Currently on at Petzel Gallery in New York, artist Simon Denny has launched a new body of work under the title Mine. The product of a multi-year project exploring themes of technology, labor, and humanity’s relationship with the earth, Mine touches down in New York in a fitting time for consideration, as Amazon workers contend with failed unionization efforts, cryptocurrency once again dominates the news cycle and we move further into the post-digital landscape.
Focused on the interconnections between data mining, mineral mining, and the mechanization of labor, Mine brings together a collection of recent works including several large cardboard sculptures imitating giant automated mining machines; a series of wall-mounted paper reliefs and printed vitrines; and a new Augmented Reality sculpture based on a 2019 patent drawing filed by Amazon.com for a delivery worker replacement drone. A hot air balloon referencing the speculative flying machines of earlier eras, the work is a peculiar rendering of a printed diagram in three-dimensions, serving as a platform for the projection of an animated AR model of a revolving, rocky, mineral-rich, planet Earth onto the drone’s balloon bulge. This vision of Earth-as-resource is borrowed from the advertising materials of one of Amazon’s most prominent data services clients: the multinational mining group Rio Tinto.
Also presented in the exhibition is Extractor, a playable board game that also functions as a take-home catalogue. Players collect data in the form of tokens, which they must stack on plastic-molded racks and place in cloud services to monetize what they have mined and thus win the game. The hybrid sculptures-cum-display units presenting the boxed games mirror the dynamics of the monopolistic platform businesses that control much of our internet infrastructure. Compiling data and economics together, Denny’s artwork raises questions about the effects of further automation on the limited jobs still left in increasingly mechanized sectors such as mining, service, and logistics. What happens as the labor force shrinks in these traditional industries? How will individuals and worker communities dialogue with those in power in the future? Where will the leverage they once brought now come from?
The show closes May 15th.
– D. Creahan
Simon Denny: Mine [Exhibition Site]