Humans Are At The Mercy Of Boundaries—Exonemo “GEMINI EXHIBITION: Debug Scene” Artist Interview 02

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The exhibition “GEMINI EXHIBITION: Debug Scene”, in which six contemporary artists express the world view of “GEMINI Laboratory”, will be held from October 14th (Friday) to 25th (Tuesday), 2022 in Tokyo. It will be held at ANB Tokyo. Exonemo, an art unit formed by Kensuke Sembo and Yae Akaiwa, whichi has been depicting various relationships between technology and people through their works since 1996, will exhibit the work “Metaverse Petshop” produced in a scene where social changes with virtual currencies such as NFT are showing up . What is the ethics of virtual existence and what is the “boundary of human emotions” that emerges from it?

『Metaverse Petshop』 Supported byNowHere NFT advisorToshi / wildmouse

──When I look at your activities, exonemo, I get the impression that you are working on many projects that go back and forth between the virtual and the real, such as “Object B” presented at YCAM. What inspired you to start creating works with this theme?

Sembo: It was around 1996 when we started publishing our works on the Internet. At the beginning we were only exhibiting works that were not connected to the real exhibition hall, but from 2000 onwards, we started to connect the real exhibition space and the Internet exhibition. We experimented with whatever interested us, and looking back 10 years later, we realize that we’ve always dealt with the boundary between two worlds. This naturally became the theme of our subsequent works.

Akaiwa: It was also around the 10th year that we announced “OBJECT B” using power tools and modified games. It is a work at a turning point where we could see the line of what we have done so far.

──What is the reason why you are working on so many works that deal with the boundary between online and offline?

Sembo: We started our careers as artists on the Internet, and have continued to see how the Internet permeates society. At first, events that were not linked to society were happening on the Internet, but gradually it became more convenient in real life.

The decisive factor was the advent of smartphones. People with smartphones are online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When that happens, the boundaries between the Internet and reality become blurry and ambiguous, and I feel that even the defined range of how far we are is changing. For example, when we create a profile for an account on social media, the events that occur there are becoming a part of our body instinctively. Doesn’t that mean that the human form has changed? By consciously handling it, we are exploring what will happen to human senses in the future.

──You have released quite a lot of works in your long career, but are there any works that you think are particularly symbolic in terms of boundaries?

Sembo: I would say “Deathma Us” released in 2007. This work records the destruction of a computer mouse and the movement of the cursor on the computer screen. When the two images are played at the same time, the destruction of the mouse and the final movement of the cursor until the mouse stops moving are displayed in synchronism.

In the early days, I often used a mouse in my works. It’s an interface that humans touch, so it’s curvy and glamorous for a computer accessory, and it’s interesting that it’s called a mouse. I think we have some pretty peculiar boundaries. But recently, touch pads and screens have become interfaces, and mice are no longer used, so monitors and screens now stand out as boundaries.

──In recent times, there have been movements such as NFTs and the themes of this time, such as digital twins and metaverses. How do those things relate to this work?

Sembo: NFTs are controversial due to their speculative nature and high environmental impact, and some artists hysterically dislike them. There are quite a few boundaries between the parts that are so messed up. For that reason, we also use NFTs, including the meaning of research.

However, Web3 is a big move, and I think it will be one of the trends that will affect the world in the future. When we started our projects, the Internet was in the same position, and there were many people who didn’t know what they could do and were disgusted. Today’s Web3 has some similarities to that situation, and the confusion is interesting. The fact that all trust-related movements are virtual also gives me a sense of humanity.

──What exactly does that mean?

Sembo: For other animals, value is something tangible, such as something they can eat or a warm place to live. But even if there’s nothing there, humans think it’s worth it if everyone believes it. So are the Internet, religion, and art. It’s interesting to realize that with technology and be at the mercy of it.

『Metaverse Petshop』 Supported byNowHere NFT advisorToshi / wildmouse

──You are exhibiting “Metaverse Petshop” at the “GEMINI Laboratory Exhibition”, what kind of work is it?

Sembo: This is an installation that mimics a pet shop where a monitor is placed in a cage and a virtual dog is displayed on the monitor. There is a QR code in the monitor, and when the visitor scans it, the pet can be purchased. The purchased dog disappears from the cage monitor, and you can come to the smartphone as the purchaser’s dog and give it a name.

However, if the monitor dog doesn’t sell in 10 minutes, it disappears. This literally means killing. Pet shops are illegal businesses in some countries. It is cruel to put them in cages and sell them, and for that reason, animals are bred and animals that are not sold are killed behind the scenes. For this installation, I thought about what would happen if I did it digitally. Since it’s actually data, nothing cruel has been done to it, but some people don’t mind it at all, and some people get mad at it. That kind of emotional movement is at the core of the work.

──“Metaverse Petshop” was originally a work presented for the first time at an art fair in New York called “NADA New York 2022”. Why did you decide to exhibit at the “GEMINI Laboratory Exhibition”?

Sembo: When we were offered the “GEMINI Laboratory Exhibition” this time, we thought it might fit the concept and we made a proposal. It’s not a work with the theme of the mirror world, but since Metaverse Petshop is a work that includes various things, we thought that it would look different when viewed from the angle of the mirror world.

Actually, there was no NFT function around the time of “NADA New York 2022”, but after that, I we added a function that can be converted to NFT at a solo exhibition at a gallery called Now Here in SOHO, NY. However, it’s not fun to make NFT as it is, so I made it a mean system that I you have to kill the dog to make it into NFT. Only 2D images, not 3D data, can be made into NFTs. This is the same as tanning animal hides to make leather. Leather can exist longer than a living animal. NFTs are also believed to have a longer lifespan than ordinary data, so that’s what we are trying to say. Well, most people don’t (lol). It is a work that shakes such emotions.

──Did you discover anything from the past Metaverse Petshop exhibitions?

Sembo: In a way, it means that something like a boundary between people’s emotions appears. For example, one person who sees this work as a game said, “If you don’t wait 10 minutes for the dog to change, it’s too long.” There were also people who said they felt bad about the dog being able to live only for 10 minutes. It’s completely different from person to person.

Akaiwa: I think the sense of morality in the virtual world will change in the future. When I tried out Second Life a long time ago, I was playing with the feeling that it was a place where you could do things you couldn’t do in the real world. So I flew away wearing nothing and went to a party somewhere (lol). I remember thinking it was boring because the morals of the real world were applied as they were.

Even in other games, you kill people in places where it’s okay to kill people. Moral views vary greatly depending on people and places, such as whether it is against morals. I am interested in how they will come to terms with such differences in the future. The mirror world is another layered environment, but I think that the real morality and the new virtual morality will continue to cross.

─ Listener: Shinya Yashiro

Exhibition Information

  • GEMINI Laboratory Exhibition

    GEMINI Laboratory Exhibition

    2022.10.14 (FRI) - 10.25 (TUE)
    Venue:ANB Tokyo
    12:00-20:00
    Artists:
    Exonemo, Yasushi Sakai, Sputniko!, SUNAKI, Ayumi Kanno, Misato Curator: Kensho Tambara
    Admission Free
    *0ct 14 18:00-20:00 By Invitation Only

Guest Profile

  • Exonemo

    Exonemo

    An Art Unit That Challenges Various Media With A Sense Of Hacking, Making Full Use Of Anger, Laughter And Text Editors. Started Activities On The Internet In 1996 By Kensuke Sembo And Yae Akaiwa. Since 2000, He Has Expanded His Activities To Include Installations, Live Performances, Event Production, And Community Organization. He Is Involved In Many Experimental Projects With Humorous Cuts And New Perspectives. In 2006, "The Road Movie" Won The Golden Nika Award In The Ars Electronica Net Vision Category. Since 2012, He Has Organized IDPW And Has Worked On Projects Such As "Internet Yamiichi". Moved To New York In 2015.

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  • Shinya Yashiro

    SYYS LLC

    Shinya Yashiro

    SYYS LLC

    Editor. Became Independent In 2017 After Working For Cork Co., Ltd. And The Japanese Edition Of WIRED. Participated In The Founding Of Tobu Classroom, A Limited Liability Company, Engaged In Manga Editing/Original Work, Book Editing, Research/Branding, Etc. Founded SYYS LLC In 2019 And Established A Base In Kyoto In 2020.

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