Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2001

How an art duo called exonemo lets you engage in minor acts of technological terrorism.

by Andrew Pothecary

DISCODERAWAY FROM THE TRADITIONAL gallery areas, the Command-N art space sits in a side street in Akihabara's "electric town," among the shops and street vendors who sell everything you need for computing.

Late last year Command-N hosted the DISCODER exhibition by exonemo, a duo of twenty-something creators Yae Akaiwa and Kensuke Sembo. The piece features a computer connected to the Internet, and projected onto the wall behind it you see the source code of any Web page you select. But instead of a keyboard, there are mouses corresponding to each key. When you click a mouse, the number or letter of the key it represents is sent onto the page, sometimes flying into the page's display text, sometimes into the source code. Over time, the insertions change picture position, text, color, and eventually coherence until the page is unrecognizable.

Call it minor technological terrorism -- the satisfaction lies in "bombing" a site (which is downloaded onto the gallery computer so the original remains unharmed) until it is no longer usable. This may sound anti-technology, but that's not the creators' intent. exonemo say they see increasing technology as a good thing: "Sometimes we feel strange about people's hysterical disgust and [resistance to technology]. We should find a new meaning by viewing that feeling from another angle."

"DISCODER (Installation Version)" at Command-N. Photos masato Nakamura
One highlight of DISCODER is its simultaneous celebration and disintegration of technology. The show's Akihabara location (it has been set up in other galleries and is on exenomo's Web site) was almost as much a part of the piece as the original idea. When I saw it, DISCODER was linked to an unofficial PC seller on the street, so the site you gradually destroyed (or created?) inside the art space was seen on a for-sale PC outside. A display of technological destruction and creation among the electric shops -- where, incidentally, all the mouses for the show had been bought. exonemo say they were pleased to be able to show work outside of the "bioclean galleries, where an accident could never happen even if a dangerous virus were to be cultivated." No danger of confusing that with Akihabara!

The duo feel primarily at home in the "huge and unstable database of the Internet" -- to which they're returning after recent gallery-based shows. (See for their latest ideas.) Their curation by Command-N this time around was apposite: The non-profit collective also runs "Akihabara TV," where artists' works appear on TVs in Akihabara's shops. Its next edition will be in spring 2002. Watch this space. -- Andrew Pothecary

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