All you need is data: the DLD 2012 Conference REDUX rerun
Petzel Gallery, New York
20 June - 27 July 2013
Review by David Price
The remix, the redux and the remake are all archival forms, produced by echoing and drifting reproductions that refer to an original by formal allusion. The current Simon Denny show at Petzel functions as a canalisation of these forms of reproductive logic, in the form of a staged, pictorial archive of the 2012 Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in Munich. Prior to its present setting the show was presented in Munich alongside the conference’s 2012 edition, but the works were originally made without even nominal complicity with the event. The nature of occasions such as the DLD is to assemble a group of prominent, digital elites that collectively ruminate on the future(s) proposed by technologies of thought. It is, then, a discursive scenario in which future speculation is presented as a secure currency traded by insiders. Denny’s production of a retrospective archive of these conversations, in this light, produces a set of images that are playful, somewhat elusive reportage, but which are counterfactual in their materials; in the stabilisation of globalised digital discourse into a formal arrangement of static printed panels.
In each image an element of the conference’s conversational structures are represented by a digital assemblage of quotes from speakers, their portraits, images of them on stage as well as graphical renditions of the paraphernalia of a conference such as identity cards on lanyards and mock-Polaroid photographs of proceedings. As portrait-aligned digital prints on canvas the images also make an equation between multiple forms of screens; those of the tablet computer and of printmaking but also certain forms of interactive display.
In their pictorial arrangements and design the images faintly echo the displays of clues laid out for a viewer in graphic adventure computer games of the 1990s, but perhaps echo even more-so elements of the graphical suitcases of artefacts and documents laid out in the ‘Tulse Luper’ projects of Peter Greenaway. Certainly, Denny seems to share Greenaway’s dual appreciation for and desire to ironise the aesthetics of bureaucracy. His construction of a chamber to house these echoes (amongst others) is especially apt in regards to the digital space that it delineates. It gives contemporary voice to the concern that Benjamin Buchloh identifies in the ‘administrative aesthetic’ impulse in canonical Conceptual Art - ‘the conflict between structural specificity and random organization’.
This dichotomy, so often played with in the documentation and bureaucracy of Conceptual Art, is manifest in this exhibition as something closer to a subtly voiced satire of organisation. The 89 panels are arranged along metal rails that compel the viewer to navigate the show by means of a queuing system. The titles of the individual works are present at the top of each image, and follow the chronological procedure of a conference timetable. The first work, therefore, is ‘07.45 REGISTRATION/BREAKFAST’, and later in the ‘days’ that the panels describe there are moments such as ‘09.00 INDIA - MARKET OF TOMORROW’, or ‘14.30 SHARING ECONOMY’. All of these moments (break-times, entertainments and meals as well as talks) are therefore flattened in their relative importance. Just as in the social life of the conference itself, the viewer is given the impression that the works’ formal ‘networking’ takes place in these designated downtimes. The quotes pulled from individual talks offer a literary appraisal of the artist’s apparent wider concern with the displacement of the certainty of meaning in this kind of discourse. Much of the show’s subtle critique lies within these fragments of language, where even Walter Benjamin becomes trite (one quote reads: ‘As the great philosopher Walter Benjamin once said, ‘As media changes, so society starts to change’ and I have a deep belief that we are in the middle of a deep change in media and society’), and where, occasionally, a formal key to the exhibition is placed. This is most evident in one of the later panels, where the pull-quote reads: ‘We basically take all these groups, put them together, normalize them and find out what you should read and the order you should read it in’.
The manner in which a participant’s time (both at the conference and the exhibition that ‘reduxes’ it) is organised even in its free moments seems to address a wider notion about the agency of contemporary digital citizens. As in the latin origin of the word ‘redux’, one is perpetually ‘brought back’ to order, or to a represented and reproduced form of order. In addition to the 89 ordered panels there is one other room that functions as an appendix to the thesis of the ‘remake redux’ - a display of three large reproduced outdoor vinyl banners advertising the conference. Unlike the assemblage of the canvas panels these banners belong unambiguously to the design aesthetic of the conference world, but are quizzically exterior to the conference and the exhibition’s discourse. They function more as an atrium to the show’s echo-chamber and so take on a courtly, ceremonial role in contrast to the whispered feedback present in the rest of the work.
Despite the evidently current post, post-modernity in these works, and in Denny’s practice as a whole, the kind of ‘remake’ at work in this exhibition is far from the glib rendering of surface occasionally present in work that represents these digital currents. Its transcriptive project is, rather, concerned with the material of data and the authorial trace of the reproducer, and so reminds the viewer of more ancient forms of discourse redux; of tapestries and friezes, or of the great library of Alexandria and its ‘books of the ships’. These were copies of papyrus scrolls held on ships that entered the port of Alexandria. The library’s scribes would make the copies in order to return to their owners so that the originals could be held in the library’s collections. The work of Simon Denny would seem to be in tune with such elaborate forms of archival rescription, where transactions of discourse are both flattened and given depth in the same narrative gesture.