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“I’m not out to point out bad things that happen in the world. I’m not out to say, ‘That’s a problem, we need to fix that.’”
“If you are going to have this platform, use it to say something, use your fucking white educated male arse to say something.”
Everywhere I go is Simon Denny. My social media feeds have been dominated by the the same few photographs over and over: skinny white boy with a serious gaze and short back and sides. A little bit fuckboy; a little bit Macpac. The photos are either Simon Denny taken through a window (he makes art about surveillance, get it?) or Simon Denny in front of artwork with his phone out (he makes art about technology, get it?). Simon Denny is everywhere. Simon Denny is having an ‘art moment’. Simon Denny is the future of New Zealand art. The installation of his 2015 Venice Biennale work Secret Power (or four $750,000 components of it) at Te Papa a few weeks ago has resulted in a flurry of talks, interviews, and one average “making of” video doing the social media rounds. It’s fair to say I am over exposed to Simon Denny.
Of course I went to see it / him (he describes himself as a brand *eugh*) at Te Papa last week. I was, to be honest, sceptical as you often are when you are over-exposed to something. I was ready to hate Simon Denny. But I didn’t. I quite liked it actually. I quite liked him. The four works were originally installed among others in the grand (apparently) Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 2015’s New Zealand Pavilion for the Venice Biennale. The large humming glass computer server cabinets are filled with a hodge-podge of visual material related to the Edward Snowden-leaked NSA files, e.g. badly designed power points and 3D printed Nokias. Now installed in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa, the works sit on a large photographic floor and wall wrap of the original site. The installation is a super visual information overload, reframing what feels like intangible information into a very Te-Papa-esque exhibition display, complete with garish visualisations and illustrations, lighting, models, and laser etched texts.
It’s not just our national museum that has been capitalising on the now Berlin based Simon Denny being in town. Several months back Artspace in Auckland announced a call for proposals for the exhibition New Perspectives with Simon Denny that aimed to bring together artists with “young practice” and “new perspectives” on the basis of a selection by… our hero Simon Denny. Even though I kind of hated it I also couldn’t help fantasising over the idea of being chosen, meeting Simon Denny, being part of this elite selection, perhaps sharing in someway in this “art world moment.”
Faith Wilson, a Wellington based artist and general person of good thoughts and actions, also saw the call, mused over this focus on golden boy Simon Denny, and unlike me responded. She sent in a confessional style video “which was not an artwork” dressed in pink bathrobe, condemning both the project: “How is Simon Denny relevant to new perspectives in Aotearoa art? And why are we getting NZ’s biggest WMA bro artist to curate this? Fuck Simon Denny.” And Denny’s noncommittal politics: “If you are going to have this platform use it to say something, use your fucking white educated male arse to say something.”
A few weeks later Faith is skyping Simon Denny. She had been invited to contribute to the show. Duh. This non-artwork, created in defiance, was accepted into the fold. Colonised by those she was rallying against. A way to claim and control her reaction or use it to prove a point of inclusivity? Or a genuine interest her New Perspective?
“Lol found out Simon Denny is a Capricorn 😈 they’re like apparently the worst combo for me.”
Since then my instagram feed has been filled with a narrative trail of confessional videos, hand scrawled notes, stalker-esque images, and compatibility tests. I now know Simon Denny is a capricorn and Faith’s Tarot was on point this month, anticipating their meeting. Her anger manifested as something more complex, a romance of sorts—alongside the frustration was this same want to please, to be accepted, to be a ‘chosen one’ as I had felt reading the email. Her anger manifests as desire—physical and emotional. Struggling to claim a space for her body as a brown woman in an ultimately white male word, whilst being accepted, validated, and pleasing to those in power.
“I thought you wanted to help me but you just wanted my body to include in your diverse show.”
She plays (or is) the girl in love with a man she hates, but can’t stop thinking about. A bad guy she can’t quit. I want you to want me so I can not want you back. I want to feel loved and validated by your gaze, hate it, and then fondly remember our awful interactions. Throughout the narrative structure of the Instagram Simon Denny becomes more than the man she is simultaneously attempting to seduce and condemn, but also a representative for a community that she knows she will never truly fit, never able to fully express herself within.
“I don’t want to be the poster girl for dissent.”
A particularly poignant moment, the turning point in the story, is a series of hand scrawled notes written on the edges of pages of books and readings. They come hard and fast, revealing the desperation and conflicted nature of Faith’s relationship with Denny. Interspersed with videos of barefaced Faith desperately flipping between anger, disappointment, and confusion the story becomes so much more uncomfortable—it departs from celebrity fan art to a darker space. The artwork and the reality of the situation blur and it becomes hard to discern the the line between performed and felt. How much is the continuation of the narrative an idea and critique, a performed reality, and how much a real lived experience reflecting her ongoing relationship with Denny as curator and commissioner of the work she has to ultimately produce for the Artspace show?
“My desire was to assimilate, yours was to colonise, what went wrong?”
I haven’t seen the work in New Perspectives with Simon Denny and am not sure how much of the @fucksimondenny Instagram will be a part of it. The freedom and form of instagram provides a space where the resistance was was her own, unclaimed by Denny and unclaimed by the institution. How will the work continue inside the walls of the gallery, where there is more of a game to play, people to please, a format to fit?
In the end Faith has made herself vulnerable, spoken her mind, taken a risk, questioned the system. She shared a subjective voice, even if at times it confused her and left her conflicted. She owned it and revealed something. She interrogated herself and the system around her. That’s brave and that’s political.
Thank you to Faith for @fucksimondenny and sharing your thoughts with me. If you are in Auckland over the next few weeks (until October 29) make sure you get to Artspace, Level 1, 300 Karangahape Rd, and check out New Perspectives with Simon Denny, Faith Wilson, Louisa Afoa, Diva Blair, Hikalu Clarke, Owen Connors, Charlotte Drayton, Matilda Fraser, Motoko Kikkawa, Louise Lever, Theo Macdonald, Quishile Charan, Tiger Murdoch, Dominique Nicolau, Aroha Novak, George Rump, Mark Schroder, Anna Sisson, Huni Mancini, Hannah Valentine, Tim Wagg, and Yllwbro.
**All quotes, unless stated otherwise, are from Faith Wilson aka @fucksimondenny.**