ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW         ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW    

Simon Denny


Concerned with the social and political implications of the tech industry, the rise of startup culture, blockchain and cryptocurrency, the Berlin-based artist explains how difference, reciprocity and relative power stand at the core of his practice.

KALEIDOSCOPE  Re-thinking authorship and ownership of ideas seems to be the key to unlocking a relevant cultural discourse today. What’s your take on collaboration?

SIMON DENNY  Making artwork always involves many parties. Difference is important and relative power is something to be aware of. Listening has been the best tool for my practice. Reciprocity is best discussed explicitly—kind of platitudes, but true so far.

K  How does the notion of “collaboration” affect your own work?

SD  Every project is different. In the past, I’ve worked with very unequal terms for collaboration, where power imbalance was part of the purpose of the project—for example, my pavilion Secret Power at the 2015 Venice Biennale for Aotearoa/New Zealand. In this project, I completely appropriated another artists’ work—the former NSA illustrator David Darchicourt—to underline power asymmetry inside and outside of institutions across contemporary medial landscapes and marketplaces. By contrast, recently when I staged “The Founder’s Paradox,” an exhibition looking at neo-colonial tendencies in the politics of Big Tech against a backdrop of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the show included many works made up to twenty-five years ago by Michael Parekoewhai, who was also an important professor of mine in an early stage of my education. Michael steered the installation of these works at the Christchurch Art Gallery; he also made a new piece to sit within a work of mine. This exchange was more of a conversation through artworks.

K  Would you be able to name three collaborations that you wish could become reality? What are three collaborations that you’ve already developed that you’re proud of?

SD  I would like to collaborate with agents that experience things very differently. That’s always been a kind of goal—for example, in deep dives into tech culture and commercial culture—but I want to also work with agents that are more different from me than the people that work in these contexts. The closest thing so far has been collaborating with a team of scientists who were working to gather info about a bird—the critically endangered King Island Brown Thornbill in Tasmania—so that another team I was collaborating with, at Art Processors in Melbourne, could produce a faithful augmented reality doppelganger of this bird. This is part of what has been a very collaborative two-year process in producing a large-scale exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art near Hobart. I’m also attempting a collaboration with a friend of mine from Aotearoa/New Zealand who has a very different knowledge base than me—she’s an academic working in indigenous architecture—for a project we want to realize in Canada. We’re still forming the language around that collaboration. It’s about slow processing of violence, and wondering what understanding is in a complex information space today. It’s self-consciously a very different pace than I have worked at in the past.

K  Building a shared network of influences and references is a major driver for collaboration. What’s the process behind choosing your collaborators?

SD  Yes, context is important—shared space is necessary, I think, for any kind of production. This has also been true for projects or parts of projects that are seemingly more solitary, in the way that meaning is always collective. I can’t say that I have a methodology that I stick to for this; I guess I follow what compels me, what feels full of energy. I’m lucky to be in touch with and to have met people that work in very different spaces. The more I listen to them, the better things get.

K  Do you think collaboration prompts a horizontal and multi-disciplinary approach to different creative fields?

SD  It can do. It can also do other things that are less positive if one is not aware of difference. This seems like a nice thing to aim for.

Simon Denny (New Zealander, b. 1982) is an artist who lives and works in Berlin. He took part as guest speaker in the panel “Co-Ideology: Perks and Problems of Sharing,” moderated by Caroline Busta as part of Lafayette Anticipations x KALEIDOSCOPE MANIFESTO in Paris (17-18-19 May, 2019).
Photography by Jonayd Chefiri.
Images courtesy of the artist.

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