teamLab plants its seeds in New York


Sometimes, it all begins with a brushstroke. Other times, it starts with a pixel. More often than not, the two are intricately intertwined in a poetic portrayal of perspective from an evolving digital viewpoint. For the past decade, the highly prolific, Tokyo-based, artistic collective teamLab has been exploring new media expressions of traditional Japanese representations, with works exhibited throughout Japan and beyond.

Since July 2014, they are represented by Pace Gallery in New York. And in October, they opened their first museum show in the United States with their latest interactive, immersive murals at New York’s flagship Japan Society.

Founded by Tokyo University engineering graduate Toshiyuki Inoko in 2001, teamLab defines itself as a group of “ultra-technologists”, which include some 300 computer engineers, architects, animators, mathematicians, graphic designers, artists, editors and more from around Asia. Their focus is on digital art as a continuity of Japanese artistic representations of the world since ancient times, from Edo-period paintings by Ito Jakuchu to Super Mario World.

“Culture in the form of the way we see and depict the world has been passed on over a long period of time, continually, nonverbally and subconsciously, only to be born again and expressed in a new and exciting way.” —

It’s no coincidence that teamLab’s summer opening show in Chelsea was titled “Ultra Subjective Space”. Personal, empathetic and imaginary projection in spatial representation is a key underlying theme of their work. In contrast to the first-person-shooter extreme of fixed perspective in Western visual arts, traditional Japanese landscapes were painted flat into shallow compositions that allowed individual viewers to identify with any character or element and imagine themselves anywhere inside the scene. Hence, Inoko reminds us, the eternal popularity of side-scrolling video games and 2D quest-like adventures.

For Japan Society’s “Garden of Unearthly Delights”, an intimate group show co-featuring ultra contemporary Japanese artists Manabu Ikeda and Hisashi Tenmyouya, teamLab presents several spectacular pieces: Life survives by the power of life, a giant HD video in which calligraphic brush strokes morph into a floating, revolving tree that blossoms and withers with the seasons; United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World, a pixelized fresco of natural fantasy that ripples in sync with viewers’ gestures like shadows; Flowers and People, a floor-to-ceiling projection of the featured artwork Ever Blossoming Life in Gold and Dark.

True to its title, Ever Blossoming Life is a perpetual real-time generation of images, in this case of flowers slowly blossoming and withering in a symbiotic relationship with their approaching viewers. Because the display is never looped and in the process of constant renewal, the performance is always mesmerizing, subtly interactive and totally immersive—like Casey Reas’ pieces minus the cold abstraction of computer-generated pixels and glitches, plus the poetry of a fleeting image, a figurative memory, an evanescent emotion.

Cherise Fong

Garden of Unearthly Delights
Japan Society
Through January 11, 2015