Simon Denny

Products for Organising
Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London

Simon Denny’s work engages with surveillance, digital technology, the politics of architectural spaces, branding and corporate management strategies. For his exhibition, Products for Organising at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, a former gunpowder store, Denny has created a mixed media installation, using found objects, video, printed graphics and texts. The exhibition revolves around contemporary management practices and the history of hacking. Diagrams and flow charts share a space with soft toys and cans of Red Bull in Denny’s examination of the spatial organisation and ideologies of security agencies and corporations, and the way that hacking has influenced their practices. The exhibition is divided into two sections labelled ‘Products for Emergent Organisations’ and ‘Products for Formalised Organisations’, respectively. The history of hacking is highlighted on one side of the gallery, while the management strategies used by corporations and government agencies are probed on the other. In a series of doughnut shaped sculptures on the right hand side of the gallery, ‘Products for Formalised Organisations’ uses the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and commercial tech companies, like Apple and Zappos, as case studies, in order to shed light on their respective models of internal organisation. The circular sculptures are similar to large architectural models turned up on their sides and are inspired by the floorplan of each organisation’s headquarters. In these buildings we can assume visibility is heightened by their circular form. Two of the circular sculptures are overlaid with text, diagrams and organisational charts describing the managerial techniques Holocracy and Agile. Holocracy, a system for re-distributing authority throughout an organisation, aims to remove hierarchy and promote autonomy. Agile on the other hand, grew out of software development methods and emphasises flexibility. By using the Agile methodology teams of workers are prompted to constantly reassess themselves in evolving collaborations.

These works suggest, not only the similarities between large corporations and government organisations, but also, given Denny’s explorations of the history of hacking on the left side of the gallery, how management techniques, organisational structures and bureaucratic procedures have been transformed by a more ‘creative’ approach pioneered by hackers and the software development community. On the left in ‘Products for Emergent Organisations’ we encounter an elevated platform made from scaffolding and adapted from Denny’s 2015 collaboration with the architect Alessandro Bava. Visitors are invited to walk along the scaffolding and encounter server racks which are made to function as sculptural vitrines. The vitrines combine technological hardware, packaging, toys and ephemera with annotations on their glass fronts, each one highlighting a key moment in the history of hacking. The first one that we come across looks at The Tech Model Railroad Club, a student organisation formed at the MIT in 1946, and often thought to be the birthplace of hacking culture. The server rack is adapted to incorporate a spiralling train track with a model train. Painted on its front is a snakes and ladders diagram. At its base is an information panel about the engineers and technicians at the MIT who set up the club and experimented with ways of circumventing computer programs. In these works Denny appropriates elements that are typical of museum display and its systems for arranging knowledge. The works are presented on modular stages, giving the exhibition the appearance of a trade fair. Additionally the use of commodities and corporate branding, combined with the investigation into work practices, produces an aesthetic of alienation.

Denny’s exhibition alludes to the ideas that the contemporary moment is defined by the expansion of corporations and that social control is garnered by government organisations through the use of surveillance to intercept digital communication. One of the additional issues that the exhibition raises is that of ‘creative capitalism’. The innovation and autonomy that is sought by large corporations is not only comparable to hacking but also to artistic creativity. Although not explicitly stated by Denny, parallels could be drawn between artistic innovation and the desire for innovation by the companies he showcases. The exhibition tends to overload the viewer with information, nevertheless it has the virtue of raising issues that are explored in current debates around Post-Fordism and immaterial labour. These debates argue that workers are called on to be creative, to invest their work with psychic and emotional energy, and that service personnel, creatives and information workers have become the dominant type of worker in Western Post-Fordist societies. Placed in the context of ideas around immaterial labour, and by exploring ‘creative capitalism’s’ forms, working methodologies and architecture, Denny’s assemblages can be seen to serve as an important reminder that materialism has not disappeared from so called immaterial labour.

Simon Denny, Formalised Org Chart/Architectural Model: GCHQ 3 Agile/Holacracy Workspace, 2015. Mixed media including Plexiglas, UV print on Revostage platform, book Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It, book The Happy Manifesto, book Peopleware, 200 x 210 x 100cm. Photograph Nick Ash. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne. 

Simon Denny, Modded Server Rack Display with Hack Change, 2015. Detail. Narrative by Matt Goerzen, suggested product title by Emily Segal. Mixed media including LED strips, custom printed books, Revostage platform, powder coated 19” server rack, Cisco Systems WS-C2948G switch, IdeaPaint cans, Lenovo ThinkPad, Tails operating system on USB stick, Guy Fawkes mask, ELSA MicroLink ISDN modem, 100 x 245 x 100cm. Photograph Nick Ash. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne.

Simon Denny, Products for Organising. Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Photograph © 2015

Simon Denny, Formalised Org Chart/Architectural Model: Holacracy, 2015. Mixed media including Plexiglas, UV print on Revostage platform, book The Ghost in the Machine, book Getting Things Done, book Holacracy, 200 x 205 x 100cm. Photograph Nick Ash. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne.