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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Impersonal Effects of Simon Denny

In January 2012, New Zealand Police raided a mansion half an hour outside of Auckland. The owner, Kim Dotcom, was accused of costing the entertainment industry $500 million through the hosting and distribution of pirated content. Among the items seized were 22 cars, 60 computer servers, $170 million in cash, and a life-sized Predator figure. You may remember this. You may also remember the bizarre feeling that followed. As if overnight, our proximity to a global discourse around privacy and the exchange of cultural property shifted. If it was a watershed moment, though, it succeeded only in ushering in Dotcom’s presence as simultaneous defender of personal freedom and megalomaniac.

Two years later, and the conversation we were supposed to have about privacy and the international exchange of data never really happened. Stifled, perhaps, by Dotcom’s persisting novelty. Currently, the objects seized, or copies of them at least, are on display at firstsite in Colchester as part of Simon Denny’s The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom.

Denny’s concern here is ownership and translation. What we lack, it seems, is an adequate vernacular, both legally and socially, to talk about existing in a digital context. Denny is considered a pioneer of Post-Internet art – art produced in a context in which the internet is normalised. With The Personal Effects, Denny seeks a reconciliation between the immaterial Dotcom as the familiar cultural oddity and the material Dotcom offered by this catalogue of objects.

In October, Denny will be given the entire space of Adam Art Gallery to stage the largest iteration of the show to date. I recently spoke with gallery director Christina Barton about Denny’s philosophy, practice, and position within a globalised art world.

One of the big challenges for us is that we’ve got to help him source and materialise these items that were taken from the house. He’s very specific about being accurate, but at the same time he’s interested in the processes of translation that take place.

Denny reconstructed the objects from a publicly available list. As a sculptor, Denny is less interested in the value of the original object in relation to the copy. The concern here is what happens when that distinction is collapsed. Instead of shipping the items from Europe, the gallery is sourcing new versions of the objects: “This is a response to the logistics of actually borrowing objects from the other side of the world,” Barton says, “and I suppose that is also a feature of how he operates.”

These objects, it must be said, are not attractive. Which may be precisely why Denny is so taken by them. Another translation takes place here. Upon entering the gallery, they are “put through the filter of art,” as Barton puts it; the tasteless object becomes tasteful by virtue of its context:

I think Simon’s been a master of this right from the start. If you look at some of his installations, they don’t employ precious materials, they’re not finely crafted: we see tawdry packaging of a high-end digital flat screen and he asks us to appreciate it as a sculptural object.

These objects, then, not only contribute to an understanding of Dotcom as a collector of luxury items; they engage in a conversation about the artistic economy. The conspicuous consumption of tasteless objects is not, for Dotcom, a symptom of his lack of taste, but rather a facet of an expertly navigated brand.

Dotcom is a master of publicity. He’s very strategically allowed people into his domain… It’s not just that he owns all of this stuff, it’s somehow that it’s there to be seen. I’m sure that Denny is very curious about who the man is and how his possessions reveal something of him.

Art sustains itself through this kind of consumption. Last month, Pace opened a pop-up gallery in Silicon Valley, with the objective of reaching an untapped market of potential art collectors. “This is the wealthiest community in America,” Pace’s president Marc Glimcher told Re/code. “And they’re smart and creative. And they don’t yet collect art. They’re the only community in the world like that.” In a way, Dotcom is among them, as someone whose wealth has been amassed so rapidly by means that would have been inconceivable not long ago, and in a way, this is the root of the exhibition’s strangeness. Temporally, the exhibition exists in the liminal space between Dotcom’s ascendancy to power and his adoption by the arbiters of taste, between the cessation of the cult of the original object and the way of reconciling economic and legal interests, between the proliferation of new data and a means of comprehending it.

Simon Denny: The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom opens at Adam Art Gallery on 1 October.

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