Digital Steps of Protest, Reenactment, and Networked Interaction: Joseph DeLappe's Salt Satyagraha Project

Digital Steps of Protest, Reenactment, and Networked Interaction: Joseph DeLappe's Salt Satyagraha Project

Natasha Alexandria Chuk (School of Visual Arts, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8384-6.ch004


Joseph DeLappe is an American digital media artist whose creative work demonstrates unique intersections between analogue and digital creative processes. In 2008 he created the Salt Satyagraha project, a virtual and simultaneously physical reenactment of Mahatma Gandhi's 1930 Salt Satyagraha political march by using Second Life (SL) and a customized treadmill that corresponded to his avatar's movements. The project also included a blog, an exhibition, and numerous screenshots documenting the virtual events. This chapter explores the artist's intent and the impact of combining virtual and digital labor, performance, artistic intervention, play, and the role of the human agent in the human-computer relationship. DeLappe's project blog and two key philosophical theories – Walter Benjamin's concept of the spielraum, a playspace that allows for creative experimentation in advanced technologies; and Jacques Derrida's concept of the supplement, something added to an original that reinforces or changes its meaning – are used to frame this examination.
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To better understand DeLappe’s approach to realizing the Salt Satyagraha project, I draw on emerging ideas about the role and pragmatic nature of digital art and more specifically consider two theories concerning the potential and character of the human-technology relationship. Walter Benjamin’s concept of the spielraum, or playspace – the byproduct or outcome of what he referred to as second technology – assists this analysis with gauging the potential for play in the digitally fabricated, networked environment of SL. Jacques Derrida’s discussion of the supplement as a device that achieves ancillary experiences or modifies what might be understood as “natural” addresses the hybrid nature of networked communication and the detached connection it fosters. Reenactment by way of an avatar, or virtual body, is addressed first through an analysis of the multiple meanings behind the term itself; and second through a brief comparison to another major SL reenactment project by artist duo Eva and Franco Mattes. Finally, my analysis of DeLappe’s project relies on his written accounts on his blog of his experiences in SL during the Salt Satyagraha project, and my own experiences observing his reenactment on two occasions at the New York City-based gallery where the work was generated and completed.

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