Saturday, July 20, 2024

Inside the Creative Cosmos: Toshiyuki Inoko’s Journey to Founding teamLab


Inside the Creative Cosmos: Toshiyuki Inoko’s Journey to Founding teamLab

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Toshiyuki Inoko 
teamLab Founder

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Could you share with us the inspiration behind teamLab Borderless and its unique concept of creating a space filled with artworks without boundaries?

teamLab Borderless is based on the concept that everything exists in a borderless continuity. We want to create the ‘beautiful’ in which the various artworks relate to each other and are continuous without boundaries.

teamLab Borderless is a world of artworks without boundaries, a museum without a map created by art collective teamLab. Artworks move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence, and sometimes intermingle with each other with no boundaries, forming one continuous, borderless world. Visitors wander and explore the vast world with intention, create a new world with others, and discover.

Even though the world is continuous without boundaries, people chop it up in their perception and perceive each one as independent. The subject of beauty has also been an independent object, such as an apple or a painting of the Mona Lisa. At teamLab Borderless, we want to create a place where people can see the beauty in relationships, overlaps, and continuity itself. And through this experience, we hope to create a place where the notion of beauty is expanded, and the way we see the world is broadened.

With the announcement of the Middle East’s first teamLab Borderless museum opening in Jeddah, what factors led to the decision to establish this particular location, especially considering its historic district and proximity to Alarbaeen Lagoon?

    teamLab Borderless Jeddah is the collaborative initiative between the Saudi Ministry of Culture and art collective teamLab. It is one of Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Programme initiatives to develop and foster cultural and arts exhibition infrastructure, with the aim of strengthening the Kingdom’s contribution to arts and culture, one of the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

    Jeddah is one of the leading global cities in the Middle East with a profound history and rich culture. We are very honored to be able to open teamLab Borderless in Jeddah Historic District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This time, we have been able to launch teamLab Borderless on a monumental scale, with truly beautiful architecture in this wonderful location.

    Our artworks are based on the continuity of knowledge over the long history of humanity. For this reason, it is very significant to be able to establish a large-scale teamLab Borderless in Jeddah Historic District. Through Historic Jeddah and teamLab Borderless, we want to make this place the most amazing place in the world, creating an experience where people travel between the seamlessly interconnected past and present, and feel a strong sense of meaning.

    Could you elaborate on the significance of incorporating elements like ‘Athletics Forest’, ‘Future Park’, ‘En Tea House’, and the ‘Forest of Lamps’ within the Jeddah site? How do these components complement the overall immersive experience of teamLab Borderless?

    Spanning approximately 10,000 sqm of gross floor area, the immense teamLab Borderless museum comprises over 80 independent artworks that form complex interrelationships with one another as well as with visitors, eternally transforming the scenery. The museum is composed of multiple seamlessly interconnected areas: Borderless World, Light Sculpture, Athletics Forest, Future Park, Forest of Lamps, EN TEA HOUSE, and Sketch Factory



    The artworks in the Borderless World move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with visitors, and possess the same concept of time as the human body. They communicate with other works, influence each other, and at times intermingle. teamLab Borderless is one continuous world without boundaries, created by such a group of artworks. People wander through the world, exploring with intention, creating and discovering a new world with others.

    See artworks in Borderless World


    In the Light Sculpture series, massive sculptures in which light appears to flow out are born, sweeping towards people, expanding, and drawing people into it.

    See artworks in Light Sculpture


    Athletics Forest is a creative athletic space based on the concept of understanding the world through the body and thinking about the world three-dimensionally. It trains and promotes spatial recognition ability. People immerse their entire body in the complex three-dimensional space of the interactive world.

    See artworks in Athletics Forest


    Future Park is an educational project based on the concept of collaborative creation (co-creation). It is an amusement park where people can enjoy creating the world freely with others. At Future Park, an artwork comes to life through the process of people creating something together with others. As people continue to co-create, the artwork evolves endlessly.

    See artworks in Future Park


    The installation, in which lamps are seemingly scattered in a random manner, is composed of resonating light that changes based on the relationship between the people in the artwork space. It is a work that expresses the beauty of continuity. The color of the lamps shifts and changes over the months. 

    See Forest of Lamps in different colors


    At the tea house inside the museum, make tea and a flower blooms inside the teacup. Flowers bloom infinitely as long as there is tea. The tea in the bowl becomes an infinite world in which the flowers continue to bloom. Drink in the infinitely expanding world.

    See artworks in EN TEA HOUSE


    This is a factory where the fish visitors draw in the Sketch Ocean artwork are turned into an original product such as a tin badge, hand towel, T-shirt, or tote bag.

    See artworks in Sketch Factory

    The concept of ‘Athletics Forest’ seems to intertwine physical activity with artistic exploration. How do you envision visitors engaging with this space and its impact on their cognitive experiences?

    Athletics Forest is a creative athletic space, an initiative to update ‘knowledge through the body’ based on the concept of perceiving the world through the body and thinking about it in three dimensions. People immerse their entire body in the complex and physically challenging three-dimensional space of the interactive world.

    Up until now, ‘knowledge’ has referred to activities where the body is fixed and one’s brain works alone, symbolized by school tests. The language and numbers processed there represent a minimal amount of information. In contrast, the world itself is inherently composed of overwhelming amounts of information. For example, activities like sociability and leadership involve highly intellectual processes of handling vast amounts of information such as people’s expressions, attitudes, and the surrounding circumstances. Additionally, the ability to create stories that move people is not acquired through linguistic training but is woven together from accumulated experiences of exploring the world with one’s own body. Humans perceive the world more through their bodies and think with their bodies.

    It is increasingly understood that the body is not merely receiving instructions from the brain, but rather, it functions as a vast information network where all organs and cells engage in dynamic information exchange. For example, it has been discovered that muscles and bones involved in body movement are giving instructions that contribute to the development of the hippocampus (a part of the brain involved in memory and spatial awareness) and to the process of storing memories in the hippocampus.

    In recent years, spatial awareness ability is said to play a significant role in creativity and innovation. It has been discovered that the hippocampus, which is involved in spatial awareness, develops through exploring and navigating diverse and complex environments using one’s own body.

    Nature such as forests and mountains forms extremely complex and three-dimensional spaces. Humans originally perceived three-dimensional spaces through their bodies. However, urban spaces are predominantly flat, and media like paper, television, and smartphones are also flat. Unknowingly, as people discard their bodies and perceive the world flatly only through their heads, flat thinking begins to proliferate.

    Therefore, in this Athletics Forest, we attempt to enhance spatial awareness by forcibly immersing viewers into complex and three-dimensional spaces. The space features various three-dimensional artworks that require mobilization of the entire body to navigate. Through experiences like these, where we perceive the world through our bodies and think about the world three-dimensionally, we aim to create a creative athletic space that can train spatial awareness.

    Humans perceive the world with their bodies and think with their bodies. When you explore a complex, three-dimensional world with your own body, you physically perceive the world three-dimensionally and in turn your thoughts become three-dimensional. We started this project, Athletics Forest, with the hopes to enhance three-dimensional and higher-dimensional thinking.

    To learn more about the concept behind Athletics Forest:  

    At Athletics Forest in teamLab Borderless Jeddah, we are exhibiting a giant interactive installation called Antigravity Universe – Ovoids, a never-before-seen work that is only exhibited in Saudi Arabia at the moment.

    In the artwork space, a group of giant ovoids continuously rise and fall. When the ovoids are pushed by a person they change color and emit a tone specific to that color. The surrounding ovoids also respond one after another, shining brightly and emitting the same color and tone that continues to resonate out.

    Each ovoid is actually tremendously heavy but they keep rising and falling, as if the notion of gravity does not exist. In other words, this is a work in which something very unscientific is happening.

    ‘Future Park’ is described as an amusement park where visitors can freely create the world with others. Can you delve into how this project encourages collaboration and creativity among visitors, and its role in shaping the interactive art landscape?

    Future Park is an educational project based on the concept of collaborative creation (co-creation). It is an amusement park where people can enjoy creating the world freely with others. An artwork comes to life through the process of people creating something together with others. As people continue to co-create, the artwork evolves endlessly.

    Artificial intelligence and machinery could replace much of the existing work that we know of today. In a future society, traits that only humans possess—such as creativity—will become increasingly important.

    Humans are naturally collaborative and creative. However, current education emphasizes only one correct answer over all others, stifling creativity. Free thinking and behavior that is different is suppressed. And, by doing so, students become afraid of making mistakes and lose their natural creativity. Whereas in the real world we find that there are no problems that have only one correct answer. Often as not the correct answer 10 years ago is now incorrect. By creating new solutions that solve problems in different ways, and give people enjoyment in the process, new correct answers are born. It is creativity that allows us to overcome problems that cannot be defined as either correct or incorrect.

    The present situation in education is that tests are taken by individuals and evaluated on the ability of the individual. Before we know it, individualism is forced upon us. Additionally, large numbers of people are addicted to smartphones. Their brains may be connected, but their body is isolated. As a result, opportunities for nurturing co-creative experiences are decreasing.

    Humans learn about the world through interaction with others and by sharing experiences. People think with their bodies as they move through the world, and society has developed through creative activities born from collaboration. This is why co-creative experience is very important for society.

    By focusing on creating change in the connections between people, as well as creating positive experiences, teamLab hopes to turn individual creative acts into co-creative activities. 

    Hopefully through enjoying co-creation, people will be able to find creativity in their daily life. It was from such a desire that the teamLab Future Park project was born.

    To learn more about the Future Park project:

    The ‘En Tea House’ offers a unique blend of traditional tea culture and digital artistry. Could you elaborate on the concept behind this experience and its significance in bridging cultural elements within the immersive art environment?

    Since 2011, teamLab has been conducting practical research and experimentation to reconsider the cultural backgrounds inherent in cuisine and food culture, expanding them through digital art. This series of projects is referred to as Digitized Gastronomy, and EN TEA HOUSE is part of this project.

    We’re interested in the state of perceiving something while the body is in motion. Eating and drinking involve similar actions, and we’ve been pondering whether it’s possible to perceive art while eating, or even to create art that can be eaten. From these thoughts, we’ve been creating several artworks using tea. We wanted to reinterpret the traditional culture of tea ceremonies through contemporary art.

    The artwork Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup, found at EN TEA HOUSE, allows visitors to drink actual tea. In this work, when a cup of tea is made, digitally-drawn flowers bloom in it, and when you move it, the flowers scatter. It’s a space where nothing exists until you pour the tea into a teacup, and then the artwork appears only inside that cup. When you finish drinking, both the tea and the artwork disappear. 

    Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup

    When a cup of tea is made, flowers bloom inside the teacup. When the teacup is lifted, the flower petals scatter and spread outside of the cup. Flowers bloom infinitely as long as there is tea. The tea in the teacup becomes an infinite world in which the flowers continue to bloom. Visitors are to drink in the infinitely expanding world.

    *Click here for the latest video

    It’s art that exists only within the tea, and we wanted to create an experience where you consume the art itself. Additionally, this work transforms a very personal tea, made for oneself, into something public as the flowers scatter the moment you try to drink it.

    The title Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup is not just teamLab’s own words but rather inspired by Okakura Tenshin’s interpretation of tea ceremony. 

    Okakura Tenshin (1863-1913), the author of The Book of Tea (1906), was a Japanese scholar and art critic who provided a profound interpretation of the tea ceremony in Japan. Some key aspects of Tenshin’s interpretation include; the impermanence of the real world, which one views as something beautiful; emptiness or human imperfection that opens up infinite possibilities towards completion; belief that great truths reside within the smallest things; transcending oneself to reach the state of ‘oneness of self and others’ by emptying and devoting oneself to art; and equality between nature and humans.

    teamLab is attempting to reinterpret such tea ceremony culture through contemporary art.

    Considering the successful reopening of teamLab Borderless in Tokyo and the progress of teamLab Phenomena in Abu Dhabi, what challenges and opportunities do you anticipate in bringing these innovative art experiences to diverse cultural settings?

    First of all, all cultures, including contemporary art, exist upon the continuity of accumulated past cultures. For example, teamLab has a signature piece called Black Waves, which is a representative work. On the other hand, in Japan, there is a very traditional and beloved wave pattern called Seigaiha (‘blue ocean wave’). It has existed for a very long time and is one of the most favored patterns in kimonos. Although we were not consciously aware of it at the time, looking back, we teamLab were unconsciously influenced by Seigaiha.

    The Seigaiha pattern itself originated around 1300 years ago, when Persian civilization’s patterns were introduced to Japan. This pattern has been highly favored and passed down through generations, and we think teamLab was influenced by it, whether consciously or unconsciously, when creating our wave works. In other words, all of this exists in continuity. 

    This place, Jeddah, too sits on top of various continuities, retaining a rich historical and cultural presence that is rare to find in the world. It is a city where you can see and touch history. Having something contemporary in such a place allows people to unconsciously experience the continuity from the past to the future. We hope that such an experience is meaningful to people.

    How does teamLab approach the adaptation of its installations to different cultural contexts while maintaining the essence of borderless art and interactivity?

    We don’t really take into consideration the geographical location or regional/cultural reasonings when creating our works. What we want to do is to explore human beings and create artworks that broaden the way we see the world – in other words, our interest is in creating something that means something to human beings.

    That said, at teamLab Borderless Jeddah, we do have an artwork called Persistence of Life in the Sandfall which we’ve created with this region in mind. It’s one of the never-before-seen works that are only exhibited in Saudi Arabia at the moment.

    Persistence of Life in the Sandfall is a huge interactive installation in which immense roses continue to grow powerfully in a waterfall of sand. Roses keep growing and falling over and over forever. When people touch the flowers, they scatter and die. When people touch the sand, the falling sand breaks up.

    Since ancient times people have looked at falling sand to understand the concept of short periods of time, and they have seen the changes in the flowers that bloom to feel the passage of longer periods of time. The time of the falling sand, the repeated life and death of the flowers, and the time of people’s bodies – all these different times intersect and overlap.

    The space of the artwork is created with what teamLab refers to as Ultrasubjective Space. In contrast to spaces that are created through, or in other words cut out by, lenses and perspective, Ultrasubjective Space does not fix the viewer’s viewpoint and in turn frees the body. The wall that the flowers are seen on does not become a boundary between the viewer and the artwork, and the artwork space is continuous with the space of the viewer’s body.

    We had explored the use of sand for art expression in the past. This time, with this region in mind, we decided to once again try to create a work of art using sand as a medium of expression.

    Looking ahead, what future developments or expansions does teamLab envision for its immersive art experiences, both in the Middle East region and globally?

    teamLab museums and large-scale permanent exhibitions include teamLab Borderless and teamLab Planets in Tokyo, teamLab Borderless Jeddah, teamLab SuperNature Macao, and teamLab Massless Beijing, with more to open in cities including Abu Dhabi, Hamburg, Kyoto, and Utrecht.

    Lastly, reflecting on your statement about creating “a physical art that becomes one with the body,” how do you see the relationship between art, technology, and human experience evolving in the context of immersive installations like teamLab Borderless?

    If left alone, humans have a tendency to create boundaries where none really exist. Language and logic are the most prominent examples of this. For instance, although there is no clear boundary between Earth and space, the use of the word “Earth” makes us perceive it as if there is a boundary and Earth exists as an independent entity. In reality, everything is connected and continuous.

    Humans have historically created things with structures that can remain stable even if placed inside a box, like stones. This has led us to think that everything exists independently. In reality, everything exists within continuity, much like a vortex in the sea exists within the continuous flow of water. The structure of the vortex is created and maintained by the flow of water inwards and outwards. The contours of all things, just like ocean vortices, do not have clear boundaries.

    Humans have come to understand this complex world to some extent by dissecting it into independent entities through language and logic. However, as a result, we’ve lost our ability to realize that everything exists in borderless continuity. This is what motivated us to create a place like teamLab Borderless where everything influences each other without boundaries, and where the very continuity itself can be felt as beautiful. We wanted to create experiences where not only the continuity between oneself and the world is explored, but also where seemingly independent artworks relate to each other, where the boundaries of spaces are ambiguous, overlapping, and intertwined.

    The concept of “borderless” is something we’ve been contemplating since teamLab was founded. In 2001, teamLab began as a lab for collaborative experimentation by a diverse group of specialists. Since then, we noticed that when capturing the world through photos or videos—essentially, through a lens—the captured world is born on the other side of a screen, and the screen becomes a boundary. Cutting out the world with a camera lens fixes the viewpoint and results in losing our sense of the body. This explains why we sit rather than move around while watching TV or movies—because the lens dictates this behavior.

    In response, teamLab began to explore whether it was possible to capture space in a way that differs from a lens—where the screen does not become a boundary and the viewpoint remains unfixed. Drawing inspiration from classical paintings in Japan and Asia, and using new digital methods, we explored and constructed a logical structure of spatial recognition. With this framework, we started creating moving images. 

    Unlike lenses and perspective techniques, the artwork space which was cut out using this logical structure does not render the screen to become a boundary. Instead, the artwork space is perceived as extending three-dimensionally beyond the screen, reaching into the space where the viewer exists. This allows the viewer to experience the continuity between the artwork space and the space where their physical body resides.

    The ability for the viewpoint to remain unfixed and move freely means that viewers can perceive the images while walking around, enabling bodily perception. This allows for the creation of spatial art that involves physicality—art that can be experienced as people walk around. The world of art, created based on a logical structure inspired by classical art, dissolves the boundary between the visitor’s physical world and the artwork world, creating an experience as if your body exists within the art. We’ve been exploring spatial art that is physically experienced dynamically, with a conscious body.

    The way we see the world—in other words, perception—determines human behavior. Reality is not what we see; rather what we see is a world that we are capable of perceiving, and this, as a result, changes our behavior. Many people subconsciously sit in front of a television, but in front of our work, they subconsciously walk. Because perception changes human action, an experience in which people naturally begin to walk as they look at the moving image, is created. We’ve always been interested in how people perceive the world. 

    We believe that art has expanded human perception and will continue to do so. Throughout history, art has broadened our perception, changed how we see the world, and changed our behavior as a result. We hope for teamLab Borderless to be an experience that similarly expands perception. 

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