Professor invited to prestigious international art exhibition
In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi began a nonviolent protest of British tax on the production and sale of salt, an essential dietary mineral. Gandhi’s 240-mile “Salt March” took him across India from the Sabarmati Ashram where he lived to the hamlet of Dandi, known as a salt center.
Last April, Joe DeLappe, an associate professor of art at the University of Nevada, Reno, recreated Gandhi’s historic journey in a synthetic (online) environment using a treadmill customized for cyberspace with game-controller technology. Following the trek, DeLappe memorialized his avatar, creating a 17-foot cardboard sculpture of Gandhi.
The entirety of the Gandhi work will be exhibited in the Third Guangzhou Triennial, a gathering of the works of over 150 artists from throughout the world, at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou, China, beginning Sept. 6. The Triennial’s theme is “Farewell to Post-Colonialism.” The Guangdong Museum of Art is a major cultural establishment in the province and, with 12 exhibition halls, is the largest of its kind in China where works of art are preserved, studied and displayed.
“This effort represents a logical progression of my work in which there has been a general shift of emphasis from contemporary artist to activist,” DeLappe said. “It led directly to my research on Gandhi and nonviolent protest.”
DeLappe was on a research sabbatical when he created and constructed his experimental exhibit. His treadmill-powered Gandhi traveled in Second Life, an online, 3-D virtual world. He performed the walk and constructed the monumental-sized avatar during a six-month commissioned residency at Eyebeam in New York City, an art and technology center for digital research and experimentation.
“The residency at Eyebeam made it possible to engage in what was a month-long, committed re-enactment as an historical figure in the online, virtual landscape of Second Life,” DeLappe said. “But there needed to be more. As I wrapped up the Salt March, I felt a deep sense of loss. The thought of creating a larger-than-life representation of my Gandhi avatar seemed quite audacious and oddly appropriate.”
DeLappe worked with Pepakura Designer, a popular papercraft software program used to create generally tabletop-scale reproductions of everything from anime figures to airplanes, to sculpt Gandhi in cardboard. The 3-D avatar is the size and scale of Michelangelo’s David.
“This entire effort also helps others understand and appreciate the personal and professional growth that takes place during a research sabbatical,” DeLappe said. “I explored the ‘open source movement,’ an anti-profit and collaborative philosophy that encourages sharing concepts and ideas with others and is atypical of the competitive art world.”
DeLappe is pleased with the entire re-enactment experience, viewing it as the unification of two different threads of his artistic practice.
“For years, my work in physical installation, sculpture and kinetic art has been separate from my work performing in computer games and online communities,” DeLappe said. “The synthesis of the real and the virtual during the re-enactment and the resulting physical explorations post-reenactment have proven to be a revelation to my creative process that will influence my teaching and research for years to come.”