The signs, printed in black and white and taped to the poles supporting a camping tent, advertised: “Rinzo Shimizu Gazing.” Pay just $1 and you could “gaze at Rinzo Shimizu (my dad), sleeping in Tokyo, in real-time, as much as you want.” Credit cards accepted, thanks to Square. The son and seller, Qanta Shimizu — who wore thick glasses and an oversized T-shirt from NYU Langone Medical Center, the kind you can imagine getting for free — paced in front of the tent and checked his phone in between grateful acceptances of the bills of curious visitors. As he did so, he sometimes disclaimed, “It’s really boring, actually.” People shrugged and entered anyway.
Can the internet exist away from the keyboard (AFK)? What does it look and feel and smell and sound and taste like (besides a screen)? Is it sitting inside a tent in a factory-turned-arts-space in New York City, watching a man sleep in his home in Tokyo via a live feed? Hell if I know.
These were the questions raised — both intentionally and not — by the Internet Yami-Ichi, a “free to attend ‘Internet-ish’ flea market” that took place at the Knockdown Center last Saturday. Organized by the artist exonemo, the collective/secret society IDPW.org, the curator Chris Romero, and art management service Eri Takane, the event was the first US edition of the Internet Yami-Ichi, originally founded by IDPW.org in Tokyo three years ago. It featured more than 100 vendors (the largest one yet), who filled the cavernous former door factory in Maspeth, Queens, with artworks, stickers, temporary tattoos, performances, prescriptions, books, zines, clothing, canned meat, customized virtual reality experiences, and a bewildering array of things in between.
How, for instance, does one classify the “Internet Panties” on sale at Annie Malamet and Darla Bell’s table — colorful, lacy pairs of underwear (and one bathing suit) that Malamet “wore for long stretches of time on the internet,” as she put it? Keeping confident watch over a table filled with her own undergarments, she explained the pricing matter-of-factly: “The more depressed I was, the more time I spent switching between apps and falling asleep in bed, the more expensive” (range: $10–30). Not far from Malamet, you could pay $1 to have your portrait drawn by two men who call themselves The Human Printer; trade $2 to send a piece of actual, greasy spam in the mail ($3 for international); shell out $5 for a bare bones flipbook of “a Japanese business bachelor’s lunch & dinner Instagram” (the cover of which inexplicably featured P. Diddy); or drop $75 on a surprisingly gorgeous scarf patterned after an “infamous” computer virus, by Glitchhaus. Qanta Shimizu’s tent was also nearby.
“I just wanted to commercialize my dad,” explained Shimizu, a founder of the creative agency Party, whose adjacent table featured one of the market’s likely most-Instagrammed attractions: a hamster selfie wheel. Shimizu said he’d shown at a previous Internet Yami-Ichi in Tokyo — where visitors could pay to have a conversation with his dad — and found it “a very limited thing, too limited to a specific culture.” New Yorkers, he said, “recognize diversity and are accepting. It’s easy to make this kind of work here.”
It’s unclear what tents have to do with the internet, but Shimizu was not alone in bringing one to the Knockdown. Artist Michael Sarff — who comprises one half of early net art duo MTAA and who enthusiastically described the Internet Yami-Ichi as “a bad, crappy swapmeet for this culture” — had pitched a tent too. He used it to house his riff on Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, “Music for Music for Airports,” and for no money at all, you could go inside, sit on a space blanket, and absorb Sarff’s mesmerizing, live virtual navigation of a series of airports while listening to Eno’s album on YouTube (and pushing it through a “bad effects pedal”). The price for taking it home, on the other hand, was high: $800, by my unofficial research the most expensive item at the market (the hamster selfie wheel was $200).
There were a handful of other similarly serious art projects, including a stock photo database being built by the duo Malaxa that features exclusively images of people of color. Most others, however, relished playfulness (Faith Holland’s temporary tattoos of softly colorized cum shots, $3) or took such a deadpan approach to their own absurdity that they inspired a mini existential crisis: There is brilliance in the idea of the NoPhone, a plastic rectangle that’s roughly the size of an iPhone and does nothing. But is that idea worth $9.99?
In general, vendors seemed less interested in selling things and more focused on engaging people, trading on the ease of parting with one or a few dollars for something that sounds neat or funny — a kind of AFK equivalent of Kickstarter. Interestingly, the end goal of these interactions was not necessarily objects (though they were often included) but the experience itself. So, for example, for $2 you could buy a keychain with a mundane image that artist Sessa Englund had posted on Instagram; upon purchase, she would, with a mixture of wistfulness and triumph, delete the photo from her feed while you watched. Just $1 got me an enjoyably trippy virtual reality journey on a train car plastered with cats. The tangible internet, it turns out, is fairly intangible.
“It’s weird to talk about the internet in those terms anymore, as an aesthetic,” said writer Dylan Schenker, who, along with writer Corinna Kirsch, had created and sold out of an “Internet Encyclopedia” zine (sample entry: “Babycore: A fashion trend dominated by baby-doll dresses and choker necklaces from the 1990s.”) “This is the way things are — it’s become a language, a lingua franca.” And indeed, despite the glitch scarves, the unifying feature of the Internet Yami-Ichi was not a pixelated look but a deeply human feeling: of delight, of reveling in the possibility of an internet removed from itself, of having to put on pants and leave your room.
In the end, it’s highly debatable whether we were paying for experiences we’ll truly remember or just buying into the myth of a shared subculture. Still, I was pleased to have brought home far less random crap than I would have if I’d attended an ordinary flea market. One of the few mementos in my bag that wasn’t a slip of paper or a memory was a mysterious flash drive that I bought for $1 during the TH CH Meme Traders’ end-of-day fire sale. When I got home, I inserted it into my computer and pored over the contents: animations, glitch videos, strange screenshots … and a folder entitled “poop collection.” Inside were 10 amateur videos of different animals pooping. Some things are better left on screen.
The Internet Yami-Ichi in New York took place on September 12, 12–8pm, at the Knockdown Center (52-19 Flushing Avenue, Maspeth, Queens).