At first glance, the Internet Yami-Ichi was like most flea markets I frequented while growing up. Vendors stood at their tables, hoping passersby took a gander at what they were selling. Little kids paraded around with their parents. Smells wafted through the venue.
But the Yami-Ichi wasn’t exactly like the Saturday swap meets I was familiar with. At this flea, 3D-printed silver poop emojis were being sold for $100 and web artists showed off their latest GIF creations. Youngsters danced with drones floating in the air feet away from them. And the salty smell of Spam drifted in the air because a man was offering literal Spam mail.
This past weekend, over 120 vendors and hordes of visitors filled Queens’ Knockdown Center. A former door factory converted into a 50,000-square-foot art center and event space dedicated to unusual projects and collaborations was hosting the very first U.S. Internet Yami-Ichi.
According to the event’s Facebook event page, “the Japanese word ‘Yami-Ichi’ translates directly into the English ‘black market’, though due to an emphasis created by mixing different Japanese writing systems the word ‘yami’ takes on double meaning of ‘sick for’ / ‘addicted to’ etc., so a more accurate translation might be ‘Internet Obsessive Market.’ The event was organized by exonemo, IDPW.org, Chris Romero, and Eri Takane.
A mix of vendors sold meme-inspired knickknacks such as cross-stitches of the 100 emoji. Artists peddled their web-related products, including their corporealized Instagram feeds, in tune with the “Internet-come-to-life” essence of the flea. One dude was charging $1 to enter a tent where you could watch his father, Rinzo Shimizu, sleeping in real-time in Tokyo.
And if you wanted to give a friend a delicious treat, you could send them some IRL spam mail. As in, a man was cooking Spam, packing it into envelopes, and letting people send it off like a handwritten letter.
At artist Jon Burgerman’s table were copies of his book, which compiles pics with celeb besties that he’s posted on Instagram as well as various other illustrations and creations. He also offered drawn-on temporary tattoos of everyone’s favorite memes, such as Nyan Cat and Pepe.
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Rollin Leonard, whose art often centers around the human body, offered mug mugs at his station. These were mugs that you could get your face printed on after he took your picture. Think about taking a sip of your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte from your own cranium—or, better yet, gifting your mom with one of these.
Mugs with faces on them were all the rage at the flea market—Sessa Englund’s seventh edition Sad Mugs were available for purchase. Each of these beverage containers had a picture of her bawling printed on it. No picture of her crying has ever been reused, so each one is a one-of-a-kind creation. She started the project when she was a freshman in college, taking a picture of herself whenever she cried.
“I’m interested in the intersection of vulnerability, commodification, and commerce,” Englund said. If you’d like to add one of these pieces to your home, you can head on over to legitimatehumanaspirations.biz.
Englund also had photos from her Instagram account printed onto keychains. Whenever one sold, she’d delete the picture from her account. The buyer of the keychain would then be the sole keeper of that image.
Joe Winograd, a multimedia artist who creates GIF illustrations, sold rings and prints of his work. The prints worked like your holographic Charizard Pokémon, but much cooler. As you shifted the prints or adjusted your eyes, they’d move just as they do on your screen.
“It’s a way to bring them away from the computer,” Winograd said.
There were even GIF sculptures, orb-like objects that moved and transformed, made specially for the Yami-Ichi.
Near the back of the Knockdown Center was Cara Jane Francis’s setup, where participants could have an intimate connection with her drone by doing some yoga with it or having a dance party. This all happened in front of a green screen, which she later turned into a war zone ravaged by drone strikes.
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At the Social Clinic’s station, I was thankfully able to get a diagnosis of a 100 in Selfie syndrome and 78 in social media disorder. At least I scored 0 in awkwardness.
You could find the finest memes at the meme traders’ pop-up shop, a shimmery hut made from an aluminum foil-like material. One vendor I talked with joked that when he first saw the metallic cabana, he thought they were “cooking crack, or something.” No, they were just selling the top memes, which ranged in price from 10 cents to $3.
When I inquired about Rare Pepes, they indeed had a couple in their Meme Bureau-certified stacks. And once they realized that I was a fellow Rare Pepe hunter, they revealed that they had an extremely Rare Pepe that had only been seen by five people. This Pepe cost $500, and there was a $20 deposit for a viewing of this Pepe. The head meme trader described it as holographic, full color, and decorated with Communist symbols.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to see this Pepe with my own eyes, though I did purchase some Pepes for my fellow Pepe enthusiasts. I also picked up a flash drive that included a folder full of animal pooping videos.
By the time I left the Internet Yami-Ichi, I was several Rare Pepes richer. Had I also have been quite literally richer when I first got there, I might have also left with a mug with someone’s crying face on it. But what I lacked in face-mug wealth I made up for in a deeper appreciation for vendors and artists who were able to bring some of the best things on the Internet into the real world.
Also, I would like to find whoever ended up purchasing this Mark Zuckerberg dakimakura.
Gabe Bergado is a Daily Dot alumnus who covered dank memes, teens, and the weirdest corners of the Internet. One time, Ted Cruz supporters turned him into a meme—or at least tried to. In 2017, he started reporting for Teen Vogue's entertainment section.