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Rabbit Town: the selfie-themed museum accused of plagiarizing its art

Rabbit Town, which features copies of art by Yayoi Kusama and Chris Burden, is a portrait of the changing way we find value in art.

Rabbit Town: the selfie-themed museum accused of plagiarizing its art
Left: a screenshot from Rabbit Town’s official Instagram account. Right: Yayoi Kusama, The Obliteration Room, ca. 2011. [Photos: Flickr user Stephan Ridgway (right), rabbittown.id (left)]

Critiquing “selfie culture” as vapid and self-absorbed tends to be a thinly veiled criticism of young people (and those gosh-darned new words they tend to inspire). It also ignores the fact that selfies are a legitimate genre of digital expression–a by-product of the most profound technological change of the last century: that we’re all walking around with a camera and computer in our hands. It’s transformed how people interact with the world around them–and the way people experience art, as a simmering controversy over a selfie-themed tourism experience called Rabbit Town illustrates.

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photo by @vivianayanti

A post shared by WISATA SELFIE #rabbittown (@rabbittown.id) on

Over the past 10 or so years, hundreds of thousands of people have lined up outside of museums and galleries staging experiential installations, like MoMA’s 2012 Rain Room or Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms. When they get inside, of course, they take photos of themselves. The market has responded in turn, with museum-like experiences full of art specifically designed for selfies, like the Museum of Ice Cream.

It’s a natural evolution that reflects a change in how people find value in art: If you go to a museum to find a good backdrop for a photo, that backdrop is a product. And when a piece of art becomes a popular product, the knockoffs can’t be far behind.

The latest of these is Rabbit Town, in Badung, Indonesia. It caters specifically to selfie-takers (tagline: wisata selfie, or “selfie tourism”), with installations and experiences that lend themselves to dramatic photos. However, as dozens of social media users and journalists have pointed out since the park opened earlier this year, many of those installations look like copies of work by artists including Yayoi Kusama and Chris Burden. Here’s the event space’s installation, Love Light: 

Compared to Burden’s 2008 piece, Urban Light, which is permanently installed at LACMA:

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Meanwhile, here’s a Rabbit Town attraction called Patricco’s Sticker Room:

. . . which has been widely compared to Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room, where visitors can decorate with colorful stickers:

Rabbit Town also has an installation called “Museum of Ice Cream,” a fact that the original Museum of Ice Cream has not taken kindly to.  According to MOIC, Rabbit Town’s original Instagram was shut down because it violated the company’s copyright policies. “This new Instagram account was created following our notice and takedown of their original account,” the museum told Co.Design in an emailed statement. “Instagram’s legal department has already been notified about this attempt to circumvent our efforts and we anticipate it being shut down very soon.”

“Fake or counterfeit goods are not allowed on Instagram and our Community Guidelines state that the Instagram community must follow the law when offering to sell or buy goods,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement. “If someone believes their intellectual property is being infringed, we encourage them to report it us.”

Without a doubt, there are myriad IP issues at play here; we’ve also reached out to the other parties involved, including Rabbit Town, and will update this post if we hear back. But what’s intriguing about the theme park is that it’s clearly responding to demand for the selfie-first experiential art that has become wildly popular on social media.

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Krithika Varagur visited the museum herself, and unpacked the uproar over at The Outline:

Rabbit Town forces an interesting question about digital content and art: maybe providing photo opportunities should be accepted as another raison d’être of any art museum today. That’s not a neutral proposition, but it has democratic appeal: the rise of Instagram-friendly and immersive art has already drawn literally millions of new visitors to art museums in this decade.

Meanwhile, Holy Rafika Dhona writes that Rabbit Town is just another example of a concept called “post-tourism”:

The owners of tourist destinations see the stage as business opportunities. They build a nice theme park for visual reproduction, either by creating a new concept or by plagiarising other popular works, as Rabbit Town did. Plagiarism in tourism can involve copying a global concept (Hobbit House) or replicating the local ones. The loss of spatial realm in a tourist destination is known as post-tourism.

In other words, the images we take of ourselves at a certain tourist attraction or art installation are more important than actually visiting the original attraction. A convincing copy will do. Rabbit Town is a portrait of the changing way we engage with art today–and the currency we make out of it.

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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