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Futura Proxima Curated For Gucci
Simon Denny’s ‘Resident 1, 2021’
Words by Vere Van Gool
Simon Denny is a New Zealand-born artist whose body of work explores how contemporary value systems hold societal impact. Based in Berlin, Denny’s installations, sculptures and videos introduce witty crossovers between the Internet, corporate culture and national identity. For Futura Proxima, the Staedelschule graduate created Resident 1 (2021) – a quilted rugby jersey assembled from vintage Gucci silk scarves inspired by styles worn by Queen Elizabeth II during her unprecedented reign as monarch of the United Kingdom since the 20th century. Deconstructing remnants of the British Crown’s influence on contemporary value systems and the tension between adventure and power, Resident 1 takes the legacy of activewear as a point of departure, combining two garments popular among business people of different eras: the rugby jersey and puffer vest. This hybrid jersey-puffer reflects the British royal family’s enduring influence on global capitalism and the colonial networks in which the finance sector operates today.
Featuring bucolic designs from the 1970s by Italian artist Vittorio Accornero, the appropriation of these scarves resonates with the British Empire’s legacy in the Commonwealth of Nations and Her Majesty’s love for the outdoors. Accornero’s colourful silk prints are dissected into an ordered assemblage of geometric and botanical designs, in an exercise of bespoke upcycling that overlays symbols of elite power onto a mass market sportswear form. The title, Resident 1, is derived from the term ‘resident minister’, a general who is granted legal and political jurisdiction of a colonial outpost. Resident ministers have been instrumental in shaping the legacy of the Commonwealth nations, through which sports like rugby are cultural relics of the colonialist influence.
Resident 1 (2021) is an evolution of Denny’s recent works Power Vests (2020) and Remainders (2020) – quilted vests and sleeping-bag sculptures produced with Salesforce and Patagonia garment patterns while using scarves from the personal collection of the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The artist represented New Zealand at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and has since exhibited in museums across the world, including the Hammer Museum, KW Center for Contemporary Art, and De Young. Simon Denny is currently taking part in a group exhibition, Worlds of Networks, on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris until April 25, 2022.
Vere van Gool: If you could glimpse into the future, what would you see?
Simon Denny: I think cultural activity could be both broader in general and at the same time have different, smaller sets of fragmented audiences, each with their own idea of what is valuable. Cultural spaces might become more specialised – smaller groups of people might refer amongst themselves to different histories and do things that are especially valuable to them but less valuable to other groups. I think the world as a whole will become more dynamic, and more things will change faster in every field – which could make it increasingly harder for any one person or group to follow a wide variety things across different contexts.
VVG: How will future value-systems influence human interaction?
SD: For those that want to operate in several, it might involve adopting different personas, avatars or identities in different places, be those online or off. These will likely be at least partially geographically defined, but not only nor exclusively. These groups may not follow national or language groups, but connect across other categories or shared values.
VVG: What motives drew you to develop Resident 1?
SD: Part of my practice is collecting objects, along with the context and narrative that they carry as relics, and redeploying them – mixing these contexts and narratives into other relics. I collect images and objects as a matter of my everyday rhythms and instincts, and sometimes they become the seed of artworks. I bought 17 of Margaret Thatcher’s silk scarves at an estate auction a few years ago, which grew into sculptures that employed these objects. I had tailors produce a series of Patagonia sleeping bags and puff vests using the scarves. These formed sculptures which I titled “Remainder” for the sleeping bags, and “Power Vest” for the vests. They gathered my thoughts about the worldview and policies of politicians like Thatcher and their crossover with of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who often are associated with wearing Patagonia puff vests.
The associations of adventure, technology, individualism and the belief in markets as organisational systems seemed to combine into these forms. When looking at images of the British Queen from the mid 20th Century, I was struck by the Gucci scarves she wore. I felt the series of sculptures made from scarves-as-outdoorswear might be productively extended. Further researching the evolution of brands like Patagonia and The North Face, I discovered that rugby jerseys were produced early on as climbing wear. The histories of imperialism and power that I grew up with intertwined with colonial games like rugby, from which I noticed the interesting thread between global power, adventurewear and the infrastructure of money and power.
VVG: Are garments a currency of our time?
SD: I think so, like other relics and cultural objects, they carry value from their origins and histories. I collect and reuse objects in my own work, including clothing, for this reason. Who produced what and when, what objects are made of and how – all of these questions are retained within an object through its lifespan. People own and wear clothes at a particular time, which says something about themselves and the specific moment. As an artist, combining the material traces/relics of those social histories can be useful to create stories and associations.
VVG: How do you speculate about the future of artistic practice?
SD: Cautiously. Things change all the time, for example, look at what covid has done to restrict travel and reshape possibilities for shared social spaces. It’s very hard to predict what will happen in any field. I like to follow lots of different kinds of conversations, from as many places and contexts as I can keep track of, from technologists to anthropologists, artists to politicians, of different backgrounds and cultural contexts. With my own practice, I expect that making digital work will be as important as the sculptural and material parts of my practice. With an unpredictable material world, evolving infrastructure for web-based work can feel like an increasingly important and interesting arena.
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