Secret Power

Simon Denny

New Zealand Pavilion
Venice Biennale
9 May - 22 November 2015

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Monumental Rooms
Tuesday–Sunday 10am-6pm

Marco Polo Airport
Arrivals Lounge (airside area)

clouds pasted


In recent years, Simon Denny’s research-based art projects have explored aspects of technological evolution and obsolescence, corporate and neoliberal culture, national identity, tech-industry culture, and the internet.

His Biennale Arte 2015 project, Secret Power, was partly prompted by the impact of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks of PowerPoint slides outlining top-secret US telecommunications surveillance programmes to the world media, which began in 2013. These slides highlighted New Zealand’s role in US intelligence work, as a member of the US-led Five Eyes alliance. Now in the open, the slides have come to represent international surveillance work and its impact on individual privacy.

The New Zealand pavilion is split across two state buildings: the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Marciana Library), in Piazzetta San Marco, in the heart of the city, and the terminal at Marco Polo Airport, on the outskirts.

In the Library, Denny has installed a server room, with server racks and a workstation. In addition to holding computer equipment, the server racks and workstation double as vitrines, displaying a case study in NSA visual culture, consisting of sculptural and graphic elements based on the work of a former NSA designer and Creative Director of Defense Intelligence David Darchicourt and the Snowden slide archive, suggesting links in iconography and treatment. The server room resonates with the Library’s decorated Renaissance-period interior, with its maps and allegorical paintings—Denny’s inquiry into the current iconography of geopolitical power being framed within an obsolete one.

The Airport terminal—a busy hub for millions of travellers—incorporates restricted spaces, surveillance spaces, and interrogation spaces, and is equipped with high-tech security systems. Denny has ‘dragged-and-dropped’ two actual-size photographic reproductions of the Library’s decorated interior across the floor and walls of the arrivals lounge, traversing the border between Schengen and non-Schengen space. The installation incorporates plaques that reproduce examples of early maps from the Library’s collection, which could be mistaken for advertisements for what’s currently on show there.

Secret Power is site specific, exploring La Biennale Arte di Venezia, the Library, and the Airport as media. Denny hints at geopolitical imperatives that cross-reference and distinguish these frames. Completed in 1588, the Library represents the Republic of Venice as a wealthy world power during the Renaissance. Established in 1895, La Biennale is premised on a model of national representation that seems obsolete today, in a time of cosmopolitan global art. Completed soon after 9/11, the Airport represents a new era of global security.

Denny’s project is a complex puzzle. Each element is nested in and reframed by other elements in an expanding allegory, making interpretation potentially interminable. And yet, despite this, Denny gets us close to his ostensible subject—the visual language of western intelligence agencies. Paradoxically, he places himself and us (as artist and viewers) in positions oddly analogous to these agencies, as we trawl through data and metadata, engaging in analytics, pattern recognition, and profiling, trying to make sense of things.

Secret Power takes its title from investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s 1996 book, which first revealed New Zealand’s involvement in US intelligence gathering.

—Robert Leonard, curator, Secret Power

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NZ at Venice 2015 project

Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa is pleased to announce that Simon Denny will be New Zealand’s artist for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

“Simon Denny is the most high-profile New Zealand artist in the international art world today. His work is rich, intelligent, and challenging. We are confident it will be compelling in the context of the Venice Biennale.”

– Heather Galbraith, New Zealand Commissioner for the 2015 Venice Biennale

Simon Denny’s project Secret Power will address the intersection of knowledge and geography in the post-Snowden world. It will investigate new and obsolete languages for describing geo-political space, focusing on the roles played by technology and design. The project takes its title from investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s 1996 book Secret Power, which introduced details about New Zealand’s role in international intelligence work to a wider public. Robert Leonard, one of New Zealand’s most experienced contemporary art curators, will be the curator.

“The Venice Biennale represents an incomparable opportunity for New Zealand artists to show their work on the world stage. It is the world’s largest and most prestigious international contemporary art exhibition, attended by key curators, writers, and collectors, attracting enormous public interest.”

– Dr Dick Grant, Chairman, Creative New Zealand Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa

Initiated in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the largest and most prestigious world-art biennial—it has been called “the mother of all biennales”. This huge event has a three-part structure. There’s an exhibition curated by the Biennale’s director, a raft of shows organised by more than eighty invited countries and other collateral shows and events. The Biennale takes over Venice, with contemporary art infiltrating the city’s historic buildings.

In 2013, the three-day opening vernissage drew over 30,000 artists, gallerists, critics, curators, and press from all over the world. More than 475,000 visitors attended the Biennale in total and eighty-eight countries participated—including ten for the first time.

The Biennale’s national representation operates through a government-to-government invitation. New Zealand has been showing there since 2001. Its presentation is managed by Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, whose financial commitment to Secret Power will be $700,000 over two financial years.

The Biennale is extremely influential—it’s the place for art to be seen. The next Biennale, the fifty-sixth, will run from 9 May to 22 November 2015. Titled All the World’s Futures, it will be directed by the Nigerian-born curator and critic Okwui Enwezor. He has curated many large and important exhibitions, including the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale and 2002’s Documenta 11.

More at

Simon Denny

Simon Denny

Photograph: Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff

Simon Denny was born in Auckland in 1982 and is based in Berlin. His work has explored technological obsolescence, the rhetorics of Silicon Valley and tech start-ups, and technology’s role in shaping global culture and constructions of national identity. He is interested in the role of design in communication, particularly in user-interfaces. His exhibitions combine sculptures, graphics, and moving images.

Denny studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland and at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, graduating in 2009. His work is regularly exhibited in New Zealand and is held in its major public and private collections, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery. His work is also held in major international collections, including MUMOK in Vienna, the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Denny’s solo exhibitions include All You Need Is Data: The DLD 2012 Conference Redux  (Kunstverein Munich; Petzel Gallery, New York; and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2013); and The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom (MUMOK, Vienna, 2013; and Firstsite, Colchester, 2014). These exhibitions were positively reviewed in the The New York Times, Focus, Frieze, and Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2014, Denny presented New Management at the Portikus, Frankfurt, and showed a new version of The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom at the Adam Art Gallery, Wellington. Denny’s work has also been included in group shows at the ICA, London; Kunsthaus Bregenz; KW Center for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Fridericianum, Kassel; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. He was the only New Zealand artist invited to exhibit in the curated show at the 2013 Venice Biennale. In 2012, Simon Denny won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel. A solo survey exhibition at MOMA PS1, New York, is planned for early 2015.

Secret Power was unanimously selected from eighteen high-calibre proposals. Chaired by Arts Council Chairman, Dr Dick Grant, the selection panel included Heather Galbraith, Commissioner; Alastair Carruthers, patron; Anne Rush, Arts Council member; Blair French, Assistant Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Brett Graham, artist; Caterina Riva, Director, Artspace, Auckland; Dayle Mace, patron; Helen Kedgley, Arts Council member; and Judy Millar, artist.


The New Zealand pavilion will be split across two sites: one modern, at the edge of Venice and one historical, at its heart.


Simon Denny will be the first Biennale artist to use the terminal at Marco Polo Airport, designed by architect Gian Paolo Mar. Here, people converge from all over the world. For most visitors, it is their first point of contact with Venice. Extending through the arrivals lounge, Denny’s installation will operate between national borders, mixing the languages of commercial display, contemporary airport interior design, and historical representations of the value of knowledge.


The other half of the pavilion will be the Monumental Rooms at the Marciana Library in Piazza San Marco, designed by Jacopo Sansovino during the Renaissance. Decorated with paintings by artists including Titian and Tintoretto, depicting philosophy and wisdom, the Library is an allegory for the benefits of acquiring knowledge. It also houses historical maps and globes, including Fra Mauro’s early world map, containing information obtained by travellers, merchants and navigators including Marco Polo. It is one of the first European maps to depict Japan, for example. Here, Denny’s installation will draw analogies between this spectacular but obsolete map and the way the world is mapped and managed today.

Location of the Venues


Leigh Melville, Head of Patrons, and Heather Galbraith, the Commissioner, invite your support for New Zealand’s presentation at the world’s most prestigious art biennale. For donations of $5,000 and more, you can become a member of an exclusive group, the Patrons of the Venice Biennale 2015. In recognition of your support, you can enjoy a rare opportunity to be part of New Zealand’s presence in Venice.

You will be offered:

  • Two tickets for the three-day Vernissage preview (Tuesday 5 May – Friday 8 May), which is attended by VIPs, media, and arts professionals. A limited number of tickets is available to each participating country.
  • A copy of the Secret Power book.
  • Name acknowledgement in promotional materials in Venice and in New Zealand.
  • Invitations to openings and ceremonies.
  • A limited-edition Simon Denny artwork: Prism Slide iOS7 Redesign, FAZ 2014 (colour photograph, 44 x 31.5cm).

For more information, contact Leigh Melville
+64 (021) 406 678

Head of Patrons Leigh Melville

Image 4 Leigh Melville

Leigh Melville has worked in dealer galleries since the late 1990s. In 2007, she joined the founders of Art + Object in establishing their new auction house in Auckland and has recently become a director. Melville believes in the power of patronage. She is President of the St Cuthbert’s Old Girls’ Association, raising funds for scholarships for those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the NZ at Venice Patrons.

Alistair and Jo Blair
Adrian Burr and Peter Tatham
Andrew and Jenny Smith
Anne Coney
Anthony Wright and Selene Manning
Ben Bergman and Luke Brown
Bob and Vicki Blyth
Carole Hutchinson and Colleen Behrens
Carolyn Reid and Phillida Reid
Chartwell Trust
Chris and Dayle Mace
Crane Brothers
Dame Adrienne Stewart
David and Libby Richwhite
David Wilton and Heather Straka
Donald and Leigh Melville
Gabrielle Tasman and Ken Lawn
Ian and Susan Parton
Jackie Lloyd and Jan Kelly
Jan Warburton
Jane Kominik
Jenny Harper
Jenny Todd
John and Sue Coutts
Josh O’Rourke
Katie Chalmers and Michael Baker
Keith and Rhonda Lloyd
Kent and Gaye Gardner
Lynn Williams and Rebecca Turner
Mary Crooks
Matthew and Julie Maling
Michael Wolfe & Kristina Pickford
Neil and Jane Haines
Paul and Christelle Dallimore
Peter Macky and Michael Best
Richard and Angela Seton
Robert Bates
Robert Watson
Roger and Reydan Weiss
Ross and Josephine Green
Sjoerd and Stephanie Post


Supporting partners

massey City-Gallery-Wellington-Te-Whare-Toi

Hospitality sponsors


We would also like to recognise support from Three Boys Brewery

Many aspects of this project have been generously supported by Galerie Buchholz, Michael Lett, Petzel Gallery, and T293. The Marco Polo Airport installation received significant support from Communication, SAVE S.p.A (Marco Polo Airport), Liv Barrett, Lonti Ebers, Danny and Lisa Goldberg, Friedrich Petzel, Jackson Tang, and other private donors.

History of NZ at Venice

New Zealand has exhibited at the Venice Biennale since 2001. Previous artists were:

  • Bill Culbert (2013)
  • Michael Parekowhai (2011)
  • Judy Millar and Francis Upritchard (2009)
  • et al. (2005)
  • Michael Stevenson (2003)
  • Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (2001)

For all of them, it has increased their profiles nationally and internationally and led to greater opportunities.

2013 Bill Culbert Front Door Out Back

Image 5 Bill Culbert Level

Bill Culbert, Level, 2013, photo: Jennifer French

Since the 1960s, Bill Culbert has explored the optics, phenomenology, and semiology of light, particularly electric light. His installations in La Pietà were made from fluorescent tubes and recycled domestic objects. In Daylight Flotsam Venice, glowing fluorescent tubes and coloured plastic bottles were dispersed evenly across the floor, suggesting both purity and pollution. This work and Drop were acquired by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Bebop by Christchurch Art Gallery. / Commissioner: Jenny Harper. Deputy Commissioner: Heather Galbraith. Curator: Justin Paton.

2011 Michael Parekowhai On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

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Michael Parekowhai, Chapman’s Homer, 2011, photo: Michael Hall

Michael Parekowhai’s exhibition centered on He Korero Purakau mo te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River, a red grand piano carved in traditional Maori style, which was played throughout the show. It was accompanied by two life-size bronze sculptures of bulls standing and reclining on grand pianos; Officer Taumaha, a security-guard sculpture; and Constitution Hill, two small bronzes of olive-tree saplings. The work toured to the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, Christchurch Art Gallery, and Te Papa, who acquired the carved piano. / Commissioner: Jenny Harper.

2009 Judy Millar Giraffe-Bottle-Gun and Francis Upritchard Save Yourself

Judy Millar placed massive canvases of photo-enlarged brushstrokes (on shaped and sculptural supports) in conversation with the architecture of La Maddalena, Venice’s only circular church. In the period rooms of the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana, Francis Upritchard arranged Lilliputian figurines on tables, suggesting psychedelic imaginary landscapes. Both shows were later re-presented at Te Papa. / Commissioner: Jenny Harper. Deputy Commissioner: Heather Galbraith. Judy Millar’s Curator: Leonard Emmerling. Frances Upritchard’s Curators: Heather Galbraith and Francesco Manacorda.


Judy Millar, Giraffe-Bottle-Gun, 2009


Francis Upritchard, Save Yourself, 2009


There was no official New Zealand show, however there were two self-initiated projects. Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena’s Aniwaniwa was a Biennale collateral event. Housed in an ancient salt warehouse, the project offered submersion as a metaphor for cultural loss. The book Speculation showcased work by thirty New Zealand artists selected by eight curators. Copies were distributed during the vernissage.

2005 et al. the fundamental practice

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et al., the fundamental practice, 2005

Presented at La Pietà, et al.’s the fundamental practice explored ideological systems—religious, scientific, military, and political. Computer-generated voices articulated extremist texts from within crudely constructed APUs (autonomous purification units) resembling outhouses or sentry boxes. The project was rethought for the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, and Artspace, Auckland. Et al. went on to present altruistic studies in Art Unlimited at Art Basel in 2008. / Commissioner: Gregory Burke. Curator: Natasha Conland.

2003 Michael Stevenson This Is the Trekka


Michael Stevenson, This is the Trekka, 2003

Michael Stevenson investigated New Zealand’s attempt to create its own car industry in the 1960s and 1970s, which involved trade with communist Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War. Stevenson’s exhibition at La Maddalena teased out the idiosyncrasies of this particular story and paradoxes of globalisation generally. This Is the Trekka was acquired by Te Papa and shown at City Gallery Wellington in 2005. / Commissioner: Jenny Gibbs. Curators: Boris Kremer and Robert Leonard.

2001 Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser Bi-Polar

Two artists were exhibited at the Museo di Sant’ Apollonia. The sleek sculptures and digital prints of Peter Robinson’s Divine Comedy were based on concepts of existence and nothingness drawn from various sources, including Dante and Stephen Hawking. In Jacqueline Fraser’s A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched, a fabric maze housed female figures drawn in wire. The work grappled with themes of cultural dislocation. It was the first in a trilogy of Fraser installations presented that year, the others being shown at the Yokohama Triennale and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Both artists’ works were later shown at City Gallery Wellington and Fraser’s Demure Portrait was acquired by Te Papa. / Commissioner: Jenny Gibbs. Curator: Gregory Burke.

Image 11 - Peter Robinson - Divine Comedy (2)

Peter Robinson, Divine Comedy, 2001


Jacqueline Fraser, A Demure Portrait of the Artist Strip Searched, 2001


Commissioner: Heather Galbraith

Commissioner: Heather Galbraith

Heather Galbraith is Associate Professor at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, in the College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwharangi, Massey University, Wellington. Before that, she was a Senior Curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, and at City Gallery Wellington. She was the inaugural Director/Curator of St. Paul St Gallery, AUT University, Auckland. Galbraith co-curated Francis Upritchard’s exhibition for the 2009 Venice Biennale and was New Zealand’s Deputy Commissioner in 2009 and 2013.

Curator: Robert Leonard

Robert Leonard is Chief Curator at City Gallery Wellington. He previously held curatorial positions at Wellington’s National Art Gallery, New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and Auckland Art Gallery and directed Auckland’s Artspace and Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. He co-curated Michael Stevenson’s exhibition for the 2003 Venice Biennale.

Project Manager: Jude Chambers


Jude Chambers joined Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa in 2005. As Manager International Special Projects and Cultural Exchange, she delivers international projects and initiatives. This includes New Zealand’s participation in the Venice Biennale and NZ at Edinburgh 2014, the WW100 Co-Commissioning Fund, and Te Manu Ka Tau (the international visitors’ programme). In her previous role as Senior Programme Adviser, she managed the Visual Arts portfolio and worked on New Zealand’s 2009 and 2011 Venice Biennale projects, project managing Bill Culbert’s Front Door Out Back in 2013.

Other team members

Project team

  • Artist’s Representatives: Michael Lett and Andrew Thomas
  • Assistant Curator: Alex Davidson (This role is generously supported by Dame Jenny Gibbs)
  • Assistant to Exhibition Manager, Silvia  Righetti
  • Audience and Market Development Adviser: Rose Campbell
  • Communications (Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa): Helen Isbister, Matt Allen, and Sarah Pomeroy
  • Content Adviser: Nicky Hager
  • Designer: David Bennewith
  • Exhibition Assistant Technician, Matteo Schenkel
  • Exhibition Co-ordinator: Francesca Astesani
  • Exhibition Manager: Diego Carpentiero
  • Exhibition Technician: Matt Goerzen
  • Project Administrator: Cassandra Wilson
  • Senior Manager, Arts Policy, Capability, and International (Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa): Cath Cardiff
  • Studio Simon Denny manager: Anna Dobrucki
  • Te Papa Representatives: Karen Mason and Sarah Farrar
  • Tour Guides for patrons’ events: Sarah Farrar and Shelley Jahnke
  • Website Developer: Christoph Knoth
  • With additional support provided by Creative New Zealand’s Business Service team.

Book team

  • Editors: Robert Leonard and Mary Barr
  • Designer: David Bennewith
  • Other Contributors: Chris Kraus and Metahaven
  • Photographer: Nick Ash
  • Publisher: Mousse Publishing
  • Distributor: Buchhandlung Walther König
  • Printer: MM Artbook Printing and Repro

Exhibition Attendants

  • Amber Baldock – Exhibition Registrar and Vernissage Attendant
  • Sophie Thorn
  • Jodie Dalgleish
  • Pauline Autet
  • Jhana Millers
  • Alice Tyler
  • Tendai John Mutambu
  • Andrea Bell

Attendants will be based in Venice for six weeks at a time to assist the supervision and promotion of Secret Power.

Contact us

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Media enquiries


Kate Burvill PR and Fouchard Filippi Communications


Kate Burvill
+44 7947754717




Philippe Fouchard Fillipi
+33 153288753

New Zealand

Sarah Pomeroy
+64 (0)4 498 0725
+64 (0)27 677 8070


There is a selection of high resolution images you can download from our secure media webpage. To gain access please email Sarah Pomeroy at

Project Administration

Cassandra Wilson – Project Administrator
+64 (0)9 354 4863

Project Manager

Jude Chambers

+64 (0)9 373 3070
+64 (0)27 483 5230