Simon Denny has paid close attention to the surfaces, screens, and interfaces that are thresholds to the digital products we use to organize the world around us. As floods of information and novel network structures claim to disrupt the hierarchies of old, Denny has looked at the promises, perils, and thought-provoking changes enabled by a shifting technological landscape.
In Secret Power, for the New Zealand Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, Denny deployed images from internal communications by the US National Security Agency (NSA) leaked by Edward Snowden. Displayed in Marco Polo Airport’s arrivals lounge and the historical Biblioteca Marciana (home to, among other, a spectacular medieval world map preceding the Conquest of the Americas), the artist described them as “21st-century masterpieces” and “some of the most important artistic images created today.”
Denny soon took interest in emergent blockchain technologies. With projects like Blockchain Future States (2016), he recounted the history of cryptocurrency, through a set of objects and installations. Later, Dotcom Séance (2021) revived over twenty enterprises that went bankrupt with the bursting of the “dotcom bubble” in 2001, reimagining their potential existence with the help of an AI model and a crypto artist. The work, as Denny puts it, “touches on something uncanny about how, in the tech and business world, nothing goes away—it just resurfaces in different forms.”
Metaverse Landscapes, Simon Denny’s most recent series of works—which Kunstverein Hannover is proud to present in a solo exhibition—offers a glimpse into a number of the rapidly-growing immersive virtual worlds enabled by blockchain technology. Denny looks at the mechanics and visual vernacular of “metaverse” spaces that offer users an array of interactions: from social networking via custom-made characters to the purchase and sale of collectibles and, ultimately, digital real estate.
Metaverse Landscapes draws upon the art-historical idioms of landscape painting and modernist abstraction as well as the techniques used to represent virtual lands today. Combining UV print and oil painting, the works convey fragments of metaverses—not as they are experienced by their users in real-time, but as they are featured on sales platforms like OpenSea. These representations resonate with the tactics used by European colonizers who set out to sea, laying claim to what they encountered: first-person picturesque depictions of “exotic” vistas or top-down aerial surveys, representing lands as new and ripe for extraction.
In a technologically-mediated present where platforms like Google Maps claim to represent the world in its totality, Denny confronts the visitor with a map that is, in fact, a landscape. Metaverse Landscapes reflect social and political circumstances shaped in a decentralized marketplace. There, the map precedes the territory. And while that territory is mediated through the screen, its lands are created by, and consequential for, the humans who make up the network.