Diana Farah Dubai
A place to wander and explore, where you can truly experience art as an individual as well as create a new world with others. Transcending all borders — physical, conceptual, political, emotional and mental — it is a space where the works of art are interconnected. Japan’s TeamLab Borderless has brought to life the idea of a world of digital art without boundaries, a museum where art installations can move from one room to another and come alive in different parts of the world simultaneously.
Artworks like these will soon be in Saudi Arabia, now that the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture has announced plans for a space in Jeddah to exhibit interactive digital artworks created by TeamLab. TeamLab Borderless Jeddah, scheduled to open in 2023, will feature an array of interconnected artworks created by a group of physicians, CGI animators, engineers and mathematicians.
Speaking to Arab News Japan, Kudo Takashi, TeamLab’s communications manager and brand director, said the plan is to create an art space in Jeddah that is positive and futuristic. “What we create is not something we can explain through words,” he said.
Takashi said growing up in the UAE, he developed a deep appreciation and love for Arab countries, which inspired him to bring innovation to the region’s art landscape.
Formed in 2001, TeamLab sees itself as an international art collective with two public functions, one which is focused solely on digital art. Its first permanent exhibition, TeamLab Borderless, opened at Tokyo’s Mori Museum in 2018. The artworks are displayed across a 10,000-square meter space. Another permanent exhibition opened in Shanghai, in China, in November last year.
TeamLab museums are known for their interconnectivity between installations in different locations. Takashi says entering any of these is like entering a unified digital world. “There is no boundary between the visitors and the artwork. If you are standing inside our space, some flowers will (start to) bloom around you, if you touch them you will activate them,” he said.
Positing that all human beings are connected, there are no boundaries and borders are mere “illusions,” Takashi said: “Despite our age, location or background, we are able to connect. As humans we naturally find a way to connect.”
This is apparent in TeamLab’s art, where if a visitor touches a piece in Tokyo it would be affected in Shanghai, demonstrating how interconnective the installations are.
Most of TeamLab’s work is programmed to respond to light, sound and touch. One piece, known as the Hopscotch for Geniuses: Bounce on the Water, involves visitors hopping on shapes that appear on the ground, activating images and depictions of fish, insects and other animals.
Another piece, called Multi-Jumping Universe, allows people to direct the flow of light and music around them simply through their own movements.
The Jeddah location is near Al-Balad, the city’s old town and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Plans for a children’s section are also on the anvil, the objective being to inspire the next generation of artists through its exhibits.
The children’ section at several of TeamLab’s other locations include experiences such as the Sketch Aquarium, which highlight the power of imagination. They are invited to color in drawings of sea creatures, scan the artwork and then watch as their colored art piece floats in a virtual aquarium.
TeamLab Borderless Jeddah is in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform strategy’s Quality of Life Program, which intends to diversify the country’s economy through cultural and artistic ventures. TeamLab’s specialization on merging art and technology is in sync with the Saudi vision.
Not only will Saudi artists be involved in the project, future arrangements for a similar exhibition in Riyadh are in the pipeline.
Takashi said TeamLab’s aim is to “explore the new relationship between humans and their world,” noting that in the 20th century, human beings entered a new digital era, which changed their relationship with the world and other people.
The idea behind the installations, Takashi says, is to create an extension of people’s imagination and creativity. TeamLab’s website puts it this way: “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.”
Takashi believes it is important to consider the feelings and emotions that art installations can evoke in the visitors. “Human beings are not logical creatures. Groups can be controlled through logic, but as individuals, they can be very emotional,” he said.
In order to elicit the feelings and emotions in their patrons, however, TeamLab Borderless installations utilize different software and programs the company created together with various hardware.
“In Japan’s Borderless, we use over 470 projectors and over 520 high spec PCs,” Takashi said, adding that the technology is set in place to create a higher dimension in the immersive experience, something the organization is looking to expand on.
Explaining that the shift in perspective from 2D to 3D enhances how we experience art, he said: “We understand the world not just through our eyes and brains, it is also physical and emotions.”
He said TeamLab has reconstructed many ancient Asian drawings using today’s technologies, and it is a sign of the times to come. Much of TeamLab’s work is inspired by Japanese traditions of immersive technology-based environments and workplaces, symbolized for instance by Takashi Murakami’s postmodern art movement, Superflat.
Superflat combines the flatness of commercial graphic design and characters from popular Japanese anime and manga (animation and comics) with the influences of fine art.
Takashi maintains good designs are the ones that can be used by everyone. “If you’re the only person who can understand a design, it is not good,” he said.
As for the relationship between art and design, he said: “If I compare what is art and what is design, design is the answer and art is the question.” He believes the right answer is always changing, adding that “a good business model or answer may (have been) the correct answer in the 18th century, but not in the 19th century, due to the industrial revolution.”
TeamLab’s aim is to create the questions, and for visitors to find the answers within the interactive artworks displayed in their installations.
According to Takashi, the overarching question that TeamLab is attempting to answer is: “The borderless world is very beautiful, right?” Art may seem “weird,” but it is simply expanding on the questions asked, and the answer is in the “global feelings,” he said.
Summing up the purpose of the Borderless exhibitions, Takashi said it is neither geographical nor political — the key idea is to understand the relationship between human beings and the world.
He said the organization is “lucky to find good partners in Saudi Arabia who could understand what we are talking about.” Equally, he is excited about the future TeamLab projects that will be announced in the coming year.