Purple Art

[February 15 2017]

An interview with Japanese artist collective teamLab on their “Transcending Boundaries” exhibition at Pace gallery, London

A teamLab exhibition is really like no other, meaning not just that it’s great, but that each one of your experiences inside their rooms is utterly singular. Complex arrays of sensors and digital projectors humming along to the tune of some ghostly algorithm weave a world around you. Flowers grow on your body, ribbon-like currents of water flow around your feet, and butterflies flock onto nearby surfaces, only to die when touched. Wall-mounted pieces include shifting moku-hanga woodblock-print style animations of constantly tossing oceans and ‘Spatial Calligraphy’ that draws circular Japanese infinity characters in mobius-strip style 3D, where the ‘front’ of the object is indistinguishable from the ‘back’. It’s an eerie and beautiful mix of immersion and escape. Here the collective behind the works explained more by email.

Jethro Turner — What’s the process like when you create a new piece? Are you driven by a specific visual effect that you want to create, or do you start with a new technology that you want to use and develop the visuals around that?

teamLab — Our artworks are created by a team of hands-on experts through a continuous process of creation and thinking. Although the large concepts are always defined from the start, the project goal tends to remain unclear, so the whole team needs to create and think as they go along. teamLab’s organizational structure seems flat at a first glance, but it is also extremely multidimensional, with an underlying layer that is unclear and undecided. The big concepts are always defined from the start, and the project goal and technical feasibility also go hand in hand. This is why the goal of the artwork becomes more clearly defined as the team progresses its work.

Jethro Turner The works create a completely unique experience for each individual viewer, but yet they are also a kind of communal experience. How does this relate to how you work as a team to create them?

teamLab — In this digital age, whenever you’re creating something, we 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.

teamLab creates works with “co-creation”.Often, the creative act easily ends up a solitary activity. However, if it is digital art, that the creative act can be both creative and “collaborative”.

Jethro Turner — How does the viewer fit into this?

teamLab — Viewer participation is an essential aspect of teamLab’s digital art, that has an interactive element among others. 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. Digital art could make the presence of others while viewing art at the same time something more positive, even if you are not directly related to them, do not understand them, or cannot control them.

Jethro Turner — What’s the balance you try to strike in making the technology visible/invisible in the works?

teamLab — In this exhibition, as we named “teamlab: Transcending Boundaries”, we explore to lose the boundaries between works. In other words, we are seeking to eliminate the concept of boundary. The optimal technology is selected and developed according to this concept. We do not think that technology is the most important element. We are interested in how art can be extended through the use of digital technology.

Jethro Turner — Being in and interacting with the pieces feels very immersive, but it also very artificial. Has anyone ever described having a transcendental or religious experience inside?

teamLab — We are seeing the birth of a new paradigm, and by putting our bodies inside this new paradigm, we open our minds and even grow and expand our minds. The human race can move forward, collaboratively, feeling its way toward a new stage.

The artworks, of course, are participatory and interactive. However, the interaction that teamLab conceptualizes is slightly different from interaction up to this point. Conventional interaction, such as through video games, computers, and smartphones, is where you directly and willfully intervene and manipulate a world. What teamLab emphasizes, though, is interaction connected with art, so it does not matter whether you express any willful intervention and operation. Just having another person in the same artistic space creates variations in the art. If the artistic variations from the presence of the “other” are beautiful, then the “other” is beautiful as well.

We think that art up to this point has treated the presence of others, in the opinion of the observer, as intruders. This approach meant that it was actually fortunate not to have any other people in the exhibit space. For our teamLab exhibits, though, we feel that the existence of other observers is a more positive thing than it has been up to now.

Also we at teamLab think that by connecting technology to art, for instance, “the existence of people in the same space can be made positive”. According to that meaning, I think technology is humanitarian, and going forward, I think it will become increasingly humanitarian.

In the modern city, because of the high level of complexity, and because our own ordinary actions have no direct relationship to the city, there is the feeling that other people’s existence has no relation to the city, and then other people, who cannot be understood or controlled, only become accepted for a compelling reason. By using digital art that “affects a change on the relations of people in the same place”, and by enlarging the expansion of that space, if it can be expanded to the size of the city, I think it’s possible to change the existence of all the unconnected people in the city to something more positive.

The concept of the digital is to expand the expression of humanity. If that means believing in changing the value system, then maybe it is a form of faith.

teamLab “Transcending Boundaries” exhibition runs until March 11th at Pace gallery, London and is available to see as priority timed entry, click here to select your date and time for free.

Interview Jethro Turner and photo Flo Kohl

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