Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence
(photo courtesy: Nick Ash, MoMA)
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Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence is a sculpture by Simon Denny, a Berlin-based artist from New Zealand. For this piece Simon Denny commissioned new designs, including a map of New Zealand, from David Darchicourt, who worked as a graphic designer for the NSA for five years, and creative director of defense intelligence for an additional 11 years. Regarding the use of this work and its significance,
Darchicourt said he has spoken to Denny, who told him that he didn't want to ask permission before using the images in case Darchicourt wouldn't give it. Denny told the Guardian that working without Darchicourt's permission was crucial to the project. The NSA images that Snowden leaked, he told the paper, "have become retroactively some of the most important artistic images created today." Duncan, Ian (May 5, 2015) "Former NSA illustrator finds his work the focus of a major international art showl"
In this way Simon Denny's art participates in a reverse form and subversion and invasion of privacy of the subject matter he is engaging with. In addition to the visual material obtained form Darchincourt; Denny produced his own designs, recreating much of the NSA visual material included in Edward Snowden's infamous leaks. Using Edward Snowden's NSA leaks is an engagement with one of the most important historical and technological events of the last decade. Immediately the artwork is enmeshed in a network of potent referents including: political abuse of power, radical resistance, heroism vs. treachery, covert operations, etc.
It is interesting to note that in addition to their use of arguably the most high-tech equipment in the world, the NSA also employs totally analog and even old-fashioned cartooning, speaking to the continuing value of cartooning as an effective means of communication. Likewise, Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence utilizes both of these approaches. In his own words, Simon Denny explains, in reference to the NSA Powerpoint documents that were part of the Snowden leak,
“They are very important cultural documents, and the leak made them into 21st-century masterpieces. These images contain a lot of cultural information that we just haven’t been able to unpack. The attempt with this exhibition is to give people the tools to do that. My skill is as an artist – I’m trying to contextualise this material from my tradition, which is the history of conceptual art.” Higgins, Charlotte (May 5, 2015) Simon Denny, The Artist Who Did Reverse Espionage on the NSA
The medium for Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence is listed by MoMA, who purchased the work in 2016, as:
UV prints on Revostage platforms, powder-coated 19" server racks, Cisco Systems WS-C2948G switches, LAN cables, Bachmann power strips, HP Proliant 380DL G5 servers, steel trays, plexiglass and aluminum model, Maisto Humvee 1:18 model car, vinyl and plexiglass letters on plexiglass, prints on cardboard puzzle and laminated cardboard box, Picard steel tool box, screwdrivers, hammer, painting brush, wrench, socket wrench, bits, saw, UV prints on plexiglass, Tamiya 1:48 U.S. Modern 4x4 Utility Vehicle w/Grenade Launcher model cars and figures, CNC/routed MDF, VisiJet PXL Color Bond 3D print, UV print on Aludibond, Fisso stainless steel spacers, anodized aluminum panel, embossed gilded brass medallion, laser-cut plexiglass letters, powder-coated steel and aluminium components, UV print on sandblasted laminated safety glass, and LED strips (via MoMA)
This gives some idea of the maximalist and materialist aesthetic of Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence, part of the exhibiton “Secret Power”. The server racks, here employed as a kind of display rack, or museum vitrine are presented in Venice's Marciana Library as part of the 56th Venice Biennale. The Marciana Library's collection includes a large number of maps developed with information gathered by Renaissance-era spies. This sets up a clear dialectic between intelligence gathering of the past and present. The server racks, that would normally hold computer servers, the primary tool of much of the NSA's surveillance, are here filled with modified versions of Darchicourt's work. Large reproductions of the interior and ceiling of the Marciana Library were installed as the floor of the Marco Polo International airport in Venice, increasing the scope of the installation and incorporating the charged dialogue of post-9/11 travel and security. Insightfully describing the intentions of this work himself, Denny says,
“[It examines] the way the contemporary world is depicted in imagery used by the NSA; and it imagines a possible artistic context for the way that imagery was produced.” Higgins, Charlotte (May 5, 2015) Simon Denny, the artist who did reverse espionage on the NSA
The work of Hito Steyerl, particularly a work like How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, (2013) participates in a similar conversation with (governmental) power and art (history). Here there is a presentation of; strong graphical information related to politics and art, historically and contemporarily significant subject matter, appropriation of the aesthetics of power, and a simultaneously obscure and explicit criticism (are these epic trolls or earnest sympathizers?). By blurring these lines How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File and Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence focus on and redirect the visual information of power toward subversive and critical ends. Each artist seems to be rebelling against abuses of corporate/industrial power and the hyper-capital art market, while deeply embedded in both.
Formally and aesthetically we can relate the work of Simon Denny to the work of David Altmejd. Both artists are working with the means of display as a central component of their artwork. Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence by Denny and The Flux and the Puddle by Altmejd. The list of materials for The Flux and the Puddle reads similarly to Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence;
Plexiglas, quartz, polystyrene, expandable foam, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, resin, synthetic hair, clothing, leather shoes, thread, mirror, plaster, acrylic paint, latex paint, metal wire, glass eyes, sequin, ceramic, synthetic flowers, synthetic branches, glue, gold, feathers, steel, coconuts, aqua resin, burlap, lighting system including fluorescent lights, Sharpie ink, wood, coffee grounds, polyurethane foam (via art21)
In addition to formal/aesthetic similarities, the artists are making a wide range of references within the work, from the sinister to the absurd. Altmejd and Denny are both unpacking and dissecting very dense and highly-charged imagery. While Altmejd is investigating the synthetic and the biological, Denny is performing similar operations on the “black box” of global surveillance and power. The opposite of a “black box” is a transparent system in which the inner workings are available for observation and scrutiny, this “glass box” is precisely the form presented in Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence.
The Flux and the Puddle by David Altmejd
Modded Server-Rack Display with Some Interpretations of David Darchicourt Designs for NSA Defense Intelligence at MoMA =
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