When art meets technology, what happens to the human? This is the question that permeates the works of the creative collective teamLab, a variegated group of artists, inventors and thinkers from all over the globe. In their works, borders are shattered to forge connections amongst visions, perceptions and realities. By exploring the relationship between the self and the world, this project attempts to revolutionise the way in which we interact and we perceive our place in relation with our surroundings.

 

Technology becomes a creative way to interact with one’s reality and realise that this, in truth, is a fragile yet miraculous continuum. In this interview with teamLab we discuss beauty, techné and transcendence in relation to the human experience.

 

Describe teamLab. How did it all begin? How do you combine such a great variety of talents, disciplines and ideas?

 

teamLab was founded in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko and several of his friends to create a “laboratory to experiment in collaborative creation”, i.e. “teamLab”. teamLab’s interest is to create new experiences through art, and through such experiences, we want to explore what the world is for humans. teamLab has been creating art since the beginning. Our aim has always been to change people’s standards of value and contribute to societal progress - this has not changed since the very start. 

In the beginning, teamLab had neither the opportunity to present ourselves, nor could we imagine how to economically sustain our art creation. On the other hand, we believed in the power of digital technology and creativity, and thus kept creating something new, no matter which genre it would turn out to be. While we took part in various projects to sustain ourselves, we increased the number of technologists such as architects, CG animators, painters, mathematicians and hardware engineers.

As time went on, while teamLab gained passionate followers among young people, we were still ignored by the art world. Our debut finally came in 2011 at the Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Taipei, as we were invited by the artist Takashi Murakami. Since then, teamLab has gained opportunities to join major contemporary art exhibitions in cosmopolitan cities such as Singapore Biennale 2013. In 2014, New York PACE Gallery started to help promote teamLab artworks. These fortunate factors allowed teamLab to expand rapidly. Finally in 2015, we were able to organize our own exhibition for the first time in Tokyo. These events further accelerated our evolution and gave us opportunities to exhibit internationally in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Silicon Valley, Beijing, Taipei, and Melbourne among other cities.

Ever since the founding of teamLab, we’ve created through the process of collaborative creation as a collective. teamLab is a laboratory by a team, a place where the team experiments, a place for experimental creations. 

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 a high speed yields the power of the group. 

Knowledge can be uncovered in all parts of the creative process. If small, detailed, yet versatile knowledge is shared by a team, this will develop into a strength, leading to new projects or the improvement of present artworks. This results in an overall improvement in the quality of our creations.

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What is your fundamental mission?

 

teamLab aims to explore the relationship between the self and the world and new perceptions through art. In order to understand the world around them, people separate it into independent entities with perceived boundaries between them. teamLab seeks to transcend these boundaries in our perception of the world, of the relationship between the self and the world, and of the continuity of time. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous, borderless continuity.

 

What is teamLab’s relationship to nature? Is it inspired by nature? In service of nature? Beyond nature?

 

teamLab sees no boundary between humans and nature, and between oneself and the world; one is in the other and the other in one. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous, borderless continuity of life.

One of the most prominent exhibitions that uses actual nature is called teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live, our lifework that takes place in an ancient forest in the historic Mifuneyama Rakuen Park in Kyushu. The annual exhibition is based on our Digitized Nature project, whose concept is that non-material digital technology can turn nature into art in its natural state without harming it. Technology is not in conflict with nature, but has the potential to enhance it.

Using the 500,000 square meter forest as a canvas, teamLab projects light, colour, and moving forms onto rocks, caves, and sacred trees that date back between 300 and 3,000 years. 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. We exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process which has been repeated for billions of years. It is hard for us, however, to sense this in our everyday lives because humans cannot conceptualize time longer than their own lifespans. In other words, we can understand that the world of today is a continuation of the same world from yesterday, but more distant ages, like the Edo Period, feels like a different world and non-continuous. We cannot perceive the long continuity of time; there is a boundary.

The megaliths and caves in this forest that have formed over a long period of time into the shapes and textures we see now remind us that today is an extension of that long continuum. As we use these shapes and textures, which embody incomparably longer time than humans do, and turn them into art in their entirety, it allows us to transcend such a boundary, making us feel that we are part of an eternal continuity of life. teamLab attempts to express the life that exists atop the long continuity of time by using entities that possess a vast trove of time, and hopes to add another layer of meaning in this land.

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teamLab is transcending many boundaries in human perception and experience. What do you believe to be the greatest limitations of the human being?

 

We believe that perception, either consciously or subconsciously created by humans, is a limitation. This is not to say that limitation is necessarily a bad thing - if anything, limitation itself could be thought of as something humans have created. We created teamLab Borderless from the idea that boundaries don’t actually exist in our world, and in a way from the belief that a borderless world is a beautiful one.

In order to understand the world around them (which is a wonderful thing to do), people separate it into independent entities with perceived boundaries between them. For example, when people try to understand the universe, they may use the word ‘earth’. In doing so, they subconsciously create a boundary between ‘earth’ and ‘things outside of earth’ - a boundary that does not actually exist. That boundary is created despite the two existing in continuity, like a gradation. When trying to understand the forest, humans break it down into trees, separating the tree from the whole. Humans then cut the tree into cells to recognize the tree, cut the cells into molecules to recognize the cells, and cut the molecules into atoms to understand the molecules, and so on. That is science, and that is how science increases the resolution of the world. But in the end, no matter how much humans divide things into pieces, they cannot understand the entirety. Even though what people really want to know is the world, the more they separate, the farther they become from the overall perception.

Humans, if left alone, recognize what is essentially continuous as separate and independent. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous continuity over an extremely long period of time, but human beings cannot recognize it without separating it into parts. People try to grasp the entirety by making each thing separate and independent. This may sound like a paradox, but teamLab seeks to create artworks that navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world. Science, as mentioned earlier, increases the resolution of the world, and attempts to understand the world.

We are experimenting in a way with the idea that by making visitors a part of the artworks, without boundaries, people will be able to perceive the world physically. It may be that in trying to perceive and understand all the various things in the world that are difficult to understand, we humans subconsciously create limitations. We believe that there are no limitations when it comes to the imagination of humans. teamLab seeks to create artworks that transcend the limitations that bind us, whether it be limitations in technology or limitations in recognition, to rid the limitations created by the illusion of boundaries. 

 

How can technology transform or complement art?

 

We could say that technology is the core of our work, but it is not the most important part. It is still just a material or a tool for creating art. We use digital technology to try to express the things that are difficult to express with words. teamLab believes digital technology can expand art and that art made in this way can create new relationships between people. Digital technology enables complex detail and freedom for change. Before people started accepting digital technology, information and artistic expression had to be presented in some physical form. Creative expression has existed through static media for most of human history, often using physical objects such as canvas and paint. The advent of digital technology allows human expression to become free from these physical constraints, enabling it to exist independently and evolve freely.

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. The characteristics of digital technology allow artworks to express the capacity for change much more freely. Viewers, in interaction with their environment, can instigate perpetual change in an artwork. Through an interactive relationship between the viewers and the artwork, viewers become an intrinsic part of that artwork.

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 5 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. Furthermore, because of its ability to transform itself freely, it can transcend boundaries. By using such digital technology, we believe art can expand the beautiful. And by making interactive art, you and others’ presence becomes an element to transform an artwork, creating a new relationship between people within the same space. By applying such art to the unique environment, we want to create spaces where you can feel that you are connected with other people in the world.

51 Inverted Globe Giant Connecting Block Town

 

What will save us, in an age of ecological crisis? Art or technology?

 

The answer to this would be both art and technology, or maybe the key will be a realm that cannot be divided into the two categories of art and technology. We artists may not be able to solve the problems that face us immediately, however, we believe that the actions of humans can be changed through the senses. In other words, we believe that people’s sense of values can be changed through art.

 

What are teamLab’s upcoming projects for the future?

 

We have many exhibitions and museums set to open around the world that we are preparing for as we speak. Just to name a few current exhibitions, A Forest Where Gods Live in Mifuneyama Rakuen, Kyushu, as part of teamLab’s Digitized Nature project, is the annual signature exhibition in the historic Mifuneyama Rakuen Park that digitizes and turns the ancient forest into art; Borderless Hamburg, housed permanently in Hamburg’s newly-opening Digital Art Museum, will boast 7,000 square meters of labyrinthine floor space with ceilings up to 10 meters high; teamLab’s Untitled permanent exhibition is scheduled to open at “Nowhere” in Utrecht, the Netherlands in 2024, commemorating Europe’s first center dedicated to digital art; Impermanent Flowers Floating in a Continuous Sea in Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, featuring ever-blossoming flowers repeating the cycle of life and death in a continuous sea, transports the visitors into an immersive experience to explore borderless relationships between the self and the world; Massless Beijing, a 10,000-sqm immersive museum to launch in Beijing in 2022; Borderless Jeddah in Culture Square, Jeddah, where teamLab and the Saudi Ministry of Culture open the first Middle East location of the record-breaking museum.

 

Photo Credit: teamLab
Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo
© teamLab