‘Document Relief’, 2019–ongoing

Simon Denny
‘Document Relief’, 2019–ongoing
Ink jet print on archival paper, glue, custom metal wall mount; dimensions variable
Installation view: Art in the Age of Anxiety, Sharjah Art Foundation, 2020
Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco
Photo: Danko Stjepanovic


Using a variety of media, including installation, sculpture, print and video, Simon Denny examines the social and political implications of the technology industry and the rise of social media, start-up culture, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

The Third Industrial Revolution Case Mod Infographic (2015) references the book The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin (2011). The third industrial revolution, as explained by Rifkin, is built on five pillars, among which the internet plays a substantial role in the larger global economy. Denny presents these five pillars in the form of a diagram and an aluminium counter frame with the words THE THIRD INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, which stands between two Plexiglas plates with digital prints of the book cover. The direct references to Rifkin’s book in both the title and the aesthetics of the work open up a dialogue about the age of the internet, data sharing and data control.

The scarf used in the making of Power Vest 4 (2019) came from a collection of scarves that Denny acquired in an auction of the estate of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. A towering figure in the former British colony of New Zealand during Denny’s formative years, Thatcher is synonymous with the neoliberal agenda advocating free markets, deregulation and privatisation, now under increasing scrutiny as rampant economic inequality becomes ever more visible on the streets of our globally connected cities. In this project, Denny reintroduces the scarf as a knock-off along with bespoke Patagonia, Inc. sleeping bags and Nano Puff ‘power’ vests. By turning the scarf into a sculptural material, Denny transforms socio-politically loaded forms designed for individual insulation into a de facto uniform for tech and finance culture.

In the series ‘Document Relief’, patents from Salesforce.com, Inc that describe software targeting individual users and configuring network community protocols are repurposed by Denny as hybrid document and sculptural collage reliefs. The work brings the legal language and diagrammatic conventions of patenting—a mechanism for establishing ownership and restricting access—into poetic layered forms. Technical descriptions of both individuals and the community within the found language of the patent are collaged using intricate outmoded machinery, resulting in an interpretation of the aesthetics of bureaucracy that encode power and property in an increasingly automated economy. Salesforce.com, the largest employer in San Francisco and an active voice in civic conversations about space, has recently been cited for utilising patents as part of a tax avoidance scheme, while, at the same time, CEO Mark Benioff has been a vocal advocate for increased corporate and private philanthropy. In their totality, the works provoke dialogue about community, individualism and visibility and the role played by corporates in governing this dialogue.

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