I shot the above video during a recent visit to the teamLab Planets TOKYO exhibition. Planets TOKYO is an interactive exhibition put together by teamLab, a Japanese art collective who combine digital art, music and technology to create interactive installations that encourage visitors to explore relationships between humans and nature and between the individual and the world. The Planets TOKYO exhibition runs from the summer of 2018 to autumn in 2020.
The members of teamLab include artists, programmers, animators, musicians, mathematicians and architects. Regarding the group’s aims, teamLab’s website states:
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. (www.teamlab.art)
I first came upon the collective’s contemporary art at an event held in Kyoto a couple of years ago: Resonating Spheres and Resonating Trees. That event was magical and inspiring, so I was excited to see their latest exhibition.
The teamLab Planets TOKYO exhibition consists of seven installations.
1. Waterfall of Light Particles at the Top of an Incline
In this first installation, you walk up a ramp against the flow of the water that is cascading down from a small waterfall illuminated by light (there are a couple of installations that require you to walk through water, so you walk barefoot though the whole exhibition). This initial installation serves as a kind of preparation. As you walk up the incline in a very dark corridor with water flowing down over your feet, there is a sense of mystery and you start to excitedly anticipate what is ahead.
2. Soft Black Hole – Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body
When you enter the Soft Black Hole room, you sink into a cushioned floor, your weight changing the shape of the environment, which in turn impacts other visitors.
In modern life we are surrounded by flat hard surfaces, so that in our daily lives we we have lost consciousness of our bodies, we have forgotten them. In natural forests flat ground does not exist. This installation is a space to remind us of the body that we have forgotten in everyday life, and to make us more conscious of our body mass. (planets.teamlab.art/tokyo/ew/soft_black_hole)
This was a fun experience that also served as a kind of mood-setter for the exhibition. As you stumble, crawl and sink into the surface, you become aware not only of your ‘body mass’ but also that this exhibition is interactive and participatory, that you are not only a viewer, but also a kind of co-creator of the experience.
3. The Infinite Crystal Universe
This installation is one of the highlights of the exhibition. The room features mirrored walls, floor and ceiling. Suspended from the ceiling are thin plastic tubes that contain over 300,000 light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These LEDs change color and brightness, producing three-dimensional patterns of light and movement.
The mirrors create an illusion of infinite space—with the points of light spreading out in all directions representing the universe.
The LEDS respond to music and the movement of visitors as well as a special smart phone app that you can use to introduce elements into this universe.
According to founder teamLab’s founder, Toshiyuki Inoko, The Infinite Crystal Universe took five years to create. It is wonderful union of art, imagination and technology
4. Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity
In this room visitors, wade through knee-deep water onto which is projected digital images of swimming koi that leave behind trails of light. The work is rendered in real-time, with the movement of koi being influenced by the presence of people. When the fish collide with people, they turn into flowers and scatter.
5. Cold Life
In an alcove beside the pool of digital koi is a seven-minute 3D animation. The animation starts with calligraphy representing the Japanese word for life (生). The calligraphy transforms into a tree from which a variety of lifeforms slowly emerge as the seasons change. This work deals with the cycle of life and death and the cycle of the seasons.
6. Expanding Three-dimensional Existence in Intentionally Transforming Space – Free Floating, 12 Colors
In this room, large spheres lit from within fill the room. They change color when people come into contact with them or when they collide with other spheres.
When they change color, this change resonates out in three dimensions and affects the colors of the other spheres. This effect was also used in the Resonating Spheres installation in Kyoto.
The twelve colors are based on traditional Japanese concept of Kasane no Irome (襲の色目(literally meaning “layers of color”). This was the system of color schemes that dictated the layering, colors and order of robes worn at court during the Heian period.
The 12 colors of the spheres in this room are: the basic colors of blue, red and green as well the colors of light in water, sunlight on water plants, plum, iris, sky at twilight, morning sky, morning glow, peach and spring maple.
7. Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers
In the final room, you sit or lie back on a mirrored floor as digital projections of flowers and butterflies sweep past on the dome overhead. As with the Koi projection, the images are rendered in real-time and are affected by the presence of visitors.
Flowers grow, bud, bloom, and in time, the petals fall, and the flowers wither and die. The cycle of birth and death continues for perpetuity. The universe at this moment in time can never be seen again. (planets.teamlab.art/tokyo/ew/fitfuof)
About the Experience
Three of the main installations—the crystal universe, the koi pool, the room of spheres— evoke feelings of wonder and joy. When in these rooms, adults and children tend to react to the art in the same way—gazing spellbound at shifting patterns of light, giddily chasing after the digital fish projections, leaping up off the ground to head spheres to bounce spheres. The installations bring out the child in everyone.
The way the installations were sequenced was very effective, with the first two smaller works setting the tone. In the final room—the room of falling flowers—people just collapsed on the floor and chilled out, letting the music and digital images wash over them until they were ready to get up, put their shoes back on and re-enter the world outside.
The teamLab group does a good job of managing visitor numbers. You enter as part of a large group and have enough time to fully experience each of the installations. Of course, you won’t get an entire large room to yourself (as in the promotional photos), but you won’t get a crowded feeling. In the larger rooms, crowds tend to gather at first before people disperse to explore the different parts of the installation.
For this exhibition, it is better to book in at least a week in advance to ensure you can get in.
Unlike most artwork, teamLab projects work better when there are people ‘in the way’. This is because other visitors are not obstacles; instead, they are your co-participants, your collaborators in an amazing experience.
- Video: How TeamLab Builds Incredible Techno Art Exhibits (by Bloomberg)
- Related article: Resonating Spheres and Resonating Trees by teamLab (artjouer.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/kyoto-light-festival-at-tadasu-no-mori-and-shimogamo-jinja)
- Exhibition Website: planets.teamlab.art/tokyo
- Which of the installations is most attractive to you? Why?
- What are some of the benefits of creating art that is affected by the viewer’s actions or movements?
- What technical difficulties do you think teamLab faced in producing works like the pool of digital koi. For example, what would be required to make the fish turn into flowers when they collide with people? You can watch the Bloomberg video in the Go Further section to find the answer to that specific question.
Create an artwork that is affected by the movements and/or actions of the viewer.
~video, photos and text by longzijun
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