Tokyo-based art collective Teamlab propels digital art into a new era: one that is interactive, imaginative and a lot of fun.
Shoes should be off, trousers rolled up and possessions left behind: there are a few rules before you embark on a sensory journey through the Teamlab Planets Tokyo installation, which opened on July 7. The immersive space draws inspiration from the solar system and consists of eight rooms, starting with a gentle uphill incline through a shallow slope of water. Visitors then sink into a dark cushioned floor before moving into other rooms filled with psychedelic projections. The exit is through a room filled with giant color-changing balloons.
This summer saw a record number of experiential installations opening around the world. Beijing launched The Legit Dumpling House, New York City welcomed The Color Factory, and London debuted Scoop: A Wonderful Ice Cream World. This speaks volumes about people’s desire for experience culture and their willingness to prioritize time for highly curated spaces with volumes of visual stimulus that make for the perfect Instagram post.
What’s different about Teamlab Planets Tokyo? Beyond bright backdrops and selfie-worthy sets, Teamlab redefines the museum experience, making visitors a vital ingredient in the ever-changing artwork. “There are no boundaries between visitors and the artwork,” Takashi Kudo, communications director at Teamlab, tells JWT Intelligence. “We invite people to be part of the artwork. More will happen with more interaction from people.” The combination of exploration and participation at the exhibition keeps audiences engaged and able to create a unique experience rather than drawing on one created by Teamlab. “Each visitor will have their own narrative,” says Kudo.
Alongside the Teamlab Planets Tokyo temporary exhibition is a dedicated 10,000-square-meter permanent space opened in collaboration with the Mori Building group, a Tokyo-based urban developer. Called Mori Building Digital Art Museum: Teamlab Borderless, the space was launched in June 2018 and tickets have sold out daily since its opening, demonstrating the popularity of this unique digital art project.
Teamlab Borderless showcases 50 pieces of work that combine art, science, technology and design. “We have 500 members at Teamlab and 80% of them we call specialists. We have software engineers, artists, mathematicians, CG animators, etcetera,” says Kudo. “Our artwork exists, but does not exist in the physical world. It’s all in the software. We use 460 projectors, LEDs and more. We only have so much control with each artwork—visitors also control the artwork.”
Visitors can spend hours exploring the borderless labyrinth, which includes a multicolored, digital floral waterfall where the waterflow works around the visitor’s body. There is a teahouse where projected flowers bloom inside cups of tea, and, when visitors lift the cups, petals are scattered. In a forest of dangling lamps, the closer the visitor is to a lamp, the brighter it shines. “The result is a new kind of digital art museum, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” according to Teamlab’s own description.
Arguably, this is more than a future lens on the museum experience. It could also inform the future amusement park, the future department store, and even the future workspace. As experience culture develops, technologists, designers and artists are at the cutting edge, exploring new experiential iterations that will be mesmerizing, engaging and push the boundaries of our highly stimulated visual world.
“Teamlab’s aim is to try and find a new relationship between humans and the world through our digital art,” Kudo says. “We are trying to create something we cannot explain with words. Maybe we use technology, science, creativity and art, but these are still categories. For us there are no boundaries. Sometimes the concept is based on formulas and science and sometimes it’s more art. We still don’t know how to categorize our work.”
“The coolest artists in the world are the ones creating visual, interactive experiences, and we don’t have a name for them yet,” Justin Bolognino, founder and CEO of experience production company Meta, has previously told us. In our 2017 edition of The Future 100, we discussed the rise of the “new experiential rockstars.” Perhaps the status earned by Teamlab, regardless of its category, is indeed “experiential rockstar.”
The launch of Teamlab’s two recent installations in Tokyo has raised the bar for what an immersive experience can be. What’s more, the exhibits are not just set up for experience-first millennials. They are devised for visitors of all ages, young and old, who can all be part of an inclusive and imaginative digital playground. The only catch is getting hold of a ticket.
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