Read our interview with Japanese ultra-technologist collective teamLab to find out more about their work process and their plans for a teamLab hotel!
teamLab has really emerged on the Contemporary Art scene with its innovative and technology-focused art installations. Could you tell us a bit about how teamLab was formed as a collective?
In 2001 I founded teamLab with several of my friends, as a space of co-creation. It was the year we graduated from the university, and most of the initial members were programmers and designers. We were creating art installations from the beginning, but we had neither the opportunities to present them, nor could we imagine how to economically sustain our teams producing art. On the other hand, we believed in the power of digital technology and creativity, and we simply loved it. We just wanted to keep creating something new, no matter which genre it would turn out to be. And while we took part in various projects to maintain teamLab, we increased the number of technologists such as architects, CG animators, painters, mathematicians and hardware engineers.
The element of playfulness and the attention to the viewer experience is something that is integral to the works generally produced by teamLab. What sort of considerations factor into the production of a teamLab work?
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 connecting interactivity and art, regardless of whether the viewer purposely wishes to intervene and execute some actions, so that 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 conventional type of art that people 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: the existence of other viewers is definitely seen as a positive element.
There is a very strong influence of traditional Japanese art – both in terms of visual arts and architecture – on the work of teamLab. For example, your recent work “Black Waves” at Borusan Contemporary in Istanbul brings to mind the famous Great Wave Off Kanagawa by ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. Can you tell use more about teamLab’s working process in terms of marrying tradition with cutting edge technology?
We like to use cultural concepts that might have been lost in the past due to the incompatibility with modern times. We also believe that this current society built on digital and networks will become a different society from the modern era. In other words, we see certain hints for the new society in the cultural knowledge and social understanding of the pre-modern era. These little hints may be hidden within the many patterns of times that existed prior to the modern era. Because I happen to be born and raised in Japan, it's easier to take an approach that incorporates aspects of Japan's pre-modern cultural past. So, it was easier to take an approach that explores which parts of these concepts we have lost during the modern period, and also what transformation allowed some of these concepts to continue into contemporary society.
Also, digital technology allows us to have more opportunities during the process of creating art. We are trying to scientifically elucidate logical structure of spatial perception of pre-modern Japanese. This is because we believe that our anscesors were viewing the world differently from us today. By applying that logical structure of pre-modern time (we call it ‘Ultra Subjective Space’), we are trying new visual experience, and we question our way of viewing the world in the modern and contemporary society.
About ”Black Waves", the movement of waves of water is simulated in a computer-generated three-dimensional space. The water is expressed as a continuous body after calculating the interactions of hundreds of thousands of particles. To express the waves, the behavior of the particles at the surface of the water was then extracted and lines were drawn in relation to the movement of the particles. The 3-D wave created in a 3-D virtual space is then turned into an artwork in accordance with what teamLab refers to as "Ultra Subjective Space."
If ‘Black Waves’ brings to mind the Great Wave Off Kanagawa, it suggests that the people in the pre-modern age might have seen waves in that way, for we are logically two-dimentionalizing the 3-D waves with our ‘ultra subjective space’.
We now live in a post-photographic era whereby space-time relationships can be compressed through digital manipulation and replication. How do you think digital art has affected or influenced the way in which viewers respond to the world around them and how does the work of teamLab factor into this?
We explore the fact that art is extended through the concept of the "digital." And because of this, people could emancipate themselves from materials.
With teamLab’s works that involve interaction between the work and the viewer, the viewer's presence and behavior change the work and the boundary line between the viewer and the work is blurry. The viewer is included within the work. This concept changes the relationship between the work and an individual to the relationship between the work and a group. It is important whether or not another viewer had been there five minutes before you, and what the person next to you is doing. At the very least, it will matter more to you what the person next to you is doing than it would if looking at conventional paintings. In this way, a work of art can affect the relationships between the people standing in front of it.
If the change in the art caused by the presence of others is beautiful, the presence of those people can become beautiful.
If anything, with conventional art, the presence of others can be considered an obstruction. If you were alone at an exhibition, you would probably think of yourself as lucky. However, with our work, we think you will find the presence of others more positive than it was with earlier art.
Not only in art, but in modern cities, people tend to find the presence of others to be unpleasant. Being surrounded by others, whom we can neither understand nor control, was something we have had to accept and put up with. This is because the city is not changed by our presence or the presence of others. If we were to wrap the city entirely in the type of digital art conceived of by teamLab, we believe that the presence of others in the city might become a positive one.
Do you think your work is received differently by various age groups?
Our work is perceived differently by different age groups. However, each age groups enjoy our work and our work seems to be a trigger of their thoughts. There’re no differences among countries when appreciating our work but it seems like our artwork is beloved by the people who love the concept of creativity.
You’ve had a very productive year with exhibitions at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, Borusan Contemporary, Menlo Park in Silicon Valley, Central World in Thailand and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, just to name a few! I think the fact that your works have a presence all across the world is a testament to its popularity and universality. Do you ever take into consideration the geographical location when producing a work?
We’ve never taken into consideration the geographical location when producing works. We want to explore what human being is, and what the world for human being is. In other words, we’re interested in human beings.
Of course, we have to take into consideration exhibit space, because there’re physical constraints. Also, we curate the exhibition collaboratively with museum and curators, taking geographical location into account.
The nature of the teamLab works are that it involves a lot of experimentation with the limitations of technology, pushing it further or maximizing its capabilities. Do you often have projects that do not materialize, because they do not achieve the effect or experience you aim for? What happens to these works?
There might be such kind of aspect in our art-making. In that case, we continue to create the work in the long term. During the process, we experiment lots of "studies" in various occations, which may be not become artworks.
However, what we’re interested in is not technology itself but rather how the concept of ‘digital’ could expand art. And in the process of it, we would like to explore the questions like what is human being, what is the world for human being, and the new society and new way of human-being.
There might be such kind of aspect in our art-making. In that case, we continue to create until the project is realized, extending the length of time to achieve what we want. During the process, the work may not become artworks, but we make all different kinds of work depending on the opportunities that arise and the process of realizing the work.
However, what we’re interested in is not technology itself but rather how the concept of ‘digital’ can expand art. In the process, we would like to explore questions like; what is it to be human? What is the world for humans? And,how do we live in the new society?
Could you tell us a bit about what teamLab has in store for us this coming year? Are there any new works you are working on or new shows you are planning?
In this summer, we plan to present four new major artworks in Odaiba (Tokyo) and at the Mori Art Museum. Also, a huge permanent exhibition ‘teamLab World’ is planned to start in Seoul. In Autumn, a solo exhibition at L.A. Louver gallery in Los Angeles is scheduled. In Singapore, National Museum of Singapore* will unveil two commission works for permanent display. In Turkey, we are creating a gigantic, 100 meters long artwork.
At national level, we’re currently working on the project that transforms the nature or town into artwork while keeping the state of itself as it is. We plan to make the forest of Shimogamo the World Heritage Site in Kyoto as an art space, and in the historical garden in Saga named Mihuneyama Rakuen, we will make an old pond into art. Also, we plan to make the river and the forest of the city Tokushima (Japan) as the art space in this winter.
And one day we want to create a hotel.
Read about FUTURE WORLD: Where Art Meets Science, teamLab's permanent exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore here.
Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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