From March 12th to April 6th, 2008, I created a durational performance work entitled “The Salt Satyagraha Online: Gandhi’s March to Dandi in Second Life”. The performance coincided with the 78th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s seminal act of non-violent resistance, The Salt March to Dandi. The original march was made in protest of the Salt Act of 1882 and has been considered the historical turning point in Gandhi’s struggle against Great Britain’s rule of India; the reenactment took place at Eyebeam Art and Technology in New York City and in Second Life. The reenactment involved a 240 mile (386 km) walk using a customized treadmill that translated my forward steps to the foward steps of my avatar, MGandhi Chakrabarti, as he/I/we journeyed throughout the territory of Second Life (SL). The live and virtual reenactment of the walk took place over the course of 26 days, averaging 6 hours and 10 miles a day (three rest days were taken that coincided with those taken on the original march).
I began “playing” computer games as part of my creative practice in 1999, creating an appendage to my desktop mouse to hold a pencil that allowed me to physically draw/map sessions of playing early FPS games such as the original Unreal and Quake. I first engaged online game spaces as locations for interventionist performance in 2001 - as an experiment, I entered the Star Trek Elite Force Voyager Online game as Allen Ginsberg and proceed to type, in it’s entirety, his seminal beat poem, Howl in one six hour performance. Since that time, I have sought to further explore the possibilities of textual, performative, interventionist actions, including such works as the Quake/Friends 2003, The Great Debates 2004 and more recently dead-in-iraq 2006-ongoing.
The latter work involves an act of memorial and protest by typing in all the names of US military casualties into America’s Army, the popular Defense Department funded online recruiting and marketing Tactical First Person Shooter. While my previous online works share in common a conceptual and critical stance towards engaging popular culture, this most recent work, and another ongoing project iraqimemorial.org, are much more overtly politicized. Over the past few years, I have evolved as an artist, reflecting a shift from works that critically and humorously “played” computer games, to those that seek to use the Internet to more directly address issues of war – specifically through the creation of online works that call attention to military and civilian deaths from the Iraq conflict.
I mention these two ongoing projects as they are both formative towards the conceptualization and creation of “The Salt Satyagraha Online”. These two works involved intensive research into the history and context of both memorials and protest. When researching the history of protest over the past 100 years, all roads lead to Gandhi. His creative and innovative ideas, actions and beliefs have been profoundly transformative to the very notion of protest. For some time I have been thinking about the performance of a “walk” across game environments – when reading about Gandhi’s 1930’s Salt March, the notion of re-enacting his walk online formed as a basic idea. In an earlier blog posting debating the dead-in-iraq project, a comment had been posted accusing me of “having a Gandhi complex”. The resulting work, I suppose, is, in part, a way to say, “if you say so!”