Simon Denny:
Soul Mining

Berlin-based New Zealand artist Simon Denny appropriates technology for a kind of social activism.

FEATURE by Steve Dow

A posse of journalists surrounds a vertical white cage, trying to spot a critically endangered King Island brown thornbill inside. We point our handheld electronic devices close to the gaps in the metal, and up pops an augmented-reality version of the thornbill on our screens, chirping and jumping about. In reality, this tiny specimen has fallen from an ecological high wire.

New Zealand-born, Berlin-based artist Simon Denny, wearing a baseball cap, guides us through Mine, his ‘woke’ art exhibition at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, which connects mineral exploitation, global warming and species extinction with data mining of the landscape of human experience.

Based on a 2016 Amazon Technologies patent, the cage that houses the bird was designed to contain a human employee, presumably to be sent to work among robots inside an Amazon fulfilment centre, retrieving products ordered by customers online. Denny encountered the patent and a diagram when reading research published by Australian-born artificial intelligence ethics researcher Kate Crawford, co-founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University, in her mapping of labour, data and resources within an AI system.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, this thing is like this incredible nexus point of whole a bunch of issues that I want to speak to’,” Denny tells VAULT the next day.

But why would a human need to be in a cage to work among robots? “As far as I understand it, it might be hazardous for a human being to be within that system without being able to be controlled by the... Subscribe to read this article in full

PURCHASE A PDF DOWNLOAD OF THIS ISSUE (AUD$10)

Prefer a hard copy? Visit our subscription page to purchase single printed back issues.