“Transcending Boundaries”: Japanese art collective teamLab at Pace London

Japan’s teamLab transform Pace Gallery in London into an immersive, digitally enhanced experience.

“Transcending Boundaries” by teamLab runs until 11 March 2017 at Pace London in Burlington Gardens, with eight works by the art collective taking over and transcending the gallery space.

teamLab, 'Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

Formed in 2001, the art collective teamLab is composed of a wide swath of digital practitioners whose work ranges from CG animation and graphic design to architecture and engineering. At London’s Pace Gallery, their latest solo exhibition “Transcending Boundaries” extends their engagement with digital technology through a set of immersive works that transform the physical spaces of the gallery into a platform for digitally enhanced experiences. The majority of the eight works – six of which were previously not exhibited – blend into one another seamlessly, shifting the viewer from an individual external observer to a participant within an elaborate network of interrelated artworks. Regulated admission to the show – visitors must pre-book tickets online for 20-minute timeslots, which sell out almost instantaneously – adds to the spectacular aura that surrounds teamLab’s tech-forward practice. It substantiates the notion that the most sought-after artists are often those who capitalise on digital art’s breakneck pacing.

teamLab, 'Flowers Bloom on People', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Flowers Bloom on People’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, 'Flowers Bloom on People', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Flowers Bloom on People’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

Much of “Transcending Boundaries” relies on the distinction between the world of nature and the world of screens, and the artwork that results from this distinction, as the title indicates, attempts to dissolve the experience of this distinction. Visitors are directed through three rooms, the first of which is a long and narrow corridor that holds four of the eight works. The first and most immediate of these, projected against the floor and the wall facing viewers as they enter the room, is entitled Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries (2017). Examining the flow of water, teamLab calculated the interactions between individual water particles and then represented the liquid – here, in the form of a flowing waterfall that flows from the wall into streams on the floor – by drawing lines that mapped their relation to one another in space.

These same surfaces are host to Flowers and People, Transcending Boundaries – A Whole Year Per Hour (2017), in which flowers grow, bloom, scatter their petals and die, in accordance with the interactions between the work and its viewers. Flowers and People renders its animations in real time through a computer programme, resulting in a work that constantly changes according to the interactions between the work and other works, as well as interactions with participants: if someone touches the flowers, they scatter and separate.

teamLab, 'Flowers and People, Transcending Boundaries – A Whole Year Per Hour', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Flowers and People, Transcending Boundaries – A Whole Year Per Hour’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

This same transience is approached from a similar perspective in Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders, Ephemeral Life (2016), wherein butterflies are generated from where people stand in the exhibition and then flutter across the walls and into and throughout the other works. Like Flowers and People, the butterflies are generated in real time and continuously change and shift throughout the duration of the exhibition and through interactions with the visitors. Like the flowers, they die upon touch, suggesting that despite the myriad modes of permanence that online and digital records afford, animate life is always tinged with fragility. Yet, the intersections between the works also hint at the ways in which the natural world is entirely contingent on an always-generative ecosystem to sustain it; it is no wonder, then, that the Butterfly Effect takes its name from the hypothetical instance that even the smallest flutter of life can transmit its impact across a network of interconnected organisms.

teamLab, 'Impermanent Life', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Impermanent Life’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, 'Impermanent Life', 2017. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Impermanent Life’, 2017. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

Two additional works, Impermanent Life (2017) and Enso (2017) act as pendants on opposite walls of the room. Impermanent Life follows the rhythmic flow of the water and flower petals that permeate the room, as cherry blossoms spread and scatter across its surface. In the background, a circle grows and shrinks in regular gestations. Enso takes a similar tack. Referring to painting a circle with a single brushstroke, a practice carried out by Zen monks in a meditative state to represent enlightenment and equality, Enso illustrates these repetitive strokes in real time. It is a demonstration of Spatial Calligraphy, an interest that teamLab has developed since its founding, that emphasises the speed and depth of the brushstroke.

teamLab, 'Enso', 2017. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Enso’, 2017. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, 'Dark Waves', 2016, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Dark Waves’, 2016, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

When considered alongside the cherry blossoms and waterfall animations, Enso adds geographic and cultural specificity to a set of works that otherwise seem to have evacuated these traces, calling to mind watercolours and landscape scroll paintings that have been a part of the Japanese canon for centuries. Likewise, Dark Waves (2016), a six-channel digital work, plays a continuous loop of computer-generated waves moving forward endlessly. Whereas premodern Japanese painting tended to emphasise the lines of waves, such as in the graphic prints of Hokusai, teamLab’s interpretation focuses on the interaction between the waves in what the collective calls an “ultrasubjective space”. Like the waterfall, the waves were generated from a study of water particles and their interaction with one another, then drawn in three dimensions. The resulting continuous loop, separated in the six-channel display, becomes a meditative study of motion.

teamLab, 'Flowers Bloom on People', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Flowers Bloom on People’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

The final room contains the 2017 “digitized nature” work Flowers Bloom on People. Entrants are given a white blanket by the gallery staff before entering into a low-ceilinged, completely dark room. Once people have entered the space, flowers begin to bloom and grow on the floor, along the walls, and across their bodies, intersecting, spreading and growing as they touch and spread. These projections, like those in the previous room, are digital reenactments of living processes, accelerated to emphasise their graphic, colorful impacts. As participants move, the flowers die; their livelihood is contingent on stillness, suggesting by paradox that the state of nature is constantly in flux.

This same condition is explicit in The Void (2016), a digital work that, true to its name, has no defining characteristics, being a four-channel digital installation that remains static and black. It serves as an anchor to the other works in the exhibition, which are united by their interactive, continuously generative and constantly shifting nature.

teamLab, 'The Void', 2016, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘The Void’, 2016, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, 'Flowers Bloom on People', 2017, installation view of "Transcending Boundaries", 25 January - 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab, ‘Flowers Bloom on People’, 2017, installation view of “Transcending Boundaries”, 25 January – 11 March 2017, Pace Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artists and Pace Gallery.

teamLab’s digital practice hinges on its appreciation of networks and their ability to shape and transform their constituent components. In “Transcending Boundaries”, the network of individual digital works comprises a holistic, immersive installation that eviscerates the delineations between viewer and artwork, participant and artist, and attempts to similarly extinguish the disparity between the natural and digital worlds. Yet, in this approach, the divide is only more evident: though the works insist on ephemerality and the fleeing delicateness of the digital, their continuity – and in some cases their endlessness – does not quite match up to the same slow time of nature. All the works within “Transcending Boundaries” rely on immediate reactions between visitor and artwork, and change is shown as a highly sensitive activity. Nature, on the other hand, is less reliable, and it is perhaps the task of digital technology to improve upon this very characteristic.

Tausif Noor

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, new media, installation, video, gallery shows, events in London

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