Image: Courtesy of exonemo
Back in the mid-90s, the Internet was in the process of passing from an early stage of charming curiosity and limited titillation to the dynamic cyberspace we now know. Inside this transitory phase a Japanese "art unit" known as exonemo took shape. Formed in 1996 by artists Sembo Kensuke and Akaiwa Yae, exonemo's mission was to cross freely between digital and analog realms—to blend virtual with the real.
Eighteen years later, exonemo is still going strong as leaders of Japan's new media art scene. For the last week, the duo have been involved in bringing the Internet Yami-ichi exhibition to Berlin's Transmediale "Afterglow" festival on February 2. Internet Yami-ichi (Internet Black Market) is a "flea market for face-to-face 'browsing.'" The brainchild of a secret society known as IDPW (formed in 2012 by exonemo), the group's Transmediale exhibition marks the first time that Internet Yami-ichi is being held outside of Japan. And it is there that exonemo hopes to restore a sense of "Liverty" and fun by asking people to "turn off, log-out, and drop in on the real world for a change."
Over the last few days, I've carried on an email correspondence with exonemo's Sembo Kensuke while he was slammed with orchestrating Internet Yami-ichi. For the creator of a secret society, he's remarkably open, though communication was somewhat limited due to translation. Aside from explaining the raison d'être of Internet Yami-ichi, Sembo talked about IDPW's other projects, as well as exenomo's future.
So, what is exactly is exonemo for those unfamiliar with the project?
We are Sembo Kensuke and Akaiwa Yae, a Japanese art unit using the Internet as a material since 1996. We're net artists with the longest careers in Japan. As our profile says, we cross over freely between digital and analog, the world of computer networks, and the real world.
Bringing the digital into the real world is whole point of Internet Yami-ichi (Internet Black Market) as well, which is currently exhibiting at Transmediale. What is exonemo's role in Yami-ichi?
We and about 10 others members organize IDPW (pronounced "Al PASU"). The concept of IDPW is "a secret society on the Internet that goes back more than 100 years." IDPW organizes Internet Yami-Ichi (Black Market). Mainly we handle the event, including the organizing of it, gathering up of the people, finding a location, and making sure the event goes smoothly. And, of course, we'll have a small stall.
Once upon a time, the Internet was supposed to be a place for 'liberty.' Nowadays it's so uptight.
What will you be exhibiting at your Transmediale stall?
We will sell the "Cloud" in the form of cotton candy.
What were the early IDPW efforts like?
IDPW has a rule that we do an Internet-related party every month, and we did a number of these in 2012. For example, our "Text Party" is a party on Google Docs. Our "World Wide Beer Garden" is an event in which we drink beer via Google Hangout. In "Samba School," since we don't have a samba teacher, we try to find a teacher on the Internet during the party. "Internet Yami-Ichi" is also one of these ideas.
Apart from Transmediale and monthly IDPW parties, what has exonemo been doing in 2013 and early 2014?
In 2013, we had a retrospective solo exhibition in Fukuoka (the west side of Japan). And in 2014 we're hoping to do a new version of that in Tokyo. We also want to compile exonemo's 17 years of work into a book. Also, we will do Internet Yami-Ichi somewhere else.
Where else would you like to do Internet Yami-Ichi?
We currently have an offer to do it in Belgium, and we're also talking to people in Korea. We've also been thinking about New York City, and then of course Tokyo again.
Transmediale's theme this year is "Afterglow," and it deals with data, privacy, and surveillance. How do you see exonemo and Internet Yami-Ichi fitting into that theme?
As we recently said in our abstract, s*%t [sic] happens, but I didn't used to. Like when some small off-handed private comment turns into an SNS flame war. Or worrying about not getting enough "Likes." The Youtube videos you can't watch anymore because somebody complained. Or the apps you can't play because they were rejected by Apple. Once upon a time, the Internet was supposed to be a place for "liberty." Nowadays it's so uptight. So we're asking people to turn off, log-out, and drop in on the real world for a change.
Internet Yami-ichi is a flea market for face-to-face "browsing." There is less "Liverty" on Internet nowadays. So we meet face to face again. We think this is like an afterglow of an Internet boom. The Berlin Internet Yami-ichi is the first ever outside of Japan, where we're inviting everyone to bring their own Internet liberties.