Kiwi artist Simon Denny creates 'unwitting star' at Venice Biennale art show

A graphic designer who worked for an American spy agency is "a little taken aback" to be the unwitting star of New Zealand's art show at the Venice Biennale.

New Zealand artist Simon Denny has included work by graphic designer David Darchicourt in his exhibition for the largest art event in the world, but without the designer's knowledge.

Darchicourt's work for the National Security Agency (NSA) is displayed alongside Renaissance masterpieces in a historic library at the heart of Venice as part of Denny's exhibition.

Darchicourt worked for the NSA as a creative director from 2001 to 2012.

When contacted in Maryland, USA, Darchicourt said he was "a little taken aback" by his inclusion in the show, which he found out about on Monday.

The exhibition is inspired by Edward Snowden's leaked NSA slides, which revealed mass online surveillance. 

Denny has used work available in Darchicourt's online design portfolio in the show, including everything from what appears to be tactical diagrams for US troop operations to a brochure for an internal NSA meditation workshop and designs for a rabbit hutch.

The densely detailed show also investigates the visual language of the Snowden slides, with references to the Terminator films, role playing games and Games Workshop models.

Denny also commissioned Darchicourt to create new work for the show, but without letting him know that it was for a prestigious international arts event.

Darchicourt said his inclusion in the show was surreal.

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"I send my art work all over the world to people and I have no control over what it is used for."

"This is surreal to me. I am a commercial and graphic artist and fine art has never been my thing."

"This is a very unusual experience."

He said he was comfortable with his work being used, but felt the exhibition misrepresented his work and position at the NSA. He said he would contact the NSA's public affairs department to "have them give me a read on it."

"This is definitely a case for the NSA to wade in and say what I can and can't say."

"I'm not taking action unless the NSA requires me to take it."

None of the work in his online profile was classified, he said.

Denny said that not letting Darchicourt know how his work would be used was part of the project. Denny said the mass surveillance revealed in the Snowden documents made him feel exposed about the many personal things he had shared online growing up with sites like MySpace, Friendster and Facebook.

"Darchicourt wasn't aware it was going to be used in an exhibition in this context and he wasn't aware of the things I was going to do interpreting his work."

"One of the things the Snowden release bought up for me was how I feel now in public. What does it mean to put material online?"

"Using his work without his very specific knowledge is something that brings those questions to life."

"That is part of the project that will unfold in the next few days."

Denny said he admired Darchicourt's graphic design work for the NSA.

"He is doing some very important cultural work and that is why I wanted to bring him to an art audience here within the most important art event in the world."

"His imagery is very important and clever and has a lineage back to works that are now considered masterpieces."

"I really like his work a lot and I've been very careful about the way I have reproduced it."

The Darchicourt imagery was looked at by investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who provided background detail in his role as a technical consultant for the exhibition.

Hager said discovering the graphic designer was a turning point for the show.

"I went through all the documents they found and wrote a profile of what each one was talking about," he said.

"One of the pictures was of groups of vehicles and antennae. Those are intelligence teams on the ground in Afghanistan."

 - Stuff


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