Articles

From Mapping Solar Potential to Mapping the American Empire

by An Xiao on February 10, 2014

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(all images courtesy Joseph Delappe, photo by Laurie Macfee)

SAN FRANCISCO — According to Cliff Chen, a senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, if a solar power system were built in the American Southwest it would apparently only need to be 100 miles by 100 miles to provide enough energy to power the entire United States. “The sky really is the limit,” he noted in an interview with LiveScience.

It may be an incredible thing to envision, but 100 miles by 100 miles still sounds like a great deal of space. Could a structure like that really be built? Artist Joseph DeLappe, whose artworks that critique the US military were previously featured on Hyperallergic, set out to explore the implication of such an endeavor last spring with “Project 929: Mapping the Solar.” Taking part in a 460.63 mile biking trip through the desert, DeLappe surrounded the perimeter of the Nevada Test Site, the infamous “Area 51“, Yucca Mountain, and Nellis Air Force Range. Behind him, he dragged chalk to mark the perimeter as a visualization of the space such a solar project would entail.

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A map of Delappe’s journey details the federal territory he cycled around.

“It was a satirical play to create a 100 mile by 100 mile square solar farm that would essentially start at the entrance of Yucca Mountain,” Delappe noted in an interview with Hyperallergic. While engaging in such a physical, durational performance around a desert space with a long military, energy, and nuclear history, he wanted to encourage his audience to reimagine how the space could be used for an alternative energy paradigm.

While Delappe is perhaps best known for his Dead-in-Iraq series of video game interventions and the virtual Gandhi walk he completed on a treadmill, the physicality of this performance piece was important to him. Although he hoped to use GPS to have a digital avatar of himself wander around Blue Mars, technical challenges led him to hire a graduate student to recreate his work, ensuring his digital presence throughout the ride.

“Completing that project led to thinking further about how we occupy space and what these bases represent about the realization of our national global military goals,” he noted, pointing out the project’s intent to help reimagine how we use space.

His latest project, “Mapping the American Empire,” aims to document the military presence of the United States in at least 150 countries around the world. The particulars of this project remain to be set, and his research has begun — but as with “Mapping the Solar,” the physical journey will be very much part of the project. “It’s extremely important that the physical aspect is a part of this,” he noted of his intentions to visit and document the bases. “That’s key to the entire process.”

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