Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Joseph DeLappe: The Salt Satyagraha Online—Gandhi’s Salt March in Second Life

Eyebeam is a non-profit in Chelsea dedicated to research at the intersection of art and technology. The exhibition on through July 19 features commissioned work by Joseph DeLappe and Taeyoon Choi.

Joseph DeLappe has recreated the Salt Satyagraha, a seminal moment in contemporary non-violent political protest organized by Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi in 1930, as a march through Second Life. The Salt Satyagraha was India's version of the Boston Tea Party, a civil disobedience action in which citizens reclaimed their right to produce salt directly from the sea, thus avoiding British commodity taxes which the Raj had imposed by law. The ban on salt-making, like most protectionist legislation, adversely affected the poorest people the most, as they were unable to afford refrigeration and were denied their traditional means of food preservation. Gandhi was arrested following the Salt March and remained in prison for about a year, during which time his status as India's preeminent civil rights leader was cemented. The Satyagraha campaign of non-violent protest against British colonial rule had a major international impact, and was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s main inspirations.

Joseph DeLappe, Reenactment: Gandhi at Dandi, 2008
"This image, of MGandhi at Dandi in SL was made several weeks after the end of DeLappe's performance/reenactment, just as the original photograph commemorating Gandhi's arrival at Dandi on April 6, 1930 was staged several days later, and at a different location altogether."-Eyebeam

DeLappe's Second Life Salt Satyagraha was conducted in real time using a specially modified treadmill. The artist walked the same distance as Gandhi on each day of the march, while his Second Life avatar traveled simultaneously through the virtual landscape. Along the way, he met landowners, warriors and political activists, whose comic-book style avatars typically dwarfed "MGandhi Chakrabarti." The avatar was created using a 3D digital scan of a plaster miniature model, which DeLappe upscaled into a 17-foot-high cardboard monument inside the gallery. Directions on how to make your own 17-foot cardboard Gandhi are available here.

The project serves two important functions - to remind us of the significance of the original Salt Satyagraha and Gandhi's non-violent mission, and to seek out and connect with political activists using Second Life as a forum for discourse and organizing. My own feelings about Second Life are generally that it fails to be anything more than a bloated web browser using weak animation technology to crudely approximate the world. However, I appreciate DeLappe's efforts to turn the media of our times (especially video games and the like) into usable political platforms.

More images from the show can be seen here.

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