a new catalog for East of Fallon, Highway 50, and the premier of a new performance. This should provide viewers with an opportunity to explore the pieces and any possible connections between them—according to DeLappe, they all come from his desire to insert "a simple slice of reality into the virtual."