Illustration by Barlo.

Remote Connections

New Zealand
Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

I am an artist working predominantly out of Aotearoa New Zealand. And although I regularly exhibit in the Northern Hemisphere, there is no doubt that the distance in between is still a challenge even now in the second decade of the 21st century—not so much to myself or others operating from and within this locale, but to those in the so-called hubs or centers. I’m not referring to the “tyranny of distance” in the way that it might relate to our geographical remoteness, but to an externally defined, creeping and creepy psychological remoteness, in spite of so much connectivity.

Perhaps this is evidenced by New Zealand artists’ near-total absence to date from two major international European art events: the curated section of the Venice Biennale (New Zealand’s official country pavilion was established in 2001), as well as Documenta of Kassel, Germany. In fact, Simon Denny was the first New Zealand artist to be included in the curated Central Pavilion of a Venice Biennale, during Massimiliano Gioni’s “The Encyclopedic Palace” at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013—the very first time in the festival’s 118-year history. As for Documenta, which has held 13 editions to date, not a single New Zealand artist has been included, ever. This might be dismissed as historical fact; however, it undoubtedly points to an ongoing absence and lack of international visibility of work being produced in this part of the world.

This tangible absence is analogous to a kind of psychological absence—out of sight, out of mind. This is something I’ve been experiencing firsthand in a very peculiar way: the metabolizing of parts of my practice, perhaps through osmosis, by another artist operating firmly in the center. Not only were there shocks of lightning that struck so many times in one place (three), but also the head-buried-in-the-sand responses of professionals who are aware of this. It seems to me that regardless of the collapsing of distances that digital platforms appear to offer, this pirating continues under the guise of something akin to zeitgeist. It remains an ongoing challenge, one that you might assume technology could have erased: the acknowledgement that although it didn’t happen in New York, it still happened.

Perhaps the secondary challenge this then poses is a collective need in the 21st century to reckon with the snags that arise from the availability and reach that the internet offers: a false sense of in-depth inquiry that might be suggested in a practice in which “magical thinking” is mistaken for “investigation” (although, I’ll take magical thinking over “research” any day, thanks); or art professionals in one location assuming to understand those from another (here I include curators’ two-day whirlwind tours made up of multiple half-hour-long studio visits); to the incendiary act of an artist masticating the work of another.

It would seem then, in the second decade of the 21st century, we need to acknowledge the ways in which these remote connections still apparent in the physical world have been mapped on to the digital world—that an awareness of our own algorithmic “filter bubble” in both the physical, psychological and digital spheres is required. Perhaps then this attenuated ecosystem in which we find ourselves, wittily observed by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee as the “Hotel California effect,” can be critically engaged and allow us to check-out any time we like and leave.