Simon Denny is a New Zealand-born artist who currently lives and works in Berlin. Recent solo exhibitions include Serpentine Gallery, London; MoMA PS1, New York; and Portikus, Frankfurt. In 2015, Denny represented New Zealand at the 56th Venice Biennale. He will have exhibitions at Wiels, Brussels, Berlin Biennale 9, and Petzel Gallery in the coming months.
One week of media consumption for Denny includes quite a bit of material that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the artist’s often tech-obsessed work. There is a lot of reading up on news and views pertaining to the then-breaking Panama Papers in both traditional and social media. There are group chats on Slack with the artist’s extended team of collaborators. There are ruminations on the design choices present at the headquarters of Silicon Valley VC powerhouse Sand Hill Road. There is a bunch more, below in this rich report. -John Chiaverina
Friday, April 8
Wake up, check morning Financial Times app on phone. Have subscribed to FT for some years. Favorite general paper. Good business model where staff writers seem to be paid, with quality, well-researched, well-crafted journalism. British bias, City of London bias, conservative paper.
Middle of Panama Papers release reception. Headlines:
“Financiers defend Tax Havens”
“Cameron admits gaining from Panama fund”
“Tax havens: for and against”
Check Business Insider app on phone. BI is a more Buzzfeedy aggregator of business news and news that business people might be interested in. I started reading it because it made financial news more tangible. Gave me an insight into the things that people who read this paper might like. Mix of human interest and serious Reuters articles, often retitled for the platform. Often the new titles are catchier, juicier:
“Here’s why so few Americans are in the Panama Papers”
Check founder CEO and editor of Business Insider Henry Blodget’s Twitter. Blodget was banned from trading after the Dotcom bust of 2000—he publicly recommended to his clients stocks that he was proven to be skeptical of in private emails. Possible Trump supporter. Strong advocate of financial community:
“GE is a global company that sells and makes stuff all around the world. Why should US collect tax on all?”
“Global corporations live everywhere they do business.”
Feeling confused. Look to Vitalik Buterin, visionary founder of Ethereum—most exciting Blockchain startup-for-sort-of libertarian orientation:
“Only accepting uncontroversial things does not prevent controversy; it only leads to controversy about what is uncontroversial enough”
Floored. Absolute fire.
Think back to an artwork I was involved in once with Daniel Keller, Emily Segal, Katja Novitskova, Peter Fend, Femke Herregraven, and others where I was offered an exhibition opportunity through the German Ars Viva prize to make something at the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein in Vaduz. Daniel and I were both interested in the intersection between Silicon Valley and offshore finance, and tech’s fascination with exits from existing sovereignty. Dan and I applied for a license to host Liechtenstein’s first TEDx event in 2013 (http://www.tedxvaduz.com), which turned into a way of dealing with these topics through performance.
Catch up on the previous night’s group DMs from New York–based friends. Lots of lulz. Quotes from Benjamin Bratton’s book The Stack: On Software And Sovereignty (MIT 2015) ties into thoughts about Panama Papers and TEDxVaduz project.
To work. Read LRB, FT, and BI articles on train.
LRB article “Out of Sight”—more in-depth reflection on tax havens.
“Unaccountably, professional economists have almost entirely ignored the issue of tax havens. The few academics who have examined them argue that tax havens are beneficial. And yet, it is obvious that by denying access to information, they are an aberration in neoclassical economic theory, bound to result in the misallocation of resources in a market system.” Nice.
A little Buzzfeed also. A bit of Instagram. Lots of twitter. Really enjoying Balaji S. Srinivasan, founder of 21Inc and partner at venture capital legends Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Has great retweet: “Are your views on privacy and #panamapapers consistent? Just asking…”
On Slack all day with team. Slack is a multi-channel chat platform designed for office interaction. Started using it in studio about a year ago. Cuts down internal email a lot. The way one can have a separate, searchable chat stream for each project makes things simple and more fun. Integrates with dropbox, Google docs etc. Totally cross platform, same interface and usability on mobile as on desktop. Combination between Slack, task-setting program Asana, and traditional whiteboard based on a kind of Agile/Kanban combo of post-its and markers keep things going.
The Intercept tweets: “Cia’s Venture capital arm is funding skin care products that collect DNA”
Intercept is an independent platform for journalism founded by Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald around the Edward Snowden releases, funded by a Silicon Valley billionaire and founder of eBay. Politically beautiful mix. Amazing writing, fantastic article.
Saturday, April 9
“Lunch with the FT” Nigel Farage–leader of UK political party UKIP and maybe most hated conservative politician. Even the FT is dismissive. Massive Brexit supporter. Depicted in article behaving as if ’80s London—going to pubs, liquid lunch etc.—was still a thing. Love the “Lunch with the FT” series. Fantastic way to mix lifestyle with politics or social issues. Always interesting where each subject choses and how much it costs—they end with a receipt breakdown of what was bought at the meal.
In another article in weekend FT:
“My brief career as a pirate in the Indian ocean: How easy is it to set up an offshore company in one of the world’s tax havens?”
First line “’Literally, just let us know what you want and we can do it for you,’ said Emily, a chirpy sales assistant at UK-based CFS International Formations, part of a growing industry advising people on how to set up offshore companies.”
Flip to Business Insider
“The back and forth over startup valuations and markdowns is ‘a dumb conversation,’ says Y-Combinator president.” Flip to Y-Combinator YouTube and re-watch my favorite Balaji Srinivasan talk on “Exit Vs Voice,” tech’s fascination with secessioning. TEDxVaduz ghosts visit again. Used this talk to introduce the website.
Back to Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin saying:
“One of the underappreciated revelations around the #panamapapers scandal: cryptocurrencies were not mentioned at all.”
Floored again. Straight up love Vitalik.
Elon Musk glowing after SpaceX shuttle returned to earth after delivery to the ISS last night. Kind of amazing.
Watch video of perfect landing on drone ship like ten times. What an entrepreneur.
“Just wanted to write a note of appreciation for all those who have supported Tesla, SpaceX & SolarCity over the years. Thank you.”
Late for gym…
Back on Twitter: Jeff Jarvis, part of Sand Hill Road Venture community:
“I’ve long said: In privacy matters, citizens mistrust companies like Google & trust the state. Should be the reverse.”
Rest of day on group messages and DMs.
Sunday, April 10
Twitter again. When I joined Twitter years ago I barely used it but now by far my favorite social platform outside Slack.
“Inventors… invent things. They might not be as good at theorizing about the social science aspects of how inventions are used!” Retweeted by Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and intellectual heavyweight in Tech Venture Capital community. Lol at idea of inarticulate inventors at an art-school-style critique session. Recently went on pilgrimage to SF and Silicon Valley. Selfies in front of Andreessen Horrowitz (A16z.com), Marc Andreessen’s Venture firm. Was slightly surprised how arguably the most powerful Tech financiers choose to house and package their headquarters. Sand Hill Road is literally like a very low-gloss minor suburban mall. Low-rise ranch-slider doors and light wood. Pretty quiet. Nothing at all flashy–would not be out of place in smaller suburbs where I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. Focus clearly not on design conversations I am familiar with. Kind of love it.
Mostly DMs for rest of day. Bit of Instagram. Kind of hate Instagram but, you know, I can’t help scrolling it a lot.
Monday, April 11
FT: “Don’t blame millenials: Graduates have been set up for an inevitable fall at work” on the gap between expectations and reality for young workers. Hmm.
Twitter says the for work chat forum will be updated to include calls. That will be convenient. Everyday major chat services (Slack, FB Messenger, Whats App) seem to be getting closer to Chinese include-all platforms like WeChat and QQ. Reminded of recent trip to China visiting Tencent HQ in Shenzhen. WeChat is this very interesting take on chat where its kind of every social media platform rolled into one–there is a feed, lots of DMs and group messages, one can order car services similar to Uber from within it. Seems kind of like a home page for the Internet–particularly mobile. Blown away by just how vast the Chinese market is–the numbers just don’t stack up next to Europe or even the US. Truly amazing visit.
Kanye loves new A$ap Ferg album. Really? Listening…
BI: from Reuters China: Web censorship is not a trade barrier. Strong censorship of Western companies really makes domestic ones very successful and attractive. If you can’t use fb easily then you will use WeChat.
Slide into Slack and talk with team about projects for the rest of the day.
Podcast binge. Andreessen Horowitz (A16z) my favorite.
“Teams, Trust and Object Lessons: Some of the best management books are actually military books,” argues Ben Horowitz (cofounder of A16z and author of one of my favorite books: The Hard Thing About Hard Things).
“The Why, How and When of Sales: why do we even need sales – a really good product sells itself. It isn’t fair… or is it?”
Tuesday, April 12
Immediately on Slack. Busy morning of quotes and shipping tracking. Delivery is such an issue. Honestly wish someone would solve that in a better way especially regarding customs processes. Very happy to pay extra taxes on imports but wish that there was a possibility to do it faster and with more of an idea of where I am in the process. Very un-transparent ATM.
Slack all day. Loving the way we can swap between tasks and context and keep the thread in the team. Literally means that we are on chat in the same room sometimes and am reminded of Clueless film scene where they talk on phones next to each other.
DMs and group chats after work.