By Mark Amery
Simon Denny is a smart artist. His exploration of the visual representation of our world is vital. The whole complexity of the Kim Dotcom saga remains gruesomely fascinating. And yet, try as I might I find The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom by Simon Denny at Adam Art Gallery an overworked, overstuffed mess.
An exhibition wrapped up in its own conceptual complexion rather than one that provides the space for the production of any new thoughts or feelings.
Yet here’s the smart retort – it’s meant to be overworked and overstuffed. As the exhibition title suggests this is installation as portrait. A portrait of the man and the rabbit warren-like world of copyright piracy Dotcom’s Mega Upload has enjoyed breeding in.
The exhibition explores the different ways the inventory of items seized from Dotcom's Coatsville Mansion in 2012 might be represented visually. They range from $250,000 in cash (shredded in bags) to an unspecified fibreglass sculpture (a Michael Parekowhai ‘Kapa Haka’ figure is super-clever stand-in), and from a Seadoo Jet ski (a battered example) to a Toyota Hilux (an odd assortment of parts).
The assets are, alongside a large number of bank accounts, also represented in digital prints on canvases that line the walls. They resemble trading cards to be collected, with logos and images of varied filched digital quality. They emulate the aesthetic dodginess of the Dotcom brand - a mouse arrow tackily hovers over each, and a ‘Megavid.eu’ logo (the name incorporated by Denny as a limited liability company) occupies a corner as cheesy artist signature. In one of a few cringingly familiar contemporary art installation tactics, the inventory from the US government indictment (signed and stamped a ‘true copy’) is roughly taped to a wall.
Like the Internet and like Dotcom, Personal Effects is a hash of conflicting, repetitive and divergent approaches. Almost riotous in its playful exploration of the physical representation of our digital world: full of excess marketing bumpf and reproduction across multiple platforms and formats, offering different quality copied and pasted product. It rejects minimalism, embracing maximal impact to match its concept, providing a wealth of expensive trash and ways of representing it.
Like the big man, the exhibition is complex but inconsistent, crass and loose. It breaks expected gallery logic, theatrically staging messy disruptions in stairwells, corridors, the toilet and other non-exhibition spaces – all fired up on entrepreneurial spirit. Attention grabbing, the presentation is constantly visually challenging in a way that is as blatant as it is clever. Like Dotcom, again, it is always game playing. It constantly asks you to admire how smart it is, leaving you noticing the big gestures where it is clearly not.
Portraits of the powerful tend to be commissions. The subject is posed and wears personal effects to assert position and wealth. This exhibition is significant for exploring how to manifest the wealth of today’s rich.
Yet it’s neither a commission (Dotcom has nothing to do with it) nor a polemic critique. Some people have problems with this. What is Denny’s position, they cry. I don’t. Dotcom is a complex figure being presented in a complex way. It represents a commonly held position: a mix of admiration, ambivalence and loathing. That’s rich material for an artist. The trouble is Denny fails to provide us enough space or structure to better understand that complexity. Rather than any insight or change, walking out I feel more distaste and powerlessness than I did walking in.
Looking at images of the exhibition in its previous incarnations you get the sense it has got more overblown rather than refined in its travel to New Zealand. The exhibition was first shown in July 2013 in Vienna Austria, and then recreated in March of this year in Colchester England. Simon Denny has reconstructed the exhibition all over again with attention to the local context and, what he and the gallery can negotiate in terms of product representing Dotcom’s effects. Here, he seems to have been at pains to try to keep up with the inventive pomposity of Dotcom here in New Zealand. The exhibition seems to suffer from having less distance. It gets messy.
Indeed, the exhibition mixes together a range of different approaches on the same subject. Sitting amongst the representations of seized goods is a collection of copies of the NZ Herald containing articles related to the case. The concept behind these being held behind glass in a vitrine is lost on me. Frustratingly, only a few spreads may be read.
In another vitrine are the records of efforts by Michael Lett Gallery and lawyers to open bank accounts on behalf of the artist in all the same places as Dotcom (an absurd, futile exercise without the sufficient business capital). In a third vitrine upstairs is the documentation relating to the registering of megavid.edu. In what seems like an awfully bald metaphor for breaking through barriers, the vitrine cuts through a wall that is stripped back to its two by four frame.
Elsewhere replica and excerpts of some dreadful mural work by Cut Collective, originally commissioned for Dotcom’s games room feature. Naturally this was not part of the inventory of items seized – it’s yet another idea thrown in to thicken the pot.
The graff art covers not just walls but some of the canvases. In some cases this spreads beyond the canvases onto the walls, whilst in others the spray stops at their edge, the canvases having been moved from being sprayed elsewhere. There’s an intentional inconsistency here - a breaking with usual logic. Perhaps it’s a way of visualising a concept of disruption. I’m not sure. Its interesting but not revealing - a comment that could apply to the exhibition as a whole.
As fascinating as it is flawed, this exhibition leaves me excited to see where Denny can develop his ideas to with Secret Power at the Venice Biennale in 2015.