Japanese Digital Art Collective TeamLab Imagines A World Without Any Boundaries

If Tokyo-based art collective teamLab had its way, it would transform entire cities into immersive, interactive artworks that know no boundaries. Using light as paint and the entire world as its canvas, it encourages viewers to live inside its magical, dramatic and otherworldly digital displays, helping them to escape reality through art. Founded in 2001 by CEO and creative director Toshiyuki Inoko, 41, together with four friends, this 500-strong interdisciplinary army of self-proclaimed “ultra-technologists” uniting artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects and designers balances art, science and technology through a continuous process of collective creation and thinking. Its brand of digital art using lights, projections, motion sensors and sound aims to erase the lines between people, believing that art can create new relationships between visitors who share an experience, unlike a one-on-one relationship when viewing a painting or sculpture. Because its artworks transform depending on the behavior of a group of individuals and more special effects occur the larger the audience, they become more aware of other people’s presence.

Once Inoko identifies an artwork’s main concept, he gathers specialists together to refine the thinking and create the work, while the project goal and technical feasibility are defined progressively. Depending on the project, the number of team members involved ranges from six to 100. Having studied physics, statistics, natural language processing and art, Inoko says, “As a child, I was always interested in knowing what the world was all about for me, which included understanding nature and the relationship between humans and nature. This has now shifted slightly to my interest in learning what art means to me. What I’m creating now – digital art – is backed by knowledge from my scientific, mathematical and technological background, but I have always been interested in understanding the perception of 3-D space, how we convert that 3-D space into 2-D projections, and understanding spatial perspective and theory, which is very unique to Asian or Japanese theory and very different from the traditional Western perspective with a single vanishing point. I’ve learned a lot about the world by producing artworks and exhibitions, but it’s a neverending process that I will continue.”

In runs until September 9, 2018 at Au-Delà des Limites, teamLab’s most complicated and most important exhibition to date featuring both new and readapted works, which La Villette in Paris as part of the Japonismes 2018 cultural festival organized by the Japan Foundation, teamLab has succeeded in digitizing nature. Flowers bloom and scatter in a cycle of birth and death, frogs and rabbits march endlessly and react to visitors’ touch, and schools of thousands of fish swim in harmony like a single life form leaving behind trails of light that become spatial calligraphy, while the boundary between the walls and floor disappears in a vertiginous display. The centerpiece is a giant virtual waterfall cascading down the wall onto the floor and dispersing around visitors’ feet when they obstruct the flow of water, while in Graffiti Nature, visitors draw and color animals and flowers that are immediately released into the natural world. Stepping inside each universe, viewers become an integral part of the art and connect with it. With no clear limits between artworks, installations merge into one another, in constant dialogue, with no apparent beginning or end, moving freely into vacant spaces, influencing and intermingling with each other – the advantage of non-material digital art that allows human expression to free itself from physical constraints.

“I wanted to create a new borderless experience,” Inoko states. “People think that individual artworks or life in the city have boundaries, but in reality, our world shouldn’t have any frontiers, so I wanted to showcase here a new interconnected world, a new relationship with completely dissolved borderlines between each work and also between the work and the viewer.” Neither a pre-recorded animation nor on loop, the installations are rendered in real time by a computer program, detecting visitors’ movements and responding realistically, causing continuous change in the artwork. Previous visual states can never be reproduced and will never reoccur – just as in nature, no two moments can be repeated.

Check back next week for Part 2 about teamLab’s beginnings and latest projects.

I’ve been a luxury lifestyle writer and editor for 13 years, meaning I’ve met with today’s movers and shakers and gone behind the scenes to observe master craftsmen at work creating everything from Cartier timepieces and Moynat handbags to Rolls-Royce cars and Riva yachts. I…

Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle is a luxury lifestyle writer focusing on art, architecture, design, horology and jewelry, whose work has appeared in titles like Asia Tatler, iW, Prestige, Robb Report and Surface.


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