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teamLab: where artists, architects, CG animators, mathematician and engineers come together as one

As teamLab open their exhibition at Pace London tomorrow, we speak with them about the ideology and ethos behind technology-driven art, and how this changes our gallery experience.

Words Roman Sheppard Dawson 
Photography Courtesy of teamLab

2017
24th January

The exponential growth of the technology sector has given birth to radically new forms of artmaking. As our relationship to one another changes through the new avenues of communication made possible through technology, so does the art created in response to this new language. Enter teamLab: a Tokyo-based art group who utilise the digital landscape to explore and challenge our ideas of perception, place and experience. As teamLab open their exhibition at Pace London tomorrow, we spoke with them about the ideology and ethos behind their technology-driven art.

“THE DIGITAL REALM, FREE FROM PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS, ALLOWS FOR UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES OF EXPRESSION AND TRANSFORMATION.”

What curatorial decisions were taken when developing your Pace London show?

teamLab believes that the digital domain can expand art. We are exploring new relationships between people and art through a new digital language.“Transcending Boundaries” has been one of our key concepts. For this exhibition, we intended to extend this concept and transcend boundaries not only between artworks and viewers, but also between artworks, uniting a group of individual pieces into one immersive experience.

This is a very challenging experiment technically and conceptually – by collaborating with Pace, a new possibility for trying has been opened, one that occurs more positively and is capable of more experimentation, not just for works of art, but for the way that art spaces exist, for the approach of the viewer, and even for the art market. By using the digital, we think that new art can not just expand art itself, but also change the way that space is treated in a museum or gallery, the way that people value art, and also the way that the art market exists.

Is this why you call yourselves “ultra-technologists”?

We try to extend ourselves beyond technology. Technology is our medium through which we express ourselves, but we aim to achieve results that go above and beyond technology. That is why we are a collective of artists, CG animators, architects, mathematicians, software and hardware engineers, so that we can expand and create something new through the medium of technology.

In the age of computer-based art, how do you see your work in relation to traditional gallery space and context?

The digital realm, free from physical constraints, allows for unlimited possibilities of expression and transformation. Digital technology is a tool for change and a platform to express complex ideas and details. Viewers and the environment take on a crucial role in defining and changing interactive artworks. The viewer is an active participant and ultimately becomes a part of the artwork. The boundaries between artwork and viewer become ambiguous. Unlike a viewer who stands in front of a conventional painting, a viewer immersed in an interactive artwork is more aware of other people’s presence. Interactive digital art changes the relationships between people within it and the relationship between people and art. In short, we are exploring the way that changes the relationship between people through art.

In addition, we seek to diffuse the boundary between self and the world as well as between self and others, which we call “Body Immersive”. Also, as we named [this exhibition] “Transcending Boundaries”, we explore to lose the boundaries between works. In other words, we are seeking to eliminate the concept of boundary. Eventually, we would like to release human from substances.

“TEAMLAB BELIEVES THAT THE DIGITAL DOMAIN CAN EXPAND ART. WE ARE EXPLORING NEW RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE AND ART THROUGH A NEW DIGITAL LANGUAGE.”

As we witness the exponential growth of digital technology, what direction do you see digital art taking?

Not only in art but also in modern cities, the presence of others has been unpleasant to humans. It is something you have to be patient with, and accept to be with somebody who you can neither understand nor control. That happens because cities do not change because of themselves or others. If the city is wrapped in digital art that can change the relationship of people in the same space, we believe there is a possibility that the existence of others may become a positive presence even in cities. And since digital art is non-materialistic, we believe that we can transform nature and cities as they are.

As you can see, the search for new relationships of people by digital art is beyond the realm of art. We are seeing the possibility of creating new relationships between cities and people, relationships between nature and people, and in the end, making new “peace” of people.

Your artworks installed amalgamate to form larger works or installations. How do you define one work from another? Does the work challenge how we define an edge or construct a frame?

Within the digital domain, art is able to transcend physical and conceptual boundaries. Digital technology allows art to break free from the frame and go beyond the boundaries that separate one work from another.  Elements from one work can fluidly interact with and influence elements of the other works exhibited in the same space. In this way, the boundaries between art pieces dissolve.

‘Interactive Art’ has often fallen short on its ‘interactivity’ due to technological limitations. Does the work teamLab creates test the boundaries that technology has to offer?

Parts of teamLab’s work are participatory due to interactive elements. However, normal interactivity; video games, personal computers and even the Internet and smartphones involve one person with a direct intention to interact with the digital domain through intervention and operation. The field of digital interaction is treated as an extension of the individual’s brain. For teamLab, however, by linking interactivity with art, whether or not there is intention to manipulate or intervene is not relevant. The very existence of others creates change in the art. If that change due to the presence of others is beautiful, then the presence of others can become a beautiful thing. By extending the art itself, art can change the relationship among people in the space.

We do not think that technology is the most important element. We are interested in how art can be extended through the use of digital technology.

“WE SEEK TO DIFFUSE THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN SELF AND THE WORLD AS WELL AS BETWEEN SELF AND OTHERS.”

Could you expand on how traditional Japanese artistic ideology influences the work?

We like to use 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. Because most of our members happen to be born and raised in Japan, it’s easier to take an approach that incorporates aspects of Japan’s pre-modern cultural past. So, it was easier to take an approach that explores which parts of these concepts we have lost during the modern period, and also what transformation allowed some of these concepts to continue into contemporary society.

For example, what we call “Ultra Subjective Space” can be folded and divided without making the image or space feel uncomfortable. The new space is extremely adaptable and compatible with digital techniques. Splitting, folding, or joining these surfaces and reconstructing them into a physical space that viewers can enter enables us to continuously create new forms of such spaces.

Is this the Golden Age for digital technology driven art forms?

We hope so.

teamLab’s show “Transcending Boundaries” opens at PACE London January 25 to March 11, 2017.