The art world is just starting to get a taste for the true potential of technological integrations, but teamLab, the interdisciplinary artist collaborative of ultra-technologists from Japan, has been exploiting the information age for years and have gone so far as to transcend the very medium of technology itself. How you might ask? By pulling off some of the most mind blowing integrative installations out there.
Imagine stepping into the dark space of their “Crystal Universe” installation illuminated by thousands of reflective light filled crystals, integrating ambient sound with light patterns reminiscent of bioluminescence. Or entering into their “Floating Flower Garden” at Maison Objet 2015; a white space filled with cascades of orchids dripping from the ceiling, programmed with movement sensors and lifting upwards as you passed through. Massive panels of narrative paintings inspired by Japanese folklore, which constantly self-generate via computer algorithms so that no single image is ever repeated…
These impressive experimentations are born from the collaboration across the art-tech realms with Programers from user Interface Engineers, Database Engineers, Network Engineers, Hardware engineers, Computer Vision Engineers to Software Architects; Mathematicians, Architects, CG Animators, Web Designers, Graphic Designers, Artists, Editors and more… Their work is an exploration of the coming together of art, design, technology and nature inspired by the ancient Japanese art and its deep rooted respect for the natural and spiritual worlds.
teamLab’s installations are popping up in top galleries around the world. Their work on permanent display at:
Borusan Contemporary, Instanbul
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
The Asia Society Museum, New York
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
For their latest installation at Maison & Objet, teamLab has created a dreamlike interactive space filled with hundreds of flowing lanterns… a “Forest of Resonating Lights” oscillating from from warm yellow to blues to purples… the gentle flickering of colours set off by the movement of people wandering throughout the immersive space, catalysing a dance of lights; their interactions creating a moment of eternity within a space striating the material and digital worlds.
While they integrate technology, art and design with unprecedented results, teamLab’s universe is ever expanding as they explore new integrative innovations that enchant our senses and minds, asking us to reflect upon societal progress. And yet, they still give us the feeling that this is just the beginning…
We met up with teamLab at Maison Objet to talk about how they pull off their immersive creations, the philoshopies behind their work, and the power of the eternal in their push for social development and change.
CM: How did you come up with the concept for teamLab?
Inoko created a platform for a collaborative creation — which is “TeamLab” — and produce art together as a group, as he felt that it was precisely group creation and co-creation that would be crucial to this new era.
From the very beginning, our aim has been to change our system of values and contribute to societal progress through the medium of digital art. Yet an important unknown was how we could support the team financially through our art. We believed strongly in the power of digital technology and creativity and we also loved the work. What we wanted to do was to create new things without regard to genre limitations.
We have been creating digital art since the year 2001 with the aim of changing people’s values and contributing to societal progress. Although we initially had no idea where we could exhibit our art or how we could support the team financially, we also strongly believed in and were genuinely interested in the power of digital technology and creativity. We wanted to keep creating new things regardless or genre limitations, and we did. As time went on, while we gained a passionate following among young people, we were ignored by the Japanese art world. Our art world debut finally came in 2011 at the Kaikai Kiki gallery in Taipei thanks to the artist Takashi Murakami. Since then, we have gained opportunities in cosmopolitan cities such as Singapore and our works have also been exhibited in the Pace Gallery in New York from 2014 onward. Even within Japan, our efforts to publicize and exhibit our art ourselves have borne fruit and lead to drastic changes in our situation.
CM: How many people make up your collective? How does your collaboration work?
In order to be able to make whatever we want we have all the specialists we need. teamLab is a collective, interdisciplinary creative group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the digital society: artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, mathematicians etc.
Through the daily process of members of the collective creating things, we discover new things that we would like to experiment with, and new experiences that we would like to have and create.
In this digital age, whenever you’re creating something, I feel it’s important to have people with a high level of expertise in a variety of fields working and creating together in an interdisciplinary fashion. Although this increases the degree of specialization required in each field, it’s impossible to divide projects up into single, isolated disciplines. This is because it’s necessary to make the boundaries of these specialized fields ambiguous through the process of creation.
CM: Tell us more about the meaning behind current installation at Maison Objet?
What we are selling is not the lamp itself, what we are selling is the eternal, and we want to make that within a space.
I am not against anything thats eternal. An artist can make a beautiful space with a chandelier using eternal light and shadows and it’s a perfect space made by light, but it is stuck… static. What we make is eternal.
It is a space that is static but what we wanted to make is movement, more actions, so eternal. It is beautiful when no one is there, but when somebody is inside, it becomes much more beautiful. And it becomes eternal in our very fundamental concept of the word.
With the material and the digital, we can combine space and the digital. So for example, our floating garden installation is eternal. If you are going to make a garden, you make a path from the entrance to the exit, but in last’s year exhibition if you enter, the flowers are always moving up and down, and when theres one or more people inside, it gives way to a more complicated state and something much more beautiful.
What we breath is eternal. The digital can make the eternal external, like peoples’ relation with themselves and the world and we can be more positive to other people because if you think that it is beautiful inside our installation, it is not only our work you are reacting to, but with something eternal, you are with other people…
CM: What is your vision of technology and art for the future?/What impact do you hope that TeamLab will have on the creative world?
The digital domain, and digital as a medium, can change people’s way of thinking, extend people’s expressive means, and extend art. In the future many people will use digital means to make art. In fact, today many young people are using digital technology to make art. You could say that digital art is the future, but you could also say that digital art is already here.
teamLab believes that we can use digital means to expand space and influence the relationships among people in the space. If people in the digital art space cause the space to change, then they become a part of the artwork. If that change is beautiful, then the presence of other people becomes beautiful. By combining technology and digital art the presence of other people in a space can become a more positive experience.
Up till now, the presence of other people when viewing art has been disruptive, but at teamLab’s exhibitions, however, people can feel that the presence of other people is a positive experience.
CM：Tell us more about the inspirations behind the teamLab aesthetic?
teamLab believes that the digital domain can expand art. We are exploring new relationships between people and art through a new digital language.
The digital realm, free from physical constraints, allows for unlimited possibilities of expression and transformation. Digital technology is a tool for change and a platform to express complex ideas and details.
Viewers and the environment take on a crucial role in defining and changing interactive artworks. The viewer is an active participant and ultimately becomes a part of the artwork. The boundaries between artwork and viewer become ambiguous. Unlike a viewer who stands in front of a conventional painting, a viewer immersed in an interactive artwork is more aware of other people’s presence. Interactive digital art changes the relationships between people within it and the relationship between people and art.
Digital technology has opened up new creative possibilities. It has also allowed us to take a scientific approach in exploring the logical constructs of ancient Japanese spatial theory. By using the logical construction of what we have termed ultra-subjective space, we can experiment with new visual experiences in our art. We are challenging contemporary human perceptions of the world.
The human race has progressed over many years on earth. We believe, however, that along the way members of modern society have forgotten how they once saw the world. By reaching back and examining past means of perception, we find hints for the future.
Ultra Subjective Space holds great potential for digital artwork that can be experienced and changed through human behavior and action. It is no longer necessary for the viewer to stand still in front of an artwork to perceive it or to avoid making movements that might disturb other viewers. Interactive digital art can heighten art’s allure by interacting with and thereby making viewers participants in it. It frees viewer and art.
And teamLab’s experimental digital art project, artworks from “Future Parks” series, focuses on encouraging changes in the relationships between people in the same space through digital art.
CM：Can you tell us more about the algorithms behind your creations- the visuals are experienced in real time and not pre-recorded, how have you accomplished this?
For example of Flower and People. More than 10 members have worked it over 1 year.
Neither a pre-recorded animation nor on loop, the work is being rendered in real time by a computer program. The interaction between the viewer and the installation causes continuous change in the artwork; previous visual states can never be replicated, and will never reoccur. What you can see right now will never be repeated again in the future.
CM：The biggest challenges you have experienced in executing TeamLab? Your favourite moment of success so far?
The exhibition we are currently holding in Silicon Valley (in the U.S.A.) is bigger than the one in Singapore. But in terms of permanent exhibits, this is our largest. Since it is permanent, we will be able to constantly renew it and add different installations over time. Furthermore, we will be able to test and experiment with more than just the artworks themselves. We will be able to try out many different ideas for the space that the art occupies and for how we approach our viewers. We envision possibilities for ambitious new ways of experimenting with the exhibit space. And we hope to discover new ideas for what an exhibit truly can be.
CM：What are you working on now?
We intend to create large-scale works with the eventual aim of creating a teamLab amusement park where visitors can be immersed in large-scale art.
Due to the complexity of modern cities, city residents often have little direct effect on the city. The presence of other residents is also usually perceived to be unrelated to the city. The presence of these inscrutable, uncontrollable city residents is thereby viewed only through a hyper-analytical lens. By harnessing the power of digital art to change the relationship between people inhabiting the same space, we hope to someday expand the scope of the work all the way to the scale of a whole city in order to change the relationship between city residents. Therefore, we would love to be able to construct an entirely new city.
CM：Is there anything else you would like to share with the Creative Mapping community?
Interactive artworks encourage viewer participation. Common interactive media, such as video games, PCs, smartphones, Internet applications, and the like, involve people who purposely wish to interact directly with the world, actually intervening and executing some functions in order to do so. However, teamLab focuses much more on interactivity and linking with art, regardless of whether the viewer purposely wishes to intervene and execute some actions. Art is changed simply by the mere existence of another person. In addition, if the change caused by the existence of that third person looks beautiful, then the existence of that person also becomes beautiful.
At the very least, with the type of art that we have experienced up until now, the presence of other viewers constituted more of a hindrance than anything else. If you found yourself alone at an exhibition, you would consider yourself to be very lucky. However, teamLab’s exhibitions are different from the artworks showcased so far: the existence of other viewers is definitely seen as a positive element.
This applies not only to art. Even in cities of the present day, the existence of other people is generally considered as something that we find uncomfortable. We cannot understand or control others, so the existence of other people around us is something that is simply tolerated. This is because the city does not change based on your existence or the existence of others. If we were able to wrap whole cities in teamLab’s digital art, then other people’s presence could become a positive element in cities as well.
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