Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Seeds of 'Unearthly Delights': teamLab's Digital Garden

teamLab's immersive, interactive art, part of of Japan Society's' fall exhibition Garden of Unearthly Delights.

TeamLab is a collective of around 300 individuals specializing in various areas such as art, design, mathematics, and computer engineering. With their combined efforts, they create works that blur the lines between art and technology.

Although they invent cutting-edge software to create their art, their roots are distinctly traditional, drawing inspiration from scenes of nature and domestic landscapes commonly found in classical Japanese paintings.

Their artistic and technological prowess can be viewed in the exhibition Ultra Subjective Space at Pace Gallery through August 15. Much of the work depicts a three-dimensional world with three-dimensional objects, but “flattened” to emulate the look of Japanese paintings.

Traditional East Asian landscape paintings depict space in layers of picture planes; one at the foreground, the other in the middle-ground, and then the last one indicating the farthest space in the background. Transitional spaces are to be then completed in one’s own (i.e. subjective) imagination. On the other hand, Western art has been using a linear perspective with one fixed point.

"Western approach to spatial representation is based on optical illusion," explains Miwako Tezuka, director of Japan Society Gallery. "Before Japanese learned the linear perspective system to create visual illusion in painting, I think they felt, rather than saw the depth by empathetically entering into the planes of foreground, middle-ground, and background of paintings.

Teamlab shares this point of view, stating in their manifesto:
We propose that people in Japan at that time may have actually seen the world as they chose to depict it in Japanese painting. People of today have a perception of space that is based on the perspective they see in photos and paintings, but is it not possible that people of old saw and were able to feel space in the art work they looked at?” teamLab wrote on their website.
In an evocative review of the Pace exhibition, VICE illustrated teamLab's achievement of capturing this:
The European standard of linear perspective is absent from these compositions, allowing viewers to place themselves anywhere inside the scene, rather than being limited to a single point of view… [The works] each capture a celebratory perspective on nature, effortlessly combined with the sleek, clean, hi-tech texture intrinsic in their medium.
The combination of design and technology also makes their work an interactive experience.

The Ever Blossoming Life series, for example, shows a cluster of flowers in a gold background and a dark blue-black background where flowers bloom, drop their petals, wither, and die with progression of time. While the flowers collectively bloom and wilt ad infinitum, they are programmed so that they display the images in real time and never duplicate their previous states. Just like real flowers, each flower bud blooming, wilting and falling cannot be repeated exactly the same again. The life of each plant, the duration of each flower is a unique image in space and time.

After their Pace Gallery show, teamLab will have their first major museum presentation in Japan Society Gallery's fall exhibition Garden of Unearthly Delights: Works by Ikeda, Tenmyouya & teamLab. Their work is a perfect fit for the show that highlights visionaries shaping the present and future of Japanese art while harkening to the past.

The moving images that teamLab creates are extraordinary in the original sense of the word: their nature-filled landscapes not only reminisce one of the classical Japanese painting subjects of “flowering plants of four seasons” but also are truly out of this world, says Tezuka.

"They contain so much more visual and philosophical information than what our mere eyes can perceive. They invite our multi-sensory participation, and this fall, we will have that very chance to participate in strolling through a brand-new digital garden that will blossom in Japan Society Gallery."

--Younjoo Sang

Photo: teamLab (est. 2001), United, Fragmented, Repeated, and Impermanent World, 2013 (detail). Interactive digital work, 8 screens; endless, 9:16; sound by Hideaki Takahashi. Courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery.

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