All you need is data

Issue no3
June / July 2019
Brussels / Bruxelles

A homage to the controversal internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, a special report of an international marketing conference, the work of Simon Denny touches on the major issues of today's digital economy. Ana Teixeira Pinto talked to him.

—Ana Teixeira PintoI hear you studied sculpture, could you briefly tell us how you came to focus on communication media?

—Simon DennyI am originally from New Zealand and started my art education there. At the school I was studying at, the professors teaching sculpture seemed the most exciting, so that was where my interests began. When I moved away to study in Frankfurt I was forced to rethink a lot of things. As I was really interested in objects I noticed that by far the most important object to me had become my laptop - I used it for absolutely everything and I didn’t own a lot else. In 2007, this object, almost exclusively, was my tool for communication, my portal home and my new tool for producing work. As I began to see that hardware evolving, with the introduction of the smartphone and the exit of the CRT tube TV, there seemed to be a material I could work with in art that would both be rooted in objects and look to communication changes at the same time. A material, object oriented interest gave me a place to start looking more at how communication was being facilitated and what that meant.

—Ana Teixeira PintoWould you say that the social can be deduced from the technological? i.e that media determine social structures?

—Simon DennyI am not totally sure, but of course there must be some kind of relationship there, be it that way or its inverse. What is technologically possible and what is a kind of normative communicative behavior that grows around the conventions associated with different technologies must to some degree define what is possible socially. This is pretty abstract though - and I am not a media theorist, I am not specifically educated in that area. My output comes from a user’s perspective.

—Ana Teixeira PintoIn the last three decades we have witnessed a massive corporate consolidation of aesthetics and image production – I think it would be fair to say that your work thematises this process. Do you believe art can still retain a certain degree of autonomy? Isn’t art also part of this same political economy?

—Simon DennyYes I think art is a part of this, very much so. But I think there exists some art - and also examples within other genres of cultural production - that achieves some degree of autonomy within these aesthetic boundaries. Or perhaps the feeling or illusion of autonomy in some fields, like art, produce a more interesting product anyhow, so there is room allowed in this system for certain kinds of autonomy. In my own experience for example I have been relatively able to use certain visual languages - maybe languages one might associate with corporate contexts - in ways that those corporate origins might not have. I have used Samsung’s aesthetics to tell positivist stories of the disappearance of public television networks. I have used extremities from the graphic conventions of iOS to give a snapshot of the supercharged tech industry. And I have used these aesthetic tools in ways that are not necessarily in keeping with the value systems within their origins. I think if one is literate in these fields, if one looks into the terms on which these systems function there is always room for putting the building blocks together in a slightly different way that can emphasise certain aspects of these cultures that are not so visible when they come at us in the traditional marketplace. I don’t know if that is the same thing as having real autonomy but I suspect that the degree of autonomy one has as a producer is always somewhat relative.

—Ana Teixeira PintoDo you think appropriation is still an effective critical tool? What about affirmation (basically abandoning critique in favour of over the top celebration –hoping the system might somehow self-implode)?

—Simon DennyI think appropriation happens so much in so many different contexts now it’s kind of fine but not super-effective on its own. Everyday on social networks we all use images from other origins to say something - so adopting someone else’s imagery, even if its not appropriation in a classical sense, is kind of normal....

The complete interview is published in Metropolis M No 5 - 2013 SURPLUS (in Dutch translation). Buy it HERE

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2019