Galleries

Critiquing America from China

An America's Army action figure composed of multiple action figures' parts lies in the corner of the exhibition.
An America's Army action figure composed of multiple action figures' parts lies in the corner of the exhibition.

Joseph DeLappe, known best for his performances situated in first person shooter (FPS) games, has unveiled the beginning of a new series of work at Where Where Exhibition Space (“哪里哪里”艺术空间) in Beijing’s Caochangdi neighborhood.  His latest work tackles military-themed FPS games like America’s Army, which is offered free and paid for by the US Army, as well as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty 4, all of which simulate actual combat.

Titled Screenshot (Jieping: 截屏), the installation features two major pieces.  Placed around the room are graphite drawings of America’s Army soldiers from the game in various states of death, their bodies curled up in ragdoll effect. At the center are two massive pairs of hands from Medal of Honor, sculptural objects developed from game renderings. These hands belong to a Taliban warrior holding a pistol, one to hold the gun and the other to provide support and balance at the base. They’re disembodied, splayed open in a gesture of openness or prayer.

The exhibition culminates DeLappe’s three-month residency at Where Where, a gallery and residency program directed by Canadian Gordon Laurin and Chinese Jing Yuan Huang. The space sits on the outskirts of Beijing, in a quiet neighborhood far from the bustle of the city and befitting of this meditative work abstracted from the chaos of the gaming environment.

A detail of a Medal of Honor Taliban fighter's hand in front of dead soldiers' bodies from America's Army.
A detail of a Medal of Honor Taliban fighter's hand in front of dead soldiers' bodies from America's Army.

“I plan on a complementary series of enemy combatants,” DeLappe told me, noting that Medal of Honor has allowed gamers to play as Taliban warriors as well. “When I draw them they become actualized in a way they don’t as screenshots. They just float there.”

I asked DeLappe what it was like to develop the work in China for a Chinese audience. “The first person shooter context is a worldwide phenomenon,” he said, citing the fact that many of the games are popular outside the United States. “And in a way, seeing a Western artist who is politically oriented and questioning my own government can’t be a bad thing.”

Screenshot is an appropriate title for the show. The “Jie” of “Jieping” (截) means a section or a piece. The show offers a compelling piece of DeLappe’s evolving use of physical work to explore and challenge the confluence of government bodies, military violence and social gaming platforms. “My work has always been about this. I say, ‘Hey wait. Pay attention. This is not a game. It’s real.'”

Screenshot runs until July 31 at Where Where Exhibition Space in Caochangdi, Beijing.

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