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Simon Denny - Dotcom Séance | Outernet

Simon Denny, Outernet, London2 min read

The bombastically-named, black-and-gold clad Now Building is the West End's newest (and brightest) art gallery. Opened a couple of weeks ago opposite Tottenham Court Road tube station, the open-plan space glows from within, thanks to the massive LED screens that blaze across its interior walls and ceiling. It’s part of a newly-opened complex called the Outernet, which also includes a new theatre and the restoration of a very useful pathway to Soho Square.

While the Now Building’s screens usually show advertising, in a bid to help recoup the no doubt astronomical costs of the complex, its owners have turned over some Sunday afternoon screen time to artists. First up is Simon Denny, with an exhibition that's a voguish but tongue-in-cheek graphical tribute to the early noughties.

Simon Denny - Dotcom Séance (2022)

What did the Sunday afternoon viewers see, drifting across those huge high definition screens? A series of logos for unpromising-sounding organisations: capacityweb.com, cashwars.com, netmorf.com. Spot the similarity in those names? They're all Dotcom companies which inflated and burst in the “Web 2.0” bubble at the turn of the millennium.

The logos themselves weren’t used at the time. They’ve been created for the show via much newer Web3 technology: text-to-image AI. To bring things even more up-to-date, each logo’s an NFT, yours to buy. (Which raises the possibility that we’ll have art shows paying tongue-in-cheek nostalgic tribute to the early 2020s NFT bubble in 20 years time.)

For Denny, these dead companies are “ghosts”, and he adds to the spooky atmosphere by adorning the screens with Geocities-style graphical candles and a black background. He’s previously termed the show as a whole an “on-chain spiritualism session”. It's a seance, after all; bringing back the dead.

I found the mordant captions drifting across the screens, describing the companies’ absurd or dated business models, especially funny. Consider alladvantage.com (1999-2001), a browser that paid you to view ads. Or iharvest.com (1997-2001), which allowed you to archive static copies of web pages. The screens were huge and bright enough to make the show pretty spectacular to look at - though I suppose I'd get that from watching an ad at the venue, too.

Maybe Denny's artistic reimagining of the financial follies of a previous decade is a sly comment on the ephemerality of our own late capitalist moment. A moment exemplified by this shiny new big-screen architectural bauble slap bang in the middle of the West End. The Now Building, with its AI NFT logos, is now, now; it’ll be Then, soon. Maybe we’ll look back and laugh.

Simon Denny - Dotcom Séance is at the Outernet (London). 16 October - 04 December 2022

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