Simon Denny Seduces Us with Too Much Information
Chief curator at City Gallery Wellington Robert Leonard looks at the work of New Zealand’s Venice Biennale representative in an essay called, “Simon Denny: Too Much Information”.
“In 1964, Marshall McLuhan came up with a big idea: ‘the medium is the message’,” Leonard begins.
“Culture is shaped more by the media people use to communicate than by the content of their communications. Media structure and frame our thoughts, defining our connections with the world and other people, our ways of life. McLuhan saw that times were changing, that new electronic media were linking people and places with greater speed and immediacy, turning the globe into a global village.
“Although he would go on to be celebrated as ‘the first seer of cyberspace’, McLuhan was alert to the downside.
“Simon Denny has been called a post-Internet artist. He grew up with the Internet and several of his recent works address, directly and indirectly, its logics and aesthetics, its politics and its personnel (those who produce it and those who police it). McLuhan prompted us to look beyond the content of communications to their delivery systems but also warned us that we could not necessarily understand media from within. He used to say, ‘We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.’ Perhaps this is why Denny uses so many other media in pursuing his inquiry into the Internet.
“Denny’s Venice show, Secret Power, presents itself as a case study of the visual culture of the NSA. Its central conceit is to compare [graphic designer David] Darchicourt’s work to a selection of [Edward] Snowden slides that Denny feels resonates with it. The installation itself takes the form of a server room: an ensemble of nine server racks and a workstation. Pictorial and sculptural treatments of Snowden-slide images and Darchicourt images (some NSA-related, some not) are integrated into the racks and workstation, along with functioning LED-flashing computer equipment containing information we can’t access. Some of Denny’s ‘server-vitrines’ focus on Darchicourt’s work, others on Snowden’s slides.
“The real irony is that – in Secret Power and elsewhere – Denny places himself and us (as artist and viewers) in positions oddly analogous to the NSA’s. We also trawl through data and metadata, engaging in analytics, pattern recognition, and profiling. We also make examples of others – be they DLD conferees, [Kim] Dotcom, or Darchicourt. With Secret Power, the ultimate risk – for Denny and for us – is being seduced by this contemporary war-machine mindset, by its fascinating semiotic richness, intricacy, and intrigue.”
Original article by Robert Leonard, Ocula, May 2015.