Lecture series remembers innovative work of arts and technology professor Stephen Wilson

For over 27 years Stephen Wilson taught conceptual/information arts at SF State. Now, three years after his death, the department he worked in is presenting a new lecture series dedicated in his name.

The Stephen Wilson Lecture Series aims to “feature guest artists who work at the same intersection as Professor Wilson: art, science, technology and culture,” according to the event page on the art department’s website.

Each fall, one artist for the series will give a talk at the University and be available for questions from students.

Joseph DeLappe, a professor at the University of Nevada, will be first to give the inaugural lecture Thursday, Sept. 11, that has been “a year and a half in the making,” according to Levine.

DeLappe, an artist with an “activist bent,” works in online gaming performance, electromechanical installation and sculpture. His work has been shown around the U.S. and abroad. He is most noted for his 2006 “dead-in-iraq” project, in which he would type the names of dead Iraq soldiers into the chat of “America’s Army,” an online first-person shooter video game that was developed by the U.S. Army with the goal of recruitment.

“It called for some kind of action,” DeLappe said. “I was basically trying to call attention to that fact through my actions, while at the same time memorializing those who had actually died in real war and that it was not a game. There’s a bigger agenda here that you’re not paying attention to.”

That agenda, DeLappe said, was that the game was a way for gamers to be a part of a “military sanctioned, government paid-for play space that is, in fact, part of the military industrial complex.”

DeLappe said it is special for him to be the first lecturer in this series, in which he will talk about the “dead-in-iraq” project as well as other selected works from the past decade.

While attending San Jose State University in the 1980’s, DeLappe met Wilson when he came to San Jose and recruited students to work on a project at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for the summer.

“Steve Wilson was one of the first media artists that I met,” DeLappe said. “He’d make the ocean create sounds through interactivity with sensors placed in the water. It was really cool.”

DeLappe said he couldn’t be happier to pay homage and memorial to a past mentor.

“He was a critical thinker,” DeLappe said. “I think he really tried to get us to examine, carefully, how we integrate interactivity, conceptual processes and ideas criticality into creative practice. I’m so thrilled to be a part of this.”

Wilson was a prolific artist that taught and headed the conceptual design and informational arts program at SF State for 27 years until he died in 2011 from cancer. Wilson’s art heavily paired with technology and pushed what could be done with computers and the internet in a time when neither technologies were as sophisticated as they are today.

In 1989 Wilson began working on a project called “Father Why?,” an art installation that designated certain areas of a room to a particular emotion. A computer program would then sense where you were in the room and play digitized words and music associated with the designated emotion.

Paula Levine, an art professor at SF State, was a colleague of Wilson’s and is the organizer of the lecture series.

“I wanted to have his spirit and dedication to this area continue,” Levine said. “So it was important for me to set up this lecture series that provided an opportunity for contemporary artists who are working in that same space.”

According to Levine, there wasn’t a harder-working, kinder, more genuine person than Wilson. Gali Dawson, the chair of the art department, echoed Levine’s sentiments.

“I knew Steve Wilson as a colleague, and greatly admired him as both a teacher and a human being,” Dawson said.

DeLappe’s lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, in the Fine Arts Building, room 193.

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