teamLab Planets in Tokyo is a one-of-a-kind 'body immersive' museum

Speaking with STIR about their temporary museum in Tokyo, art collective teamLab discusses the exhibition spaces and artworks that blur the boundaries between viewer and artwork.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : Jul 02, 2020

“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 is something we should be involved in. 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”
- teamLab.

01 mins watch A glance at the highlights of teamLab Planets Tokyo | teamLab Planets Tokyo | STIRworld
A glance at the highlights of teamLab Planets Tokyo Video Credit: Courtesy of teamLab

The art collective teamLab is a group of creatives from industrial fields, ranging from artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects who work at a collaborative intersection that allows them to create an art experience which, as translated in their work too, truly knows no border. As an art lover, writer and curator, it has always been a strong pillar in my set of values that art and science progress better when the two work hand-in-hand. When looking at works by teamLab, my belief is only reaffirmed. The collective has setup a museum in Toyosu, Tokyo, which can be defined as a vast body-immersive, sensory-experiential museum. Inaugurated in July 2018 for a period of four years, teamLab Planets in Japan is a museum from the future. The space holds a collection of eight distinct installations conceptualised and created by teamLab, which pushes the boundaries of immersive art as we know it. The installations aim to examine the way we experience art, attempting to dissolve the invisible boundaries between the two in a metaphorical reference to our perception of borders between various elements we encounter as humans in our lifetime. In teamLab Planets, the focus is on the collective experience of art, wherein the space itself encourages multiple viewers at once by enhancing the experience through the interactive artworks rather than taking away from it. “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,” says the international collective.

Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity is an installation which uses digital projections and interactive elements. Hideaki Takahashi created sound for this installation | teamLab Planets Tokyo | STIRworld
Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity is an installation which uses digital projections and interactive elements. Hideaki Takahashi created sound for this installation Image Credit: Courtesy of teamLab

In conversation with STIR about teamLab Planets, the collective elaborates the motivations that drive their practice: “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 phenomenon 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 civilisation, 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. We hope to change people’s standard of beauty which, as a consequence, may change people’s behaviour little by little unconsciously in 10 or 50 years."

‘Soft Black Hole - Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body by teamLab is a 2016 artwork which is part of the museum | teamLab Planets Tokyo | STIRworld
Soft Black Hole - Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body by teamLab is a 2016 artwork, which is part of the museum Image Credit: Courtesy of teamLab

The novelty of teamLab Planets lies in the fact that the entire curated experience is different from what one might find in a traditional museum. Visitors are encouraged to remove their footwear before entering and everyone experiences the installations while barefoot. The whole space is based on a heightened sensory experience. Artworks are experienced while walking through water, lying under a massive, responsive algorithm-driven projection, interacting with large spheres of light or walking into a dimly lit space where your foot sinks right into the floor. In a world full of straight lines and hard edges, we have become dangerously comfortable in our routines and often forget that our world is an immersive experience by itself. teamLab Planets creates a sense of surprise, shock and awe to the mind while reinvigorating the body.

The collective says, “teamLab’s interest is to create new experiences through art, and through such experiences we want to explore what the world is for humans."

A glimpse into teamLab Planets Tokyo | teamLab Planets Tokyo | STIRworld
A glimpse into teamLab Planets Tokyo Image Credit: Courtesy of teamLab

teamLab, founded in 2001, has created works which are in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Asia Society Museum, New York; Borusan Contemporary Art Collection, Istanbul; and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. teamLab is officially represented by Pace Gallery.

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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.

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