Simon Denny. Art and Crypto

In conversation with Elena Filipovic

Blockchain company postage stamp designs: 21 Inc [with Linda Kantchev], 2016. Photo: Nick Ash

Blockchain company postage stamp designs: Ethereum [with Linda Kantchev], 2016. Photo: Nick Ash

Non-state administered, decentralized, and open source-based: cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the blockchains that underpin them have emerged as powerful alternatives to the dominant fiat systems of money and banking and art making as we have so long known them.

Among those artists that have observed and commented on these developments, Simon Denny stands out. The artistic and curatorial work he has produced over the last half decade—from Blockchain Future States (2016) to The Founder’s Paradox (2018), from Proof of Work (2018) to Proof of Stake (2021)—appears as an incredibly prescient critical investigation into the mechanisms of knowledge and ownership behind these technological phenomena and into their interaction with the physical world we inhabit.

Elena Filipovic: I probably am the least qualified person to speak to you about blockchain cryptocurrency, NFTs and the body of work you have made over the last half decade around these new technologies. I say “least qualified” because I am relatively un-tech-minded. And I don’t even have an Instagram or Twitter account! But on the other hand, I am not naive either. I know that my location is being tracked, my personal data sold, and that it is happening just by me using a computer, walking in public space, having a smartphone, or paying with a credit card—all part of what Shoshana Zuboff recently called “surveillance capitalism.” Would you say that no matter what your ostensible subject is—whether it is technology, or technologists (from to Peter Thiel to Jeff Bezos), whether it is internet surveillance or big data, whether it is Bitcoin or cryptocurrency—and no matter form that it takes (sculpture installation, board games, lectures, or curating exhibitions), at its heart, your work investigates power?

Simon Denny : Right, I would also say that I’m not the most technically minded artist, but I’m aware of the fact that technology and technologists structure the possibilities of our lives so much. In that way, my work is about power, the experience of power, or rather, the experience of living a life that is navigated by other people’s decisions and powers.

EF: You engage with these complex technologies, with the histories of their making, and the people who invented them or circulate them, and yet the materials that you use, whether it’s the postage stamp, cardboard copies of things, board games and so many other ways in which your artwork manifests, are in fact rather old school and not techy. It is exactly by using these very familiar, almost anachronistic forms, that you get us looking at the mechanisms behind these technological phenomena…

SD: Yes, exactly. With many of my projects I have tried not only to make artwork that is legible and has the possibility to move people who are not technically minded, but also to distil some of the new feelings and situations that technology presents to us all into forms that can be experienced in exhibitions.

Blockchain Future States trade fair booth with custom postage stamp:
Ethereum [with Linda Kantchev], Berlin Biennale 2016. Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul

Secret Power, installation view, 2015. Photo: Jens Ziehe

EF: It brings me to think about some of your impressive large-scale projects over the years: Secret Power, your 2015 representation of New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, or your 2018 exhibition, The Founder’s Paradox. In each of them, you explore how technology is shifting our relationship to the world. But they took the form of these hyper material, sensual things. Could you say a little about how you approached the questions that both of these projects deal with?

SD: In Secret Power, I produced an expanded version of a number of very flat images, texts and diagrams that were leaked through Edward Snowden. Looking at the documents he leaked was a kind of clandestine experience, because you knew it was something that you weren’t supposed to see. These images, and even the flatness of the JPEGs, and the slight clunkiness of the PowerPoint aesthetic that was a part of most of them was really moving for me. I thought, “Okay, I want to take that moving experience, and try to pass it on to people who can’t get it simply from looking at the raw documents.” So I pulled out some of these JPEGs, translated them into 3D plexiglass versions, put them in giant server rack units as display cases and situated them in the location of the Biblioteca Marciana, a space which people normally associate with a sumptuous experience as it includes all these incredible old master paintings from the Renaissance period. People came into that space expecting to be moved by old fantastic imagery and instead they were confronted with the explosion of this different kind of new material. That’s also true with The Founder’s Paradox, that I basically made from researching a newspaper article and a bunch of books. I was fascinated by the figure of Peter Thiel, a notorious ideological figure in the field of technology and conservative politics. Looking into some of the texts he produced and circulated, I tried to distill the strong reaction they provoked in me and so I translated this experience into exaggerated, slightly grotesque board games that mapped this territory. I think there’s always a process of translation involved in my work.

EF: Listening to you, I realize something that hadn’t occurred to me before: how entirely site-specific each of them is, how you composed them in relation to their sites in ways that gave them even more meaning. You mentioned the Biblioteca Marciana, in Venice, which was the location of the Secret Power project. It’s a place that epitomizes the acquisition of knowledge, and you used that place to talk about NSA leaks and the spread of another kind of knowledge.

SD: Right, that’s also interesting when you move to some of the work that I’ve done about blockchains. The first installation that I did, in 2016, as part of the Berlin Biennale, Blockchain Visionaries, was situated in a very particular setting, the former Communist Party headquarters that has been later used as a business school. You had a building that was ideologically dedicated to reflecting communist centralized power transformed into an engine for decentralized markets in a capitalist system. In that installation, in particular, I worked with an advertising company to produce a two-minute video introduction explaining what blockchains actually are in order to inform people who were arriving at that universe for the first time. But then I also wanted the project to do something for people who already knew about blockchains, so it had a second layer of meaning for that audience too. Maybe with regards to this legibility question it’s also worth touching on other things I’ve done within the blockchain/art sphere, which is curating. As a curator I have been dealing with some of the questions that you have probably also faced, attempting to place yourself in between the public and an art that you are passionate about, that you think is doing something important to a viewer who maybe is yet to be passionate about these things; acting as sort of mediator to a wider public. A lot of my practice involves learning from people who do exciting things and trying to pass some of that excitement on. In 2018, I had the opportunity to do this in an exhibition I co-curated with many others in a “distributed” way about art and blockchains called Proof of Work at the Schinkel Pavillon, in Berlin. In that show there were these beautiful inflatable rooms at the center of the space made by a blockchain collective called FOAM (a project that now looks like a proto Helium network), that were inflated by the exhaust from an Ethereum miner. Questions about ecology, exhaust, bubbles, and the inflation of markets were materialized in this project. Inside the bubble there was another artwork by a collective called Distributed Gallery, which was literally a money burning machine. People came with euro notes, they put them in there framed up, and then got a kind of crypto token as a receipt. Incredibly one could see money burning inside this machine, housed in this bubble. This combination of artworks somehow then provided a more tangible interactive experience for those who might know nothing about the feelings around crypto.

Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs as Freelance Designer, 2015

Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for National Cryptologic Museum, 2015. Photo: Nick Ash

Crypto Futures Game of Life Board Overprint Collage: Twists & Turns, 2018. Photo: Nick Ash

Crypto Futures Game of Life Board Overprint Collage: A Jedi’s Path, 2018. Photo: Nick Ash

EF: I think you put your finger on the essential question of why one curates, which is partly about sharing one’s concerns and idiosyncratic passions with a wider public and hoping that they matter and mean something to them too. You mentioned this 2018 group show you curated, Proof of Work, but I know you are also on the brink of opening another group show, Proof of Stake, at the Kunstverein in Hamburg. Given these parallel terms, Proof of Work / Proof of Stake, could you say something about their connection to the blockchain protocols that gave rise to their titles?

SD: Proof of work is one of the central mechanisms involved in the Bitcoin blockchain, it is the process whereby, essentially, tiny computers all over the world are solving cryptographic problems, to prove that they’re giving their processing power to the network, and each node on that network is rewarded with some Bitcoin in return. That’s a simplified explanation of what Proof of work is. So you’re proving that your machine is doing the work. And by giving that proof, then you’re welcomed into the network and rewarded. This is a process that has done a lot for incentivizing the growth of Bitcoin, but it’s also incredibly energy intensive. Bitcoin is not the only blockchain for which proof of work is a central system, there are also other blockchains like Ethereum, which is the second most famous blockchain. As artists have started using networks, like Ethereum, to produce and sell artworks, this energy intensive conversation has also become really central for artists. Do we need to produce all this energy in order to keep these neural networks flowing? Instead of it being about a distributed network of computers spending energy, could it not be instead about how much investment all of these people have, or all of these nodes have in the system, with rewards based on involvement and ownership? So it becomes not about the “work” your computer(s) gives to the network, but the “stake” that you have in the network. Hence the term proof of stake. And that’s what this exhibition that I’m about to open at the Kunstverein in Hamburg is responding to. It starts with a question of how to bring ideas around ownership and power, inspired by the movement to proof of stake in blockchains, into a wider historical framework. One of the artists in the show, Sarah Friend, has made a new blockchain-based artwork, in which you have to give away the token in order for it to survive. That’s the idea of an asset which is anti-speculative because you have to continue to pass it on, which is the opposite of what a lot of cryptocurrencies do, where the incentive is to hold onto them in the hope that they increase in value. So in this way, her work is questioning ownership and what it means to have a “stake” in a blockchain system. On the other hand, I’m also bringing in other artists, that question ownership in very different ways. So narratives of who can own technology in general, who can claim the history of technology, and who can claim to call something technological, are questions at the heart of the Proof of Stake show as well. There is for example an amazing artwork by the Luiseño (indigenous American) artist James Luna made in the 1990s called High Tech Peace Pipe, which is an assemblage made from a plumbing pipe in the shape of a smoking pipe, that has beaded moments he commissioned for this object from another Luiseño artist (Betina Coultress), which sit on top of a push button desk phone. Nothing to do with blockchains explicitly, but everything to do with questioning who can claim technology, who designs it, who has access to it, etc.: ownership. There is so much attention in the art (and financial) world on blockchains. NFTs and auction sales around the world have turned their attention paid to these things probably forever. There’s countless blockchain and crypto exhibitions being curated all over the world now. My role in that, compared to what I tried to do with Proof of Work in 2018, is to try to broaden that conversation and stop it becoming a kind of silo where the meaning of technology is assumed and is only tethered to industry definitions. I am attempting to contextualize artistic questions around ownership that have been asked and stated in many other contexts before, in dialogue with these newer blockchain-based formulations.

EF: You are not just curating, in fact, but almost making an exhibition-as-artwork through the conception of an exhibition that actually performs some of the operative principles of the technologies you’re interested in. I read a description of Proof of Work, where you were talking about how you were trying to decentralize authorship in that project…

SD: Right, there are layers to the curating process that blurs and challenges authorship, which is also a popular theme in some blockchain circles interested in decentralization. I read this amazing book that you edited about the artist as curator. I especially responded to the Anthony Huberman text on Warhol’s project Raid the Icebox I, as a model for curating where there was an embrace of chance, and a reflection of the institution embedded in the project. Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum is another canonical example of the artist as curator, which I also intensely revisit when thinking about Proof of Stake. Timur Si-Qin’s intervention, where he re-presented a series of empty vitrines that were decommissioned from the Markk, the ethnographic museum in Hamburg, for Proof of Stake to me had a resonance of both those shows also.

EF: Few among us have not heard about the hysterical rise of NFTs. If there’s anyone I’d like to hear speak on the subject it’s you, for all the reasons that we’ve just talked about. And I’d like to start this sort of foray into NFTs by asking you where your interest in them lies.

SD: My interest for NFTs arose when I was curating the Proof of Work show. Harm van den Dorpel’s blockchain-based artwork was included in the Proof of Work exhibition but also in ‘left gallery’, a project that he does with his partner, Paloma Rodríguez Carrington (which is essentially an early NFT gallery). Before these things reached the scale we see them at today, there was a small community of very literate software aware, blockchain aware artists producing NFTs and experimenting with what these new formats can do. I’ve always been fascinated when others create these alternative infrastructures and test new possibilities within them. Harm had an incredible change of scale and reach of his projects this year when his Mutants NFT series, launched with Billy Rennekamp, Dan Denorch and Everett William’s platform Folia, took off in a major way. But the seeds of that project were in this earlier work that he’s been doing for a lot longer, that was also highlighted in Proof of Work. Harm also made an early NFT release of some posters of other artworks of mine through the ‘left gallery’ around that time, which was really my first interaction with the format as an artist.

EF: NFT stands for “non-fungible token”. Every time I hear that term, I think: isn’t the essential and traditional idea of the artwork itself dependent historically on non fungibility? In other words, what is non fungibility except to say, uniqueness and singularity tied up with value?

SD: That’s such a nice concise formulation. I also often use artworks as an example of a “non-fungible” asset. The classic example for the opposite of the non-fungible token, a fungible token, is a banknote: if you have a banknote, and I have a banknote, they’re the exact same value, but different objects. We can swap them: I have $1, you have $1, if we swap that dollar, we still have $1 each. The whole point is that you can exchange them. And that’s what also cryptocurrencies were built around. If you have a Frida Kahlo and I have a Frida Kahlo, they’re both unique things that have a particular value associated with them, which can change (can go up and down). But their uniqueness is part of what keeps that value. That’s what a non-fungible thing is, and the token is just another word for store of value, so a coin can be seen as a token, a banknote and a postage stamp also. A token is just the container for that value. You can have a fungible one or a non-fungible one, one that is exactly the same as every other token in the network, or a non-fungible one that can change in value in relation to the other tokens in the network.

Blockchain Future States History: GDR Stamp Designs, 2016. Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul

EF: Ha! Now you have made the whole notion of an NFT finally clear and simple to me. Whenever I read about NFTs, I can’t help think about both Duchamp’s “invention” of the readymade and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s use of candy piles and paper stacks as art. In these cases, absolutely ordinary things achieve the status of an artwork through the declaration of an artist (“this is an artwork”) and through institutional ratification, with a certain exclusivity or monetary value maintained through documentation or certification of some sort. The potential of an NFT to engage with and insert itself into this art historical trajectory is really what interests me, especially as someone deeply invested in how artists like Duchamp or Gonzalez-Torres shifted our understanding of the artwork. And yet I suspect that Beeple (I’m just using his name because it’s the most spectacularly expensive example we have) or so many others minting NFTs at the moment might not necessarily be aware of or attempting to critically engage with that history. Yet, I know you are.  

SD: Earlier this year there was a lot of conversations in the art world we’re socialized into, trying to grapple with what Beeple is, what tradition is he working in, and how can one situate this. Beeple comes from a graphic arts tradition no less profound a culture than say a MoMA-friendly conceptual art canon, just with different emphasis. His initial success in the NFT world I think relates to the legibility of that tradition for an uninitiated audience—which is in general a major upside of the graphic arts—it is accessible and relatable even if you don’t know much about it. A conceptual art tradition privileges other qualities, like context or proposing poetic, speculative ideas, and having a material or an immaterial placeholder for those speculative gestures as an artwork. I think, as you suggested before, the form of an NFT has a lot of promise when placed in dialogue with histories of conceptual art, because it can capture models of speculative propositions—like Harm’s Mutants or Sarah’s Lifeforms.

EF: Absolutely. And I think that is what makes your foray into NFTs so fascinating. I know that there have been three bodies or series of NFTs that you’ve made to date, and what differentiates them for me from what NFTs have become—basically explosively expensive and maybe artistically questionable JPEGs—is that you have turned them into critical mechanisms, into conceptual artworks. So I’d love you to speak about your NFTs to date and how each of them functions.

SD: Sure, so in March 2021 I produced some new NFTs in dialogue with an older body of work called Mine that is focused around mineral extraction/mining and connecting that to data extraction/mining. Crypto mining seemed to relate to both. I bought an Ethereum mining computer off eBay, which has an interesting market mechanism: when the market is up these computers are very expensive, when it’s down you can’t give them away, because the energy costs to run them have to be less than the value of the currency you get from running them. But at the time I was buying them in a very hot market, so they were expensive. I commissioned a graphic artist who works in game design to do a digital portrait of this mining computer. I then published that ‘portrait’ as an NFT, and then retired the object itself from the crypto network entirely, contributing its processing power instead to mapping climate change in an online rendering bank which one can donate to. So, it was for me a kind of a translation in and out of different forms of materiality and different forms of value, which I called an NFT Offset. Then I moved into a second series, which was thinking about time and artworks. I noticed that a lot of friends of mine, as the market heated up, were issuing images of their old artworks as new NFTs. That was doing something really weird with time, because I remembered 10 years ago these artworks coming out. And then now they were being refreshed as NFTs in a very strange translation process. You know, time is something also very important to blockchain. Every node, every transaction is marked very rigidly. If you think about blockchains as an online, collective spreadsheet, every entry is entered at a particular moment. And that is super important to the way the whole thing is structured, it’s supposed to be immutable. And that’s also the claim around the value of artworks as NFTs: they’re unique, they’re forever and you can kind of trade that ownership proof as an asset. And so when they are issued and when they enter the blockchain is directly connected to the value and how they carry and keep that value on the blockchain. So I thought, “Hmm, what happens if you could find a loophole? A time machine? What happens if you could mint an artwork in the past somehow?” I talked to a few technically minded friends about this and my friend Billy Rennekamp confirmed that a way to perform that act would be to change some of the data on an old NFT that has already been minted, say in 2018. Billy had a few tokens that were minted for an old hash naming NFT service (kind of like ENS today), that were not in use anymore. So I took an image of an artwork that I made in 2016—a postage stamp/portrait of Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin (that I produced with a postage stamp designer, Linda Kantchev) and printed the hash or address of Billy’s older token on it, photographed it, and swapped out the existing NFT’s image for the one of my old artwork. So in effect, you’re taking an old token, booting off the asset that is supposed to be connected to and replacing it with another one and claiming that that artwork was minted in the past at the time, when that thing was first produced. Essentially, it’s kind of minting an artwork in the past, which is supposed to be something you’re not able to do on the blockchain. The third NFT so far this year is something that we’ve done together, Elena, for the group show that you curated and that is on right now, at Kunsthalle Basel, INFORMATION (Today), responding to an exhibition from 1970 called INFORMATION at MoMA. I created an NFT in dialogue with an economist, Moritz Schularick, that I have an ongoing conversation with. An economist’s reputation is often tied to a particular chart or graph that represents their research, like an economist’s meme. And Moritz had made this quite well known chart which shows the incredible rise in many markets of the price of property from the ’70s onwards. We were talking about all sorts of ways in which that history resonates with the crypto-financial world. Moritz and I realized that it just so happened that the “content” of his most well known chart—a chart that shows a steep rise in value of property prices in many major economies internationally, over several decades, starting in the 1970s—was deeply resonant with the conditions of emergence of Bitcoin and crypto. One of Moritz’s major areas of study is inequality. He worked on the team that contributed to Thomas Piketty’s infamous book about inequality, Capital. Bitcoin was founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, one which was in part caused by speculation around property prices in the US. Some of the early adopters and developers around Bitcoin thought of the technology as a way to make a new financial system that was separate from all the structural problems of the existing one, like the tendency towards inequality, and especially, the problem of the unlimited supply of money, which became relevant as government-issued currencies became uncoupled from the value of gold in the 1970s (which is also exactly when property prices started to become an asset that only went up). So, to associate exactly this chart with a new kind of speculative art asset, running on an infrastructure based on Bitcoin, seemed a meaningful connection too. And then we thought what if an economist’s chart could be minted as an NFT—a bit like some memes are. And I was super excited about that, as well, because I’ve been thinking about INFORMATION (Today) and about the artists that were in that 1970 exhibition, such as Bernar Venet, who made paintings of charts. So there was a sort of a resonance with that moment, but also the idea of a kind of economic representation/abstraction (the chart) becoming an NFT (which is its own economic abstraction). We also thought maybe when we sell this economist’s chart NFT, we could take the proceeds, give half to the institution (Kunsthalle Basel), and the other half as a donation to the State, to the canton of Basel. I thought it was such a compelling idea, because all cryptocurrencies from Bitcoin onwards are about supranational post-national money systems. Also, Switzerland as a country plays a very special role in the legitimization of cryptocurrencies. The canton of Zug is a place where Ethereum, the blockchain that most NFTs are minted on, was legally founded. It’s the place where a special legal structure was able to make a bridge between the existing financial world and the crypto world; a kind of portal. However, the rise of crypto has meant (and I think will increasingly mean) a challenge to existing monetary systems. Crypto is a threat to governments’ control of the economies they preside over, and therefore to power. This is as true for Switzerland as it is for China. I thought it would be an interesting—if a little perverse—gesture to return some of the wealth that is being created outside of the State-issued money system back to the State. And not just any State, but the State that legally allowed the first parts of that bridge to this other financial system to happen.

EF: I love the perversity of this piece. And it’s exactly these critical mechanisms or this meta aspect that is so interesting about the way that you’re working with NFTs. The dizzying history and connections you have just plotted make me think of the fact that in the early ’70s, just as the gold standard was being dismantled, just as conceptual art practices were being concretized, Seth Siegelaub and a lawyer named Robert Projansky came up with a contract, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement—a mechanism for transferring a percentage of sales in perpetuity to artists when their works were sold. It actually failed to take hold in any significant way, partly because not enough artists themselves embraced it. But now, 50 years later, NFTs have somehow managed to institute this successfully, which I find super curious. How is this technology, imagined and traded by geeks with apocalyptic fantasies and turbo-capitalist desires—these are the clichés—how is it that they will be making sure that artists get paid in the end?

SD: I think there’s a resonance between what Seth Siegelaub did, the tradition of conceptual art and our current reality. I think for the people in the NFT world, and from the crypto world, the idea of rewarding an artist every time the work was sold, plays into this narrative of access, of democratizing access, which I think a lot of internet-based platforms have tried to claim for decades. The giants of the internet from the previous wave of innovation, Google and Facebook, when their platforms were introduced, claimed to increase access to information, right? As for Facebook, it was about voice, everybody can speak, they can share their opinions. With blockchains, crypto and the 3rd web, access to investment, to profits from building systems, is being touted as the reason to adopt these systems. You can use the “access” flex for NFTs vs museums too. Something like: the traditional art world is exclusive, protected by an elite, not everyone can become part of it, you have to be part of the club. But with NFTs we have an alternative. Making institutions and canons irrelevant, and giving everybody access to a place where you’ll see returns from every sale, on an open market without galleries as intermediaries. And the resale royalties fit nicely into that story—it benefits all users equally; in theory at least. It is also a really powerful incentive to make work that caters to speculative network effects. Harm’s project for example, where he sold the initial batch at low prices, that have now been flipped several times, he always makes money on that speculative return. So it means artists are optimizing collections for speculative resale in the initial designs, which is very different from how other areas of art sales work, where the secondary market is only a nightmare for artists who do not want their work to resell. However, as we know, from the experience of Google and platforms like Facebook, when these things change, what does that really do, and who benefits? What did Google do to information, Facebook do to voice, and what will crypto do to money and NFTs to art?

Blockchain company postage stamp designs: Digital Asset [with Linda Kantchev], 2016. Photo: Nick Ash

EF: There’s a recent essay by David Joselit in which the scholar describes NFTs and one of their particular characteristics by saying, “Its value is structurally dependent on the exclusive right to control its circulation.” But isn’t this the case of the artwork as such, since after all, a collector who buys even the most classical of paintings actually buys the possibility to control if it’s shown, when it’s shown, by whom and under what conditions? And if that is what is so structurally particular about an NFT, then I wondered, do you think that these notions of possession, control and power (the ideas which we started our conversation with) are some of the main issues at stake in the spectacular rise of NFTs?

SD: Sure, it’s about making artificial scarcity, from something that was a kind of commons, a sort of enclosure. One can work with NFTs, in a more liquid manner than more strictly object-based art. It’s like any other kind of abstraction of property, like money itself is in a way, where if an artwork is also a digital asset, then you can spend it in different ways, lend it in different ways, and leverage it in different ways. NFTs are closer to financial abstractions like money in their format and therefore the possibilities for maneuvering them, manipulating them and working with the value that is supposed to be contained within them are much more suited to other types of abstracted financialized value systems. NFTs are more natively compatible with finance than even paintings.

EF: The digital, as we know, via its infrastructure, is inextricable from the physical, with all its data centers and crypto mines and cell towers and satellites and laptops and networks. And as we also know, climate change, and our own impending self-inflicted extinction, is being accelerated greatly by the mining machines that drive cryptocurrencies and NFTs. In your own work, you use forms that look like sculpture, but also like board games, or NFTs themselves, or the transformation of exhibition spaces into deranged trade fairs, as a way to get a conversation started about the perniciousness of what’s happening in the rise of these technologies. I’m going to be devil’s advocate for a moment: is there a danger in minting NFTs and thus actively participating in the destruction of the planet in order to save the planet?

SD: Yes, and some NFT artists like Sarah Friend will only mint on proof of stake networks (which are negligible compared to proof of work in terms of power consumption) for that reason. The NFT connected to my Mine projects has actually led me into dialogue with artists dealing more directly with questions of climate change, and what artists can do about it. These are people like Haley Mellin who works on land conservation, Art into Acres, where art profits are funneled into conserving land. What are our NFT related or other types of carbon footprint? What ideas do we have for mitigating other very energy intensive activities happening in the art world, like flying to different countries, and shipping giant things? These things all have environmental costs.

EF: Many of the topics you’re tackling are the results of a 21st century data-based capitalism. You made your first blockchain project in 2016, which was really prescient, and in different ways, whether it’s in The Founder’s Paradox or Secret Power, you’re giving us imagery and a vocabulary for understanding what is happening in our world, and alerting us to its dangers. Are you, then, the canary in capitalism’s coal mine?

SD: Well, haha, I made an artwork recently, which worked with augmented reality, a sculpture of a cage that Amazon patented a couple of years ago for its distribution centers. I put an AR version of a bird in a couple of different instances flying around in the Amazon Worker cage. And that was in the idiom of the Mine project about exactly how these sentinel beings have been instrumentalized and used in the past. We have sentinel beings all over the world, in this age of mass extinction, so many species are giving their lives, even ones that we as humans don’t know about, at the same time, as our systems accelerate.

Simon Denny
Art and Crypto
In conversation with Elena Filipovic
Sculpture, Prints, Curating, and NFTs 2015–2021

CURA. 37
After Language / Post Society
FW 21–22

(b. 1982, Auckland, New Zealand) lives in Berlin. He is an artist whose work explores the cultures and values behind contemporary technologies. In recent years, Denny has looked at the exploitation of information in data-economies, using his work to visualize systems of competing political and economic visions, interrelationships of labor, capital, developments in technologies, and impacts on the environment.

is Director and Curator of Kunsthalle Basel. She previously served as Senior Curator of WIELS, Brussels and was Co-Curator, with Adam Szymczyk, of the 5th Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2008. Her writings have appeared in numerous artists’ catalogues and journals and she edited The Artist as Curator: An Anthology (Mousse Publications, 2017). She is author of David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale (Afterall Books, 2017), and The Apparently Marginal Activities of Marcel Duchamp (MIT Press, 2016).