Piece by piece

Photo By ashley hennefer

Joseph DeLappe teaches digital media at the University of Nevada, Reno and is also an artist and activist who’s had his work exhibited around the world. Recently, his 17-foot cardboard sculpture of Gandhi was on display in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center on the UNR campus.

Tell me about the process of building Gandhi.

It’s an involved process, that. I did a project that reenacts Gandhi’s salt march in Second Life [a virtual reality game]. I walked 240 miles [over 26 days] on a treadmill on the anniversary date of the march. My avatar was Gandhi, so I created this avatar in Second Life and essentially wandered. I’ve always been a builder and sculptor. This was part of that whole project, bringing a physical body to life. When I finished that, I found myself really missing my avatar Gandhi, and a number of factors came into play, but I was really interested in bringing Gandhi physically to real life. I was appropriating the 3-D data from Second Life and had to figure out how to use that in physical space. There are 3-D prints of Gandhi using the same data, but making the cardboard version was something entirely different. I wanted to make this monumental statue out of this data from Second Life as a way to physically represent how amazing he was and this experience was sort of living vicariously as Gandhi. It was a very strange experience, and the attachment to my avatar was much more visceral than I imagined. I used Pepakura, a Japanese shareware program that costs around $30, used mostly by anime enthusiasts to develop versions of their characters with papercraft. It involves printing designs on paper with an inkjet printer. It’s a very intricate process. I thought it was amazing. It’s essentially a poor man’s 3-D printer. I love that. … I spent six weeks at the end of my residency engineering and building a way to make this Gandhi out of cardboard that was 17-feet tall, the same size as Michelangelo’s David, another David and Goliath scenario.

I saw you’ve constructed a gun sculpture in a similar fashion. What are you working on?

It’s an AK-47. … It’s a new piece. What I find interesting is this evolution of first-person games. When they first came out, they were mostly science fiction, like Star Trek Voyager or Halo. And they were all fantasy. But then it was like, OK, now there’s World War II shooters, so you have these people running around playing as Nazis. That’s pretty wild, right? Then you had Battlefield: Vietnam which to me was like, shocking. Now, we have contemporary shooters, and it fascinates me that 50 percent of these players are essentially playing as terrorists. You’d don’t even think about it. Think of the context we live in, with the “war on terror,” and I really thought it was important somehow to investigate that creatively. What I’m doing is with this game that came out two years ago, a somewhat Medal of Honor type game set in Afghanistan that was very controversial. It really intrigued me that you were essentially able to play as a Taliban with these beautifully modeled characters. And I honed in on that particular Taliban figure, and I’m in the process of building a 12-foot tall version directly from that 3-D data. It will be orange. There’s a lot of symbolism with the color orange, through jumpsuits and threat levels, and it’s a pretty color. I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be, but I think it’s important to make real some of these fantasies. It just weirds me out a little bit. … We’re spending so much time in these online spaces that it’s important to represent what these places are about. It’s our new landscape.