teamLab: 'An opportunity to redefine the relationship between human and nature'

We talk to Tokyo-based collective teamLab about art in the digital age

Pace Beijing recently opened its blockbuster exhibition for the summer: Living Digital Forest and Future Park, an interactive, immersive, labyrinthine multi- media installation by the Tokyo- based collective teamLab.


A chain of kaleidoscopic, generative, ceiling-to-wall projections – including one that sets the viewer on a psychedelic trip through fields of flowers that bloom and fade as they’re walked through – Living Forest overwhelms as it delights, mediating high technology through the simple joys of beautiful images dancing across wall and space.


While we’re still unpacking the rather dense experience of the exhibition, Time Out spoke with the semi-anonymous collective behind it about the challenges of creating a truly immersive, substantive digital artwork in an era when humans are increasingly disconnected and addicted to the screens in their pockets.


Can you introduce teamLab? What is your artistic philosophy?

We refer to ourselves as 'ultra technologists,' in the aim of going beyond the boundaries between art, science, technology and creativity. Formed in 2001, teamLab is an art collective; an interdisciplinary creative group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the digital society; artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, web and print graphic designers and editors. We believe the digital domain can expand the capacities of art, and that digital art can create new relationships between people. The advent of digital technology allows human expression to become free from physical constraints, enabling it to exist independently and evolve freely.


Can you talk a bit about Living Forest? What was your motivation in merging the realm of the natural, using flowers as a core motif, with the realm of the digital, rendering the visual aspect of the installation through dynamic software?

Nature is constantly changing, and has its own interactions. Digital technology has made it possible, more than any other man-made artifacts, to express these subtle transformations and interactions that nature has. We think this brings viewers an opportunity to redefine the relationship between nature and human.


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How does the exhibit work from a technical standpoint?

teamLab’s artworks are often rendered in real-time using algorithms. They are neither a pre-recorded animation nor a video on loop. Instead, the interaction between the viewer and the installation causes continuous changes in the artwork, ensuring each viewer’s experience is unique. Most of our artworks and installations are interactive and encourage participation. While common interactive media such as video games, PCs, smartphones and internet applications involve active participants who purposely try to intervene or interact with the world, what teamLab focuses on is tying interactivity with art so that your presence itself changes the art, whether or not you intend to do so. The viewer becomes an artist in our co-creative space.


Are the sound compositions generative sound pieces, or loops? How do they expand on or supplement the experience of the visual and spatial aspects of the installation?

The sound elements of 'Crystal Universe' and 'Flower Forest' are generative sound pieces. The purpose of our interactive digital art is to make the visitor a part of an artwork, and ultimately to make people’s relationship positive. Sounds too react and change to people’s movements, making their presence, relationship and experience more positive.


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Did you have a certain audience in mind when creating this installation? Some of the interactive elements suggest that it would appeal especially to children – and bring out the childlike side of adults.

We did not intentionally create for children. Many of our artworks encourage both children and adults to get involved, although children tend to be more receptive than adults. Our intention is to change the relationships between people within the same space through a positive experience. And we hope individual creative activities can be transformed into co- creative actions.


On the topic of art and technology, what are your thoughts about the future role of Artificial Intelligence in the creation of art?

Rapid technological development will continue to accelerate and many jobs will be taken over by machines. In a future society, traits that only humans can possess – such as the ability to think and act creatively – will become increasingly important. Today, in education and everyday life, however, creativity is suppressed rather than encouraged. Furthermore, many people are addicted to smartphones. Their brains may be connected to someone via the smartphone, but their body remains thoroughly isolated. Although humans learn about the world through interaction with others and by sharing experiences, the opportunity to nurture joint collaborative activity has decreased. People think with their bodies as they move through the world, and much of human society has developed through creative achievements born from collaboration and collective play. We hope that by enjoying a co-creative experience people may become more creative in their everyday lives.


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Anything you want to tell viewers before they see the exhibition?

This exhibition is like a labyrinth. There is no right or wrong order to see the artworks. A huge room is filled with the flowers for each month of the year, travelling throughout the entire space. You can walk along with the flower of a specific month, stand still in one spot, or find your own ways. Immerse yourself in the artworks, get lost and simply experience it yourself.

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