A team of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects, teamLab creates art exhibits best described as transportive. Step into a teamLab exhibit and you enter a sensory and surreal world of light, color and sound. Like many immersive experiences you see now, you are encouraged to touch and explore the art. Unlike other exhibits, teamLab's art responds to you or transforms as others around you interact with it too.
And unlike many made-for-Instagram experiences we've seen lately, teamLab is not sniffing for social media exposure. They want to dissolve borders between art and people, to encourage the rediscovery of nature through technology, and bring people together through it.
Our worlds have narrowed drastically over the last couple of weeks. We are confined to our homes, limited to the entertainment within our four walls. Yet at the same time, we are more connected than ever, a truth that resonates with teamLab's belief system, as you will read shortly.
Considering most exhibitions and events have been canceled or closed indefinitely during the pandemic, a digital tour of teamLab's work is a refreshing escape. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
No longer limited to physical media, digital technology has made it possible for artworks to expand physically. Since art created using digital technology can easily expand, it provides us with a greater degree of autonomy within the space. We are now able to manipulate and use much larger spaces, and viewers are able to experience the artwork more directly.
In interactive artworks that teamLab creates, because viewers’ movement or even their presence transforms the artwork, the boundaries between the work and viewers become ambiguous. Viewers become a part of the work. This changes the relationship between an artwork and an individual into a relationship between an artwork and a group of individuals. A viewer who was present five minutes ago, or how the person next to you is behaving now, suddenly becomes important. Unlike a viewer who stands in front of a conventional painting, a viewer immersed in an interactive artwork becomes more aware of other people’s presence.
Unlike a physical painting on a canvas, the non-material digital technology can liberate art from the physical. By using such digital technology, we believe art can expand the beautiful. We want to create a space where you can feel that you are connected with other people in the world.
What really makes teamLab unique is not the technological advancement, but rather the fact that teamLab has become able to do truly massive art projects simultaneously worldwide in-house at a high speed — to the extent that no one has been able to do before.
With several hundred strong specialists, teamLab has become bigger than ever, as we increased the size of our own team, our own funds, as well as the number of people who are willing to support what we want to do, because of our more widespread recognition. We develop our own systems; however, it is the advances in video equipment and technology that make it easier for us to do what we want to do. There are other media artists that use much more advanced technology than we do. What is really interesting (and often chaotic) with teamLab is that while we combine relatively new technologies, we turn our ideas into visuals and scales that no one has ever imagined and execute everything with an in-house team.
At times, we must develop our own systems and hardware in order to explore the ideas on the scale we hope.
For instance, in our permanent museum teamLab Borderless Shanghai in Huangpu District, Shanghai, we created a Light Sculpture space consisting of a thousand moving lights: an unprecedented amount and density. In order to achieve this amount and density, we had to develop our own original moving light. If we were to use ordinary moving lights, one thousand of them would heat up and bake our visitors. So we had to develop something to reduce the heat levels.
"What is life? What separates the 'living' from 'inanimate' cannot be defined biologically to this day."
Likewise, our upcoming permanent museum teamLab SuperNature, which is coming soon to The Venetian Macao, will feature the never-before-seen Massless Clouds Between Sculpture and Life.
A giant cloud floats between the floor and the ceiling within the confines of the space, as though transcending the concept of mass. People can immerse their bodies in this cloud, blurring the boundaries between the artwork and the body.
Even when people push through the floating cloud and break it, it naturally repairs itself like a living thing. But, as with living things, when the cloud is destroyed beyond what it can repair, it cannot mend itself, and it collapses.
What is life? What separates the “living” from “inanimate” cannot be defined biologically to this day.
That you continue to be tomorrow who you are today is against the “law of increasing entropy,” wherein tangible things collapse. Entropy (a measurement of the lack of order in a system) is being maximized in this universe, but life goes against this direction.
Physicist and 1977 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Ilya Prigogine, observed that in the natural world, when energy is absorbed from an external source, internal entropy is generated, then released.
Living creatures take in energy from the outside in the form of food, disposing of entropy in the form of excrement, thereby preserving entropy. Life cannot exist independently, it is part of a continuity with its external surroundings.
In this artwork, self-organization is tested. Universal gravitation and centrifugal force are opposed, and the clouds rotate while floating in the space between the floor and ceiling. And, just like life, they endeavor to repair themselves.
Ultimately, teamLab is a laboratory run by a team, a place where the team experiments. So we are not afraid to try something new in our mission to explore the relationship between the self and the world and new perceptions through art.
"Although 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."
Once the large concept of the artwork is set, we gather specialized members related to the work and think more finely. For example, the Forest of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn piece, which is in teamLab Borderless in Tokyo, was created with a specialist who creates 3D CG flower model and animation, a 3D software programmer, an engineer who designs equipment such as projectors, a software programmer who localizes and integrates dozens of projectors within the space, an architect, and so on.
"In a future society, traits that only humans possess—such as creativity—will become increasingly important."
teamLab’s creativity is based on ‘multidimensionality,’ where members with different specialties create together by crossing their boundaries, as well as their ‘transferable knowledge,’ a type of knowledge that can be shared and reused. As a result, teamLab generates what we call 'collective creation', the creation of something of higher quality by a group, thus strengthening an entire team. An individual person may not be directly involved in the project but his or her shareable knowledge might be. This continuous process of creating and discovering the transferable knowledge at high-speed yields the power of the group. It is organizations like this, able to uncover vast troves of knowledge that differentiate themselves.
Artificial intelligence and machinery could replace much of the existing work that we know of today. In a future society, traits that only humans possess—such as creativity—will become increasingly important.
Humans are naturally collaborative and creative. However, current education emphasizes only one correct answer over all others, stifling creativity. Free thinking and behavior that is different, is suppressed. And by doing so, students become afraid of making mistakes and lose their natural creativity. Whereas in the real world we find that there are no problems that have only one correct answer. Often as not, the correct answer 10 years ago is now incorrect.
By creating new solutions that solve problems in different ways, and give people enjoyment in the process, new correct answers are born. It is creativity that allows us to overcome problems that cannot be defined as either correct or incorrect.
The present situation in education is that tests are taken by individuals and evaluated on the ability of the individual. Before we know it, individualism is forced upon us. Additionally, large numbers of people are addicted to smartphones. Their brains may be connected, but their body is isolated. As a result, opportunities for nurturing co-creative experiences are decreasing.
Humans learn about the world through interaction with others and by sharing experiences. People think with their bodies as they move through the world, and society has developed through creative activities born from collaboration. This is why co-creative experience is very important for society.
By focusing on creating change in the connections between people, as well as creating positive experiences, teamLab hopes to turn individual creative acts into co-creative activities. Hopefully, through enjoying co-creation, people will be able to find creativity in their daily life. It was from such a desire that this project was born.
It is a natural human desire to share emotions or something that is moving and inspiring. However, the “experience” cannot be cut out.
Through smartphones or TVs, people can understand only with their heads. Knowledge may be gained, but the sense of values and perceptions cannot be changed or broadened. Only through the actual, physical experience of the world or artworks can people start to recognize things differently. Even if people look at teamLab’s exhibition images on Instagram, their values will not be broadened.
teamLab wants to continue creating experiences that cannot be shared just with photos or videos.
Our interest is not the technology itself, but instead, we’re trying to explore the concept of “digital" and how it can enhance art.
Most of Silicon Valley-originated technology is an extension of someone’s mind. Facebook, Twitter, these digital domains see the “self” as the principle. These are meant to be used personally.
What teamLab wants to do is to enhance the physical space itself by digital art. It doesn’t necessarily have to be yourself that intervenes with it. It can be other people, or a group of people that vaguely includes you. And instead of personal use, we want to make it usable by multiple people.
By digitizing the space, we can indirectly change the relationships between people inside. If the presence of others can trigger the space to change, they’d become a part of artwork. And if that change is beautiful, the presence of others can be something beautiful as well. By connecting digital technology and art, we think the presence of others can be made more positive.
We allow phones in all of our exhibitions, though we prohibit the use of flash and large equipment, such as tripods or selfie sticks for most. This way, visitors can enjoy and experience the art as they choose, but they do so in a way that does not disrupt any other person’s experience.
"Living in the city, you feel as if there is a border between yourself and the world, but the world really is meant for us to be involved with."
Yes, we have experienced other organizations attempting to mimic teamLab exhibitions, and even go so far as to use teamLab images to promote their own spaces without our consent or knowledge.
On August 8, 2019, teamLab filed an Intellectual Property - Copyright lawsuit against Museum of Dream Space LLC. This case was filed in the U.S. District Courts, California Central District. We will be distributing a press release related to this topic soon, so there will be more information available shortly.
Despite these occurrences, teamLab remains unique because of the scale at which we are able to create our work.
We want people to be involved with the world. As much as possible, we want to re-think the boundary between the world and oneself. Living in the city, you feel as if there is a border between yourself and the world, but the world really is meant for us to be involved with. It may be just a bit, but the world is something that changes due to your existence. We believe that there is a borderless, continuous relationship between us and the world.
The 500,000 square meter Mifuneyama Rakuen Park was created in 1845, during the end of the Edo period. Sitting on the borderline of the park is the famous 3,000-year-old sacred Okusu tree of Takeo Shrine. Also in the heart of the garden is another 300-year-old sacred tree. Knowing the significance of this, our forebears turned a portion of this forest into a garden, using the trees of the natural forest.
The border between the garden and the wild forest is ambiguous, and when wandering through the garden, before they know it, people will find themselves entering the woods and animal trails. Enshrined in the forest is the Inari Daimyojin deity surrounded by a collection of boulders almost supernatural in their formation. About 1,300 years ago, the famous priest Gyoki came to Mifuneyama and carved 500 Arhats. Within the forest caves, there are Buddha figures that Gyoki directly carved into the rock face that still remain today.
Lost in nature, where the boundaries between man-made garden and forest are unclear, we are able to feel like we exist in a continuous, borderless relationship between nature and humans. It is for this reason that teamLab decided to create an exhibition in this vast, labyrinthine space, so that people will become lost and immersed in the exhibition and in nature.
"We think what’s more important, at least as an artist, is to seek out and affirm an idealistic part of humanity, and present an idea of the future."
We exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process that has been continuing for an overwhelmingly long time. It is hard for us, however, to sense this in our everyday lives, perhaps because humans cannot easily conceptualize time for periods longer than their own lives.
When exploring the forest, the shapes of the giant rocks, caves, and the forest allow us to better perceive and understand that overwhelmingly long time over which it all was formed. These forms can transcend the boundaries of our understanding of the continuity of time.
Humans have created many different artifacts by borrowing the power of nature. Not just art such as sculptures, but also huts and roads. Every artifact is made from nature. But we thought humans could create something by using nature as it is, without physical intervention. Digital art uses things like software, sensing, network, light and sound. By using these non-material digital, we can turn nature itself into art without destroying it, keeping nature alive.
We think people in the past were more conscious that we are part of nature. You can see this in Mifuneyama Rakuen where the boundary between the natural forest and the areas humans have touched is ambiguous.
In Mifuneyama Rakuen, forest, rocks and caves have formed over millions of years, and people found meaning in them over thousands of years. The huge rock that enshrines the highest-ranked Inari Daimyojin, where we’ve projected a waterfall, and the cave that houses the Five Hundred Arhats and the Three Buddha Figures are some of the examples.
A long, fragile, and miraculous continuity that nature and humans have developed over thousands of years still remains in this place.
We feel like Mifuneyama Rakuen is a place where we can still see such a relationship between humans and nature, something that may be different from what we see in our modern lives.
When we look at the world through an intellectual lens, problems are overflowing. And when you see the problems that we cannot solve, you just feel hopeless. In this era, we think what’s more important, at least as an artist, is to seek out and affirm an idealistic part of humanity, and present an idea of the future.
We’re not talking about a simple fiction of manga or video games, but instead, it’s an ideal fictitious world that may be realized somewhat. There are problems that cannot be solved at this very moment. But what we can do is to suggest that we may be able to create an ideal world once more by connecting the hints that can be found in the long history of humanity. As we said, we find it more important to create the world than to criticize the world.
Our intention is to change people’s standard of beauty, even if it requires a great deal of time.
At some point in history, humans saw flowers and thought “beautiful.” But we do not really understand this phenomenon of “beauty.” Evolution explains some instances: it is natural that we would perceive other humans to be “beautiful” from a reproductive standpoint. But this does not explain why humans have found flowers “beautiful.”
In theory, we should have used different words for these two completely unrelated concepts, so the fact that we conceive of them in the same way is quite miraculous.
We believe that art is an act of modern people creating their own flowers and expanding the notion of “beautiful” with those flowers, just in the way that ancient human beings saw flowers as “beautiful” and expanded the idea of beauty. We do not instantly understand the reasons or meaning behind this expansion. However, through these positive expansions of “beautiful,” 30 or 50 years later, people may behave differently in a way that we cannot understand with today’s limited knowledge, allowing humanity to continue to grow and thrive.
At a minimum, our interactive installations call more attention to the actions of the viewers around you than would a traditional painting. The result is that the art gains the ability to influence the relationships between the viewers standing in front of it. And if the effect of another person’s presence on the art is beautiful, it is possible that that person’s presence itself will be seen as beautiful.
The paradigm in traditional art has been to treat the existence of other viewers as a nuisance. If you are at an exhibition with no other viewers for example, you are likely to think of yourself as extremely lucky. But in the exhibitions put together by teamLab, we encourage people to think of the presence of other viewers as a positive factor.