The line between the real world and the online one continues to blur and nowhere is it fuzzier than at the New York City Internet Yami-Ichi. An internet-themed black market, the event celebrates the transformative power of virality IRL. To enter the factory-turned-venue Knockdown Center in Queens is to see the internet for what it truly is: A bunch of people doing a bunch of stuff because why the hell not.
Hosted by Yae Akaiwa and Kensuke Sembo, who collectively go by exonemo, the second annual celebration put an emphasis on interactivity. “This year, you are going to have more physical experiences than last year,” they told Inverse over email.
And that was definitely the case. There was an Internet Cocktail bar that served up Netscape Margaritas and Internal Server Error beers. Those connections — just labels really — felt tenuous. One does not drink the internet. On the other hand, one can dance to it. The most popular activity was the GIF Dance Party hosted by “digital alchemist” Fuzzy Wobble in the event space’s backroom.
Back in 2012, Fuzzy Wobble went viral with the original GIF Dance Party, an online space where people could add various dancing images and move them all around the dance floor. He turned the website into a real-life experience for the Yami-Itchi, DJing and controlling a giant screen with dancing GIFs on it. People were also caught on video then then turned into GIFs and uploaded.
“It had very humble beginnings as a very janky website back when I made it in 2012,” Fuzzy Wobble says. “It’s a really rewarding experience seeing people in the real world enjoying your work rather than just sending it out into the internet and hoping for the best.”
Along with the Internet Cocktail bar and GIF Dance Party, there was a Password Confession Booth. Those guilty of reusing the same password for everything (like both their banking accounts and their OkCupid) could enter the dark room. Inside were several lit candles, some solemn music playing, and a virtual priest on a tablet. Confessors were instructed to say aloud their password, which the priest would then repeat quietly.
While these three interactive installments were heavily touted by people publicizing the Yami-Ichi, there were plenty of other projects that demanded the attention of browsers. Jason Huff was showing off his project AutoSummarize, which consists of 10-sentence abstracts of the 100 most downloaded copyright-free books created using Microsoft Word 2008’s AutoSummarize function. Artist collective Post Vision displayed colorful creations that looked like the dreams of Tumblr teens. Christopher Clary offered up his porn collection, accumulated over 15 years, in book form.
Throughout the event, the Instagram Cafe seemed to maintain the most consistent crowd. The idea? Make it much easier and available to get the food content that brings in the likes on Instagram without having to go fetch all the delicious treats. People chose Instagram-popular food such as avocado toast and La Croix cans, and staged a mini photoshoot right there with a variety of backdrops available.
“Today in 2016, eating is much less about what food tastes like and more what it looks like and how many people you can share it with,” says Jason Eppink, who was manning the makeshift cafe and also works at the Museum of the Moving Images as a Curator of Digital Media. “It’s a lot of work to do that. We’re a service to help alleviate that.”
Meanwhile, there were some vendors who returned after having a station at the first New York City Internet Yami-Ichi. Last year, artist Sessa Englund sold mugs with pictures of herself crying that she took on her webcam. For 2016, she turned screenshots from public Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) Facebook groups into fabric for small coin purses. It was also a play on words because in Swedish the word “pung” means both “ball sack” and a “little pouch.”
Also returning to this year’s event was was designer Jen Ahearn, who was selling objects from the internet manifested via painstakingly historical processes. For example, hand-embroidered emojis along with Instagram and Snapchat photos as platinum prints. While a Snapchat may only last seven seconds, platinum prints can last for thousands of years.
Inspired by some of the glitch work from artists at the event the year prior, Ahearn created a poster by hand-rasterizing each frame of an emoji. With the little symbols being the focus for a portion of her art, she also notes how much more pervasive the internet has become since the last Yami-Ichi.
“You look at more how much more people’s modes of interactions are completely digitally mediated,” she says. “Now my mom sends emoji all the time. She used to be like, ‘What is this?’ and now I get the full rainbow of hearts emojis from her and I think it’s so cute.
But, as vendors like the Instagram Cafe and Ahearn wored to capture the internet’s mainstream culture, other artists paid tribute to the “weirder internet.” Artist Ø.K. Fox, for example, covered a table with $1 portraits of people turned into their favorite Sonic the Hedgehog character.
Sonic, of course, has become a cornerstone in one of the more odd corners of the internet. So, while Sonic’s influence may not ripple too far beyond Tumblr, the hedgehog-turned-meme looked at home during the Yami-Ichi.
“I help run zine fairs and I love them because they’re really accessible to people … but at the same time I don’t really draw and my work is kind of about weirder internet stuff,” Ø.K. Fox said. “This kind of fair makes the most sense for me. It gives a context for my work.”