hammer museum ethereum exhibit Simon Denny

With wider adoption of blockchain technology in virtual currencies and other applications, artist-activist Simon Denny has stepped forward as the Toulouse-Lautrec of the moment. While the latter painted the characters and lifestyles of the cafes, bars, and dance halls in Belle Epoque, Paris, the former has mounted an installation that is now on show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, featuring his view of blockchain revolutionaries and the new world they’re creating.

The exhibit might seem confusing to the uninitiated; however, recent museum visitors have been caught smiling at the unusual nature of the installation when they looked at and read the basic material about blockchain tech and cryptocurrency.

The installation is an introduction to blockchains as seen by the artist, 35 this year, and is centered on three views of the concept as represented by three of its leading figures: Blythe Masters, head of Digital Asset Holdings in New York; Balaji Srinivasan, head of 21.co in Silicon Valley; and Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum. The exhibit is presented in three sections, reminiscent of trade-show booths, with life-size photo cutouts of the tech innovators. Each presides over a game of Hasbro’s Risk with different modifications to the board game.

The booths also feature postage stamps, co-signed by artist Linda Kantchev, in striking, contemporary, and authentic-looking designs. The perforations on the Ethereum stamps suggest the concept of blockchains.

The Risk board represents Digital Asset’s comments upon the company’s more traditional approach to currency by replacing the Risk game pieces of infantry and artillery with figures of executives and corporations. The 21.co game is off-shore, suggesting that the changes will be more in keeping with the virtual nature of blockchain. Ethereum’s game is geometric and features a warrior of the future, a hybrid infotech alien and a spaceship powered by Ether. As such, curatorial associate Emily Gonzalez-Jarrett describes Denny’s take on Buterin’s technology as “moving completely away from the known world.”

“In this fictional future, an unregulated free market reigns supreme,” she noted. “But, as with many technological developments, a few companies at the forefront have cornered the market.” Nevertheless, Gonzalez-Jarrett writes, Denny and other artists of his generation tackling the new world of government and economies are not technophobes. “Rather than arguing against this overly informed, hypertechnological dystopia, they are laying it bare so that viewers can decide whether or not they want to willfully continue on that path.”

Gonzales-Jarrett said the show has gone well.

“We at the Hammer were really happy with the way the exhibition came together and Simon left pleased as well, so we consider that a success,” she told ETHNews. “Anecdotally, I’ve heard good things from friends and colleagues.”  

She said he gave her the insight she needed while she was writing the exhibit documents.

“He helped to clarify or point me in the right direction on the technical points, but also very open in considering the larger questions of how his work functions as artwork,” she noted. “Needless to say, he is very smart and I very much enjoyed getting to know him and his practice.”

The exhibit, which came to Los Angeles after a run at the Pretzel Gallery in New York, continues through Sunday, April 23rd, at the Hammer on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood.

Denny was born in Auckland, New Zealand then studied art in Germany, where he’s now based. He represented his native country at the Venice Biennale in 2015, which featured images captured by the National Security Agency that he converted to art, and is also known for his exhibit, “The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom,” a re-creation of the possessions seized in a raid on the notorious Internet entrepreneur’s home. Regardless of any questioning inherent in the Risk games, Denny sounds like a champion of the blockchain future.

“Imagine a world where trust is guaranteed, a world without borders, a world in which each and every one of us takes part in the whole,” says Denny. “This world is already here, embedded in the blockchain.”

Steve Silkin is a journalist who has covered business and technology in Europe and the United States since the 1980s. Steve is a full time staff writer for ETHNews.
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