Simon Denny is an artist who uses the jargon of tech as a readymade. His exhibition this month at MoMA PS1 is titled “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” after the influential 1997 book by Clayton M. Christensen that is notable for coining the now-ubiquitous term “disruptive innovation.”
For the show, Denny will present a survey of works structured in the form of a trade fair, complete with presentation booths for each project. “There’s not new work in the show, but having said that, in a way the whole thing is sort of a work, because each of the projects we are tweaking to fit this format,” the New Zealand–born artist (he is representing the country in this year’s Venice Biennale) said in an interview via Skype from Berlin, where he is currently based.
On view will be a modified version of Denny’s 2013 Petzel Gallery show, “All you need is data,” an installation of 90 large ink-jet paintings serving as a visual representation of the influential 2012 Digital Life Design media conference. Each painting depicts one event from the conference and pairs now-outdated “skeuomorphic” (digital design simulating real surfaces like wood grain and notebook paper) aesthetics with quotations from the conference.
Also on display will be the stage from Denny’s 2013 collaboration with Daniel Keller wherein the two artists organized the first-ever officially sanctioned TED Talk satellite event in Liechtenstein, which happens to have the highest GDP in the world and is a popular offshore tax refuge.
Throwing TED’s flowery tech utopianism into the context of an ultra-wealthy tax haven like Liechtenstein contains it’s own inherent irony, but Denny and Keller transcended what could be a one-liner with a smartly curated event—speakers include behavioral economist Michael André Maréchal—that at once disrupted (there’s that word again) and validated the system it’s a part of.
In both projects, Denny mostly lets his content rest on its own. Because of this, getting a read on his work might hinge on the viewer’s own relationship with tech. Regarding the reactions to “All you need is data,” Denny said, “Some people have come to me and said, ‘Oh, that’s like, one of the most critical things I’ve ever seen about that language or that group,’ and others have come and said, ‘How could you possibility do a giant advertisement for a private company?’”
For his part, the artist comes from a place of studied enthusiasm. “Number one, I’m a fan. I’m a total junkie for this material,” he said, going on to state that he is often “more interested in [tech] than some of the work friends of mine are making.”
Denny’s work operates in a way that is critical and often funny but never outright satirical. This is in contrast with something like the HBO series Silicon Valley, whose popularity has, according to Denny, been a positive development when it comes to how his work is understood in relation to the tech world.
“The more pop culture-y it gets, or the more mass appeal it has, the more my work is able to be nuanced,” Denny said.