Last updateSun, 23 Feb 2020 1pm

3D printed drones deliver sobering truths

Socially conscious artist chooses Mcor's environmentally friendly 3D printing technology for multimedia statement

"I have a passion for paper. And I was really interested in Mcor's environmental aspects – its low-cost, environmentally friendly materials", Joseph DeLappe, Artist & Digital Media Professor, University of Nevada

The more advanced our defense technology becomes, says Joseph DeLappe, the further removed we are from the bloodshed it creates. It's come to the point, he says, that a country like the United States, operating from a bunker in the Nevada desert, can remotely bomb targets in the Middle East using astonishingly antiseptic killing technology – drones.

There are a number of problems with remote drone warfare, DeLappe says, including what's often called "collateral damage." What it really is, he says, is bystanders dying unintended deaths along with, or instead of, the targeted bad guys – sometimes at startling ratios.

"Drones are both fascinating and scary," says the University of Nevada (Reno) digital media professor and lifelong artist. "They epitomize the best and worst aspects of progress, a kind of detached and remote violence, and our worship of all things technology. This concerns me."

DeLappe's response? "Drone Shadow."

Art with a message

"Drone Shadow" is a massive, ongoing art installation – a bold commentary on drone warfare and the anguish it has wrought. In a prototype completed at Autodesk's Pier 9 fabrication studio, 25 of DeLappe's 3D printed paper MQ9 Predator drone models, with wingspans of eight inches, gently sway on wiry pedestals in an arrangement reflecting documented drone strikes around the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. LED lights attached to each drone flash around the darkened room, creating a strobey, club-like spectacle, exhilarating viewers.

Suddenly, one drone is singled out in a blood-red cylinder of light. An electronic panel on the wall displays, in scoreboard fashion, the date, time and casualty count of the real-life strike associated with that location. At last count, DeLappe says, over 400 strikes have killed roughly 3,000 people in the region since 2004.

He began work on the project as an artist in residence at Pier 9 during his 2014-2015 sabbatical, working collaboratively with artist Pete Froslie. DeLappe's work since 1983 in online gaming, performance art, sculpture and electromechanical installation has been shown around the world, including exhibitions and performances in the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, China, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada.

"I'm interested in interactivity, the technologization of society and culture, and politics – and especially the cost of war," he says. "Drones – the militarized, weaponized drones, not the ones that might deliver a burrito – tie these interests together in a fundamental way."

3D printing intrigue

DeLappe is also interested in innovative fabrication technology. In 2005, when Mcor Technologies brought to market the world's first 3D printer to use ordinary paper as the build material, he followed the company from afar as a curious educator and artist. "I have a passion for paper," he says. "And I was really interested in Mcor's environmental aspects – its low-cost, environmentally friendly materials." His first exposure was at Pier 9. He created two planes at a time with the Mcor 3D printer and used the leftover bits of paper to represent "rubble and detritus" on the desert floor.

'Drones are us'

"My goal is to address political reality and ultimately try to change it," says DeLappe. "To get there, I'm trying to bring the reality of drones into the immediate world. Fortunately, most of us have never ever seen a drone. As far as we know, drones do some sort of shadowy work in the sky on the other side of the world.

"The Mcor 3D printer helps me make the abstract concrete," DeLappe says. "It's a simple, straightforward way to make drones tangible and relevant, tying together a lot of my interests and bringing home the reality of drones in a physical way. It's a metaphorical way of expressing that these drones are, in effect, us. They're always with us, and they're working on our behalf right now. They're not a separate thing. They represent us, and that's problematic on so many levels."




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