Tokyo's 'Black Box' exhibition creates a stir

A playful and record-breaking exhibition in Tokyo's Roppongi district raises questions about interplays between identity, anonymity, online life – and hype.

25 August 2017

Hitoyo Nakano. Some rights rights reserved.From 6th May to 17th June this year, Japanese artist Hitoyo Nakano (a.k.a. SAZAE Bot), held a private exhibition at ART & SCIENCE gallery lab AXIOM in Roppongi, Tokyo. Hitoyo is an artist well known for its participatory work using social media. Approximately 30,000 people attended the exhibition, creating a tremendous queue in front of the gallery, with some people waiting for over 6 hours. This breaks records in the history of Japan’s private exhibitions. The owner of Hiromi Yoshii gallery, Japan’s representative gallerist, specializes in contemporary art.

When the Black Box exhibition was announced, no information was released. Visitors were also asked to sign an agreement not to leak any facts about the exhibition until the end. In an age where information can be freely gathered from mobile devices at any time, Hitoyo has succeeded in capturing the hearts of young people by creating a completely 'unsearchable’ “Black Box”.


Bouncer at the Black Box exhibition. Some rights reserved. Worse still, after 6 hours of waiting in line for an exhibition where nobody has any idea what they are likely to see, some people were still not admitted to the gallery.

At the venue’s entrance was a bouncer selecting entrants – but the entry criteria were not made public. You might see such a system at exclusive nightclubs such as Berghain in Berlin, but not for an exhibition. This practice destabilises the more conventional relationship between the viewer and the artist. Could this be Hitoyo’s satire on the way modern exhibitions flatter their viewers?

After long hours in line, an “empty darkroom” was all viewers saw. It was exactly the same as the key visual of the exhibition, painted in complete black with no information at all. It could seem that Hitoyo is set on just messing with viewers. But the way the space deprived them of visual information may also be seen to resemble the anonymous culture of the internet. Vanishing space and borders between people, their bodies were dissolved into the darkness of a kind of collective intelligence, all viewing the same absence.


Black Box's key visual. Some rights reserved.When the visitors left, they were given a piece of paper. The paper said that Hitoyo permitted them to post thoughts – whether of praise, severe criticism, or fake information – about the exhibition. This piece of paper would turn the viewers into “doers”. Eventually, these bit of praise, the criticisms, and lies went viral, attracting so many people as to fill the entire city of Roppongi.

At 12:00 a.m. on the exhibition’s final day, visitors were now allowed to “share the secret”. Just as that moment went by, someone who had visited the gallery posted on their blog saying that they had been molested at the exhibition, and was picked up by a number of news outlets. However, because the blogger themself was also anonymous, nobody was able to identify them or to begin trying to verify what happened. A lot of negative comments were spread around the internet, and the exhibition was taken up on TV news programmes and in newspapers. The gallery and those who held the exhibition rushed to confirm the facts, and apologised for the troubles caused. It remains unknown what exactly happened.


Visitors queueing in Roppongi. Some rights reserved. The Black Box exhibition had gone viral in the real world, creating its own anonymous culture in a darkened space, and had caused the mainstream media to broadcast a mixture of true and false information that had been posted on the internet. The truth is still hidden inside of the Black Box, but on the internet, there are numerous observations going around, and they are always the most convenient interpretations.

After the exhibition, there was a poster on the gallery’s wall, with writing on a mirror which read: ‘Black Box Alternative Level’. The world itself is what makes up the inside of the Black Box – might this be the message Hitoyo had intended to deliver?

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Source: Twitter: 中山路明AAX Design.

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