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Simon Denny

A man in a hat stands before a mine shaft of rubble, device lit up in hand


Mona plays mineshaft in this new exhibition by New Zealand artist Simon Denny, revolving around mining as a reflection of hope and anxiety about the environment, technology, and development.

To ‘mine’ is to extract elements of the earth’s physical materials—but it also describes data drawn from the landscape of information. The exhibition acts, in the words of the artist, as a ‘theme park to extraction’, exploring not just the political and environmental significance of mining, but also the role of work and value throughout human history, and in the rapidly changing present. It includes a giant version of a classic Australian board game; an operating shop-front for Extractor, another board game that doubles as an exhibition catalogue; life-size replicas of machines and products used in automated mineral mining; and a human-sized Amazon worker cage, home to the proverbial canary in the coalmine … Just one of the birds that embodies our worries about the fallout of rapid change.

The final room features an assemblage of sculptures by a variety of artists selected by Mona: these depict humans at work, navigating a thorny relationship between technology, development, and human labour.

These ideas are brought to bear by the fate of the endangered King Island Brown Thornbill. You’ll see this bird through the use of the augmented reality that operates throughout the exhibition—technology that enhances, measures and complicates your experience in the gallery’s physical spaces. The Thornbill’s habitat has been damaged, perhaps irrevocably, by industry and climate change; but hope for the bird’s regeneration lies in gathering data about its habits and movements in the ecosphere. Such data gathering requires technology that itself relies on the continued extraction of elemental resources from the earth …

Here, the ‘canary in the coalmine’ comes full circle: from the memories of people who took these creatures into the earth with them as they extracted, from the elements, the foundations of a technological apotheosis; to a metaphor, meaning something menacing is coming. And finally, in our gallery, a simulated experience with an endangered species, whose fate might be a sign not of our progress, but of our infinite regress.

Curated by Jarrod Rawlins and Emma Pike

With contributions from Kate Crawford and Vladen Joler, and additional artwork by Tony Albert, Sarah Contos, Fiona Hall, Ronnie van Hout, Sven ’t Jolle, Christopher Langton, Li Liao, Linda Marrinon, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, David Noonan, Michael Parekowhai, Niki de Saint Phalle, Patricia Piccinini, Julie Rrap, Justene Williams, and Jason Wing.

Image: Extractor, 2019, Simon Denny
Digital illustration by Paul Riebe

  • When:

    8 June 2019–19 March 2020