Simon Denny: The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom
This review of Simon Denny's exhibition The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom at the Adam Art Gallery was first published in Artlink magazine.
On 20 January 2012 New Zealand police, on the request of the FBI, raided the Auckland mansion of Kim Dotcom, founder of file-sharing websites Megaupload and Megavideo, who stands accused by US authorities of copyright infringement, amongst other charges.
The fulcrum of The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom, Simon Denny’s exhibition at the Adam Art Gallery, is the list of items taken in this raid, which is pinned informally to the gallery wall. Here are 110 items, including bank accounts, luxury cars, artworks, TVs, computer servers, video cameras, and domain names. Each of these items is represented as an A0-sized digital print, produced by Denny in collaboration with designer David Bennewith. The gallery is also filled with 3D representations of the items: toy versions of the luxury cars, wooden sculptures of the TVs, real TVs, copies of the seized artworks, and similar versions of the jetski and motorbike.
Much of Denny’s recent work has circled around the evolving rhetoric and culture of the technology industry. The Personal Effects (a title deftly undercut by the public gallery exhibition, the fact that Denny simply downloaded the list of items off the Internet, and Dotcom’s enthusiastic collusion with the media) similarly mines the Dotcom narrative for the issues its raises about the interrelationship of the physical and digital and the increasing force of digital technologies to erode the borders of an original “thing” and blur the concept of ownership—a concept which so defines our current capitalist moment.
The show oscillates between physical and digital representation. Predominant on the list of seized items are bank accounts from numerous countries and a series of domain names: Megastuff.co, Megaworld.com, Megaclicks.co etc. Denny flips these amorphous, digital, non-geolocated services into robust digital prints on “Premium Artist Canvas Polycotton”, anchoring them in space and time and on the most conventional of artists’ mediums.
The Personal Effects is a politically mute show. In public and media events Denny has been quick to distance himself from any opinion on Dotcom, his businesses, and his recent foray into New Zealand politics. This is particularly marked given the timing of the exhibition, when many await the outcomes of the Transpacific Partnership Agreement, a multilateral agreement which appears likely to extend New Zealand’s copyright term (life plus fifty years) and introduce stringent laws, largely dictated by multinational corporations, which will restrict the way New Zealanders can use the Internet. Whilst Denny’s work exists in the increasingly contested space between the original and the copy, it maintains a silence on the politics of controlling intellectual property in the digital age.
This year, Denny will represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale with Secret Power, a show that is slated to address “the intersection of knowledge and geography in the post-Snowden world”, it will be intriguing to see how the artist neutralises or otherwise contends with another overtly politicised topic.