Simon Denny The Founder's Paradox
18 November – 22 December, Opening Saturday 18 November 12–2pm
On Thursday 16 November, we are pleased to present a public conversation with Simon Denny. Simon will be joined by Mark
O’Connell, the Irish journalist and author of To Be a Machine, and Anthony Byrt, author of This Model World, in conversation with Paperboy editor Jeremy Hansen. This talk will take place at the Auckland headquarters of Warren and Mahoney, 139 Pakenham St. West
, at 6pm. Seats are limited.
Michael Lett is pleased to present a new body of work by Simon Denny, his fifth exhibition with the gallery. Featuring
new sculptures and wall-based works developed in close conversation with author and journalist Anthony Byrt, The Founder’s Paradox uses the framework of gaming to reflect on competing political visions for New Zealand’s future within a global climate
of uncertainty and changing social relations. In an increasingly fractured and fractious world, the “neoliberal status
quo” in New Zealand is starting to be questioned at both ends of the political spectrum.
On one side is the tech-libertarian vision embodied in the ideas of super-investor Peter Thiel, who became a New Zealand
citizen in 2011. Thiel’s beliefs in individual freedom and monopoly capitalism have been central to his rise in Silicon
Valley and to his support of Donald Trump. His business-minded worldview is heavily influenced by Christian philosophy,
The Lord of the Rings, and a libertarian text from 1997 called The Sovereign Individual: How To Survive and Thrive
During the Collapse of the Welfare State. Thiel has also recently bought 193 hectares of land in Wanaka, and invested in
some of New Zealand’s leading tech companies.
The other side is expressed in The New Zealand Project, by Oxford-based writer Max Harris. Harris’s book argues that neoliberalism has failed New Zealand, turning it into a
society in which individual interests are rewarded and politicians have become economic managers rather than social
visionaries. Harris proposes that our future depends on embracing care, creativity, and community, so that we create a
fairer country through the processes of redistribution, collectivism and decolonisation.
The Founder’s Paradox explores these competing utopian visions, using the language and logic of board games. The Thiel/Sovereign Individual
worldview is examined in “world-building” fantasy games in which heroes must accumulate resources, complete quests and
eliminate their enemies. Harris’s ideas are put into play via games that involve physical dexterity and a certain amount
of cooperation – Twister, and Giant Jenga. A version of The Game of Life, in which players face several forks in the
road, bridges the two: giving players the chance to choose between the path of collective action, or press on towards
The Founder’s Paradox is accompanied by a new publication, designed by David Bennewith and containing a major new essay by Anthony Byrt.