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

When Art Meets Technology

Meet the art collective formed by a group of interdisciplinary ultratechnologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world.

THE ARCHIVE: Please tell us a bit more about yourselves… How did the teamLab collective come to life?
teamLab: Various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects form teamLab.
teamLab aims to explore a new relationship between humans and nature, and between oneself and the world through art. Digital technology has allowed art to liberate itself from the physical and transcend boundaries. 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.
teamLab has been creating art using digital technology since the beginning. Our aim has always been to change people’s standards of value and contribute to societal progress. That hasn’t changed since the very start.
However, we had neither the opportunity to present them, nor could we imagine how to economically sustain our teams producing art. On the other hand, we believed in the power of digital technology and creativity, and we simply loved it. We just wanted to keep creating something new, no matter which genre it would turn out to be. And while we took part in various projects to maintain teamLab, we’ve increased the number of technologists such as architects, CG animators, painters, mathematicians and hardware engineers.
As time went on, while we gained passionate followers among young people, we were still ignored by the Japanese art world. Our debut finally came in 2011 at the Kaikai Kiki gallery in Taipei, thanks to the artist Takashi Murakami. Since then, we have gained opportunities in cosmopolitan cities such as Singapore where we joined the Singapore Biennale in 2013. Also in 2014, New York PACE Gallery has started to help promoting our artworks. These fortunate factors allowed us to expand rapidly. And finally in 2015, for the first time in Japan, we were able to organize our own exhibition. These situations further accelerated our evolution and gave us opportunities to exhibit internationally; London, Paris, the U.S., Taiwan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and so on.


TA: How many people were you when you first started the collective? How many of you form the collective today?
teamLab: teamLab was founded in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko and several of his friends, to create a “lab”, a space for co-creative activities. By putting ourselves in such an environment to create something, we wanted to deepen our thoughts and insights, simply to keep creating. Our aim is to create a new experience, and through such experience, we want to explore what the world is like for humans.
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.


TA: Where are you all from and what are your professions?
teamLab: teamLab is comprised of specialists, or what we call “ultratechnologists,” from around the world. A technologist is a specialist who performs both knowledge work and hands-on work. In other words, it refers to someone with high expertise who works with their hands and discovers knowledge in doing so. Our process of creation is to think simultaneously as we physically create as a team of technologists who practice hands-on labor with highly specialized knowledge.
Although there always is a broad concept for us to aim for, the goal of each project is vague, and we create as we think through and flesh out the full idea. A type of knowledge we discover through a hands-on practice is a knowledge that can be shared. Through such processes, we explore what we call collective creation. We think technologists and collective creation always come together.

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

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

“Our interest is not the technology itself, but instead, we’re trying to explore the concept of “digital” and how it can enhance art.”

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

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

TA: How do you split the tasks when working on a new project?
teamLab: 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 ultratechnologists of 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.


TA: Could you share the steps you take in your process when approaching a new project?
teamLab: Although the large concepts are always defined from the start, the project goal tends to remain unclear, so we need the whole team to create and think as we 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 we exhibited at PACE Beijing, was created with a specialist who created a 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.
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.


TA: How long did it take to create the MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless? How did you come up with the idea for this exhibition?
teamLab: It is hard to say how long any given project takes, as our creations are the result of an accumulation of experience and shared knowledge acquired over the course of many years and many projects.
People understand and recognize the world through their bodies, moving freely and forming connections and relationships with others. As a consequence the body has its own sense of time. In the mind, the boundaries between different thoughts are ambiguous, causing them to influence and sometimes intermingle with each other. teamLab Borderless is a collection of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body.
People lose themselves in the artwork world. The borderless works transform according to the presence of people, and as we immerse and meld ourselves into this unified world, we explore a continuity among people, as well as a new relationship that transcends the boundaries between people and the world.

teamLab, Forest of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn, 2017, Interactive Digital Installation, Endless, Sound: Hideaki Takahashi © teamLab

TA: What do you want to convey through your art?
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. In other words, we want to create an experience that turns the existence of unrelated others into something positive. We want to create an experience where the relationship between the world and oneself is borderless and continuous. There is no perfect boundary between people, but rather, it is more ambiguous and relating, even if the person is unrelated to you.
In teamLab Borderless, we dissolve the boundaries between the artworks. They transcend, relate and intermix. By experiencing that, you might think that everything in this world may be borderless, and that the world without boundaries is beautiful. That is what we are hoping to do.


TA: How do you want the world to interact and understand your art?
teamLab: Our artwork is participatory by making it interactive. Video games, smartphones, and the internet are all interactive when you intentionally get involved with them. However, what teamLab focuses on is to connect interactiveness with art. A type of interactivity we pursue is that your presence transforms the work, whether or not you intend to do so. If you find a change caused by someone else to be beautiful, that person’s presence may become beautiful as well. Types of art we have seen so far often find the presence of other viewers more of an obstruction. You feel very lucky if you happen to be alone at an exhibition. But what teamLab aims to do is to be able to feel the presence of others as something more beautiful than ever before.
This concept also applies to the cities we live in. In modern cities, the presence of others is not the most pleasant thing. You cannot understand nor control them. You have to tolerate and accept them. That’s because the city doesn’t transform due to the presence of you or others. If the entire city gets digitized by teamLab’s type of digital art, the presence of others could become something positive, even in big cities.


TA: What is technology to you?
teamLab: Technology is just a tool, just like a paint. Although it’s a tool, it does affect greatly on the creation, just like how the Western landscape painting has developed because it has become possible to bring paints outdoors. 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 the Silicon Valley-originated technology is an extension of someone’s mind. Facebook, Twitter… these digital domain 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 a 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 the artwork. By connecting digital technology and art, we think the presence of others can be made more positive.

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

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

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

TA: How would you define the power of imagery nowadays?
teamLab: 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.


TA: Are you open to expanding the collective further? How could someone join teamLab professionally?
teamLab: What teamLab creates requires diverse, high-level specialists. Because each project is constructed by collecting extremely high expertise, there is no work that can be completed alone. In order to make good things, it is indispensable for members with high expertise to gather and work together as a team.
However, working in a team does not mean accepting others’ ideas without criticism. You don’t need to be able to read the mood at all. Most of the members of teamLab in fact are people who cannot read the room. You don’t need to be eloquent at teamLab. On the other hand, no matter how good your skills are, we never hire those who devalue others. In fact, it is the excellent engineers that are more honest and humble, respecting others regardless of age. Respecting others who have skills that you lack while being proud of what you do is essential for teamLab. We are a collective that never compromises on its quality.


TA: Anything else you would like to share with us?
teamLab: We have a few very exciting projects going on!
We have returned to Mifuneyama Rakuen in Takeo Hot Springs, Kyushu, Japan, this time with two exhibitions: teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live – earth music&ecology, which transforms the mountains and nature of Mifuneyama into art every night at sunset, and teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live, Ruins and Heritage – The Nature of Time, which shows artworks in the ruins that are scattered around Mifuneyama and is open to visitors during the day. This is our fifth year in Mifuneyama Rakuen, but our exhibition is on a larger scale than last year. 21 artworks, including new, never-before-seen works, are on display across the 500,000 square meters of Mifuneyama Rakuen from until November 4, 2019. One of these all-new artworks, Megaliths in the Bath House Ruins, is the latest teamLab artwork. This work is one of the highlights of the exhibitions in Mifuneyama, and it is one of teamLab’s most ambitious, massive projects to date.
And an upcoming project we have is the opening of teamLab Borderless in Shanghai, China. teamLab Borderless is a museum without a map, a world made of artworks without boundaries. Visitors will immerse their bodies in borderless art in this vast, complex world. They wander, explore with intention, discover, and create a new world with others.
With the creation of teamLab Borderless Shanghai, the teamLab Borderless artworks can now transcend even the physical space of a museum’s location, traveling between teamLab Borderless museums around the world, expanding and connecting the time and space of teamLab Borderless.
The museum is set to open in Fall of 2019 in Huangpu District, Shanghai. It will feature several monumental artworks, including Forest of Lamps that will be 1.5 times the size of the one in Tokyo, as well as a large-scale installation Light Community, a group of numerous, moving vehicles that will complete at its Shanghai debut after repetitive experiments. These and other massive, never-before-seen artworks will be on display at teamLab Borderless Shanghai.

teamLab, Exhibition view of teamLab Borderless Shanghai, 2019, Shanghai, China © teamLab

Find out more about teamLab and their upcoming exhibitions on their website.

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