Their name is “teamLab”, a name that actually summarizes two of the elements distinguishing the activity of this artistic collective: the innovation side, being a laboratory in constant transformation, and the team working side, a mission statement, that is also a working method and it is Ng “public image”.
Established in 2001 (of course, everything born that year seemed naturally projected into the future…), they are a group of several hundred people that, starting from each one’s skills – ranging from robotics to graphics, from animation to programming, from architecture to mathematics – are joining their engagement around projects that will populate the earth.
It is digital art, understood here in the most progressive sense: art making use of technological tools, tending to make them disappear, not emphasizing technical data, but rather highlighting the experience they’d like to propose to the public.
It all came from that teamwork, meanwhile solving also new and original problems, born from the peculiar needs of teamLab’s works: the main goal is to put the visitor within the artwork, to let him to take part of it, allowing him to know in the same time the rules that govern it and the ideas nourishing it, discovering together with the rest of the public trends and flows of the installation, often underlying a thoughtful reading of natural phenomena, and the delicate balance of the “real world”.
A light metaphor that, riding the wave of wonder, aims to make us think, extending the borders of traditional art, by removing in the representation the physical barriers of the real, widening and reverberating it in possible parallel worlds, to explore with other people.
This year teamLab is involved on many fronts, further broadening their presence in the world: for example the upcoming permanent museum in Macao – the teamLab SuperNature museum at The Venetian Macao -, that takes its place alongside permanent teamLab Borderless museums already opened in Tokyo and Shanghai, with their fluid passages and dialogues between different installations, or the annual outdoor summer exhibition teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live in the antique Mifuneyama Rakuen garden, in Takeo thermal springs, in the South of Japan, in Kyushu island, in an even closer dialogue between art and nature.
Marco Aruga: Why did you decide to present yourself as a team, a collective, and your work as a teamwork?
teamLab: teamLab (f. 2001) is an international art collective, an interdisciplinary group of various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world.
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 of life.
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.
Ever since the founding of teamLab, we’ve decided to create 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. It is organizations like this, able to uncover vast troves of knowledge, that differentiate themselves.
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.
Marco Aruga: We would like to know your creative decisional process, from the idea to the final release.
teamLab: 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.
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 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 in its work.
Marco Aruga: Which are your influences? Which are your masters?
teamLab: teamLab aims to explore a new relationship between humans and nature through art. Digital technology has allowed us to liberate art from the physical and transcend boundaries. We see no boundary between ourselves and nature; one is in the other and the other in one. Everything exists in a very long, fragile yet miraculous continuity of life.
The motivation of our creation comes from our own interest. And what we are interested in is to explore what the world is for humans, and to pursue new relationships between humans and nature.
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 seek out and affirm an idealistic part of humanity, and present an idea of the future. We are not talking about a simple fiction of manga or video games, but instead, it’s an ideal fictitious world that may be realized somehow. 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 by connecting the hints that can be found in the long history of humanity. We just find it more important to create the world than to criticize the world.
We get inspired by cultural concepts that might have been lost in the past due to the incompatibility with modern times. We also believe that this current society built on digital and networks will become a different society from the modern era. In other words, we see certain hints for the new society in the cultural knowledge and social understanding of the pre-modern era. These little hints may be hidden within the many patterns of times that existed prior to the modern era.
For example, our artwork Gold Waves is influenced by premodern painting, where oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water were expressed as a series of lines. The lines gave the impression of life, as though water was a living entity.
It leads us to question why premodern people sensed life in rivers and oceans. Also, why did they behave as if they themselves were a part of nature? Perhaps something can be discovered by fusing the fixed objective world of today’s common knowledge with the subjective world of premodern people.
Marco Aruga: Fluid and spontaneous interaction with your works is one of the keys to your success. Did you study the reactions of the public to your works?
teamLab: We are not always at the exhibition but we always hope that something surprising would happen at the venue. This is especially because our interactive artworks encourage viewer participation. 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, we focus 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.
At the very least, with the type of art that we have experienced up until now, the presence of other viewers constituted more of a hindrance than anything else. If you found yourself alone at an exhibition, you would consider yourself to be very lucky. However, teamLab’s exhibitions are different from the artworks showcased so far; the existence of other viewers is definitely seen as a positive element.
Marco Aruga: You created also a theme park for kids. How has been your approach in that case?
teamLab: 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.
Marco Aruga: Being so interested in immersive installations, how do you see the Virtual Realities opportunities?
teamLab: Rather than virtual realities, we focus on creating real, immersive, physical spaces to be experienced and shared.
We could say that technology is the core of our works. but technology is not the most important part. It is still just material or tool for artworks.
We have been creating digital art since the year 2001 with the aim of changing people’s values and contributing to societal progress. Although we initially had no idea where we could exhibit our art or how we could support the team financially, we also strongly believed in and were genuinely interested in the power of digital technology and creativity. We wanted to keep creating new things regardless of genre limitations, and we did.
Digital technology allows artistic expression to be released from the material world, gaining the ability to change form freely. The environments where viewers and artworks are placed together allow us to decide how to express those changes.
In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks themselves undergo changes caused by the presence and behavior of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. The viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves. The relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Whether or not another viewer was present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behavior exhibited by the person next to you, suddenly becomes an element of great importance. At the very least, compared to traditional art viewing, people will become more aware of those around them. That’s right — art now has the ability to influence the relationship between the people standing in front of the artworks.
Marco Aruga: Do you think that, with the development of Artificial Intelligence, we will have AI as an art companion, as a creative partner, with the dignity of a real partner to confront themselves with?
teamLab: We do not yet know the full capabilities of AI. But we do know that it could replace much of the existing work that we know of today, as we said above, making uniquely human creativity increasingly important. Hence the importance of collaborative creation, or co-creation, within our work and in our art.
Marco Aruga: How your works as artists has relapses in other fields? Other creative industries, or elsewhere…
teamLab: The collaboration itself is very important to us, and whether or not our collaborators also seek to manifest social change through art. We welcome collaboration with any partner that wishes to improve the lives of people with immersive installations.
What is most important to us is collaborating with people who envision the same kind of future as we do.
For instance, in the past, we have collaborated with brands such as Grand Seiko and earth music&ecology for our annual summer exhibitions in Mifuneyama Rakuen in Kyushu.
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, utilizing 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. 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.
The forest, rocks, and caves of Mifuneyama Rakuen have formed over a long time, and people in every age have sought meaning in them over the millennia. The park that we know today sits on top of this history. It is the ongoing relationship between nature and humans that has made the border between the forest and garden ambiguous, keeping this cultural heritage beautiful and pleasing.
Lost in nature, where the boundaries between man-made garden and forest is 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 exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process which 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. There is a boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time.
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.
teamLab’s project, Digitized Nature, explores how nature can become art. The concept of the project is that non-material digital technology can turn nature into art without harming it.
These artworks explore how the forms of the giant rocks, caves, forests, or the garden where nature has continually existed in contact with the lives of people, make it possible to create a place where we can transcend the boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time and feel the long, long continuity of life. The works encourage once again the contemplation of the meaning of “Continuous Life” that has existed over many years in Mifuneyama.
Marco Aruga: Can you imagine, or dream, possible new development of art through digital or other technological supports? How do you imagine the future of teamLab works?
teamLab: 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.
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 phenomena 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 the time before civilization, people did not see beauty in something as insignificant as flowers. In other words, we humans attributed the same idea of “beautiful” to targets for reproduction as well as to unrelated things like flowers. 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.
Marco Aruga: Art is a communication engine. Which are the ideas, the messages delivered by teamLab?
teamLab: We hope to change people’s standard of beauty which, as a consequence, may change people’s behavior little by little unconsciously in 10 or 50 years.
One characteristic of interactive art is that the existence and behavior of the viewer can influence the art, thereby blurring the line between art and viewer. In other words, the artistic work is made up of both the art and the viewer. One consequence of this is a shift in the relationship between art and viewer as well as between the individual viewer and the group. Factors such as whether there were any viewers that saw the work five minutes before you did, or what the viewer next to you is currently doing, suddenly become important. 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.
From Toshiyuki Inoko, founder of teamLab:
“I like science and art. I wanted to know the world, wanted to know humans, and wanted to know what the world is for humans. In college, I wanted to know more about the world, and I majored in physics and mathematics.
Science raises the resolution of the world. When humans want to know the world, they recognize it by separating things. In order to understand the phenomena of this world, people separate things one after another.
For example, the universe and the earth are continuous, however, humans recognize the earth by separating it from the universe. 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.
Even though I am nothing but part of the world, I feel as if there is a boundary between the world and myself, as if I am living independently. I’ve always been interested in finding out why I felt that way even before I started teamLab.
The continuity of life and death has been repeated for more than 4 billion years. However, for humans, even 100 years ago is a fictional world. I was interested in why humans have this perception.
How can we go beyond the boundaries of recognition? Through art, I wanted to transcend the boundaries of our own, and of my own recognition. I wanted to transcend human characteristics or tendencies to recognize the continuity.
Art is a search for what the world is for humans. Art expands and enhances “beauty.” Art has changed the way people perceive the world.
Groups move by logic, but individuals decide their actions by beauty. Individuals behaviors are determined not by rationality but by aesthetics. In other words, “beauty” is the fundamental root of human behavior. Art expands the notion of “beauty”. Art is what expands people’s aesthetics, that is, changes people’s behavior.
It may be the whole world or only a part of the entirety, but it is art that captures and expresses it without dividing it. Art is a process to approach to the whole. And by sharing it with others, the way people perceive the world changes. Through the enjoyment of art, the notion of “beautiful” expands and spreads, which in turn changes people’s perceptions of the world”.