Your new currency is your personal information. Whether you want access to an email newsletter or a stock photo library, or you just want to donate cash to a crowdfunding campaign, you’ll trade your name and email address for the privilege. And if you want to buy something online, you’ll have to offer up a whole lot more info—which is why it was so refreshing to go to a real-life “Internet-ish flea market” here in New Orleans the weekend of Oct. 17.
The New Orleans Micro-Ichi was based on the “Yami-Ichi” market originally envisioned and executed by Japanese collective IDPW. On a breezy Saturday, the participating artists set up shop in the middle of St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater (an area largely referred to as “up-and-coming” by local gentrifiers). By choosing this area, the organizers hoped to attract New Orleans Tech Week participants to Second Saturday art openings on St. Claude. The phrase “Yami-Ichi” literally translates to “Internet black market”.
Margot Herster, who spearheads local digital media studio BUREAU of CHANGE, helped put on New Orleans’ “micro” version of the market. “The Micro-Ichi in New Orleans…spread from New York via NOLA native Caroline Sinders, who was a participating artist in NYC,” she explained. “The one in New York was the biggest one ever, so we wanted to be the smallest one.”
Dark Web and lighthearted projects
Digital artist Steven Pedeaux served up a different kind of “snackable content”: fortune cookies filled with computer error messages. Pedeaux tried to make the cookies himself, but when he found that getting the messages back inside them was impossible, he gave up and ordered a batch online.
He sold the cookies for $1 each, but said that he prefers not to sell his artwork in general. “It goes against what I think art is,” he said. “I wanted everyone to be able to participate.”
Micro market with dense discussion
Caroline Sinders, a user researcher for IBM Watson and a computational linguistics enthusiast, helped bring the market to New Orleans. Her contribution was a pile of T-shirts printed with Reddit comments from an AMA (Ask Me Anything) that Reddit’s CEO hosted in July. The 99-shirt project is called “I’ve Got 99 Problems and Figuring Out What’s Chill to Post on Reddit Is One”.
The T-shirts are printed with Sinders’ selection of comments in tiny type—so that if you want to read them, you have to peer at the wearer’s chest. She picked comments both popular and ignored, eloquent and downright racist. “The thing I like most about them is that it’s an intentional feminist statement,” she said. “It’s a deep dive into why you should have community etiquette rules and change them frequently.”
Tweet on you
Margot Herster of BUREAU of CHANGE created sets of two-page “retweethearts printed on fine writing paper,” each with an image or text sourced from Twitter and a patterned page based on the tweet’s emojis. In a funny but probably practical twist, visitors were required to wear gloves to browse the tweets.
Herster hand-delivered her creations to recipients within a two-block range of the market, which is more personal than any Twitter @mention could ever hope to be.
Ulay Deux, a member of BUREAU of CHANGE, brought in printed, bound versions of hard-to-find documents that nevertheless still exist on the Web. Cheekily, one of these was the NSA’s guide to searching the Internet and finding hidden documents. Another was the CIA’s guide to training cats.
“There’s a lot of government documentation stuff people are interested in, but they don’t know where it’s at,” Deux said. “The idea is to bring obscure information into physical form.”
The FBI’s internal guide to using Twitter was a titillating find. Less of a user guide than a glossary, it gives definitions of abbreviations like MAP (“man-alien predator”) and MBA (not “master’s in business administration”—“married but available”).
I couldn’t stay for the performances, which took place later in the evening in the midst of the market. Doubtless they would have been a chance to interact in real-time with other avid Internetters.
Small but critical mass
Herster pegs the number of visitors around several hundred. “Beyond the volume of people, I was surprised by how many people stayed for a significant amount of time, really interacting with the performances,” she said.
That doesn’t surprise me, as the market was a great way to get away from my screen—and if I hadn’t been covering it for artblog, I could have stayed anonymous the whole time. Sure, some of the projects were frivolous, but they were meant to be. Half of the Internet is cats anyway.
If you want to host a Yami-Ichi in your town, IDPW has a page for that.