While some traditional art museums grapple with incorporating technology, new art spaces are becoming synonymous with the digital world. A year ago, teamLab, an enigmatic art collective based in Tokyo, created the first permanent art museum for digital works. Their immersive installations are multisensorial, allowing visitors to experience saturated rice paddies or to become a butterfly fluttering through a chromatic garden. They have become the most visited single-artist museum in the world, surpassing the Museu Picasso and Van Gogh Museum.
Over the past two decades, cultural institutions have experimented with immersive technologies, such as augmented or virtual reality, to engage visitors in new ways. As art museums aim to be forums of expression, history, and exchange, it is natural that they should integrate digital experiences in a climate that is increasingly reliant on adaptivity. teamLab’s innovative model could reinvent the way we perceive digital artworks as well as museum visitors’ expectations, and they are proving to naysayers that they are right with numbers.
Officially established around 2001, teamLab defines themselves as “an art collective, interdisciplinary group of ultra technologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, design and the natural world. Various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, and architects form teamLab.” The group now includes 400 multidisciplinary creatives designing immersive works that react to human movement, touch, and presence.
According to teamLab, digital tools have freed art from the confines of stone and canvas, allowing it to transcend traditional physical boundaries. Through technology, they hope to enable visitors to explore new relationships among the self, others, and nature. They describe the interactions among visitors as adding to the visitor experience and artwork rather than detracting from it: “When an artwork changes based on the presence or behavior of viewers, it causes the boundaries between artwork and viewer to become blurred. In this case, the viewer becomes part of the artwork itself. Similarly, when the artwork changes due to the presence of others, those people also become part of the artwork.”
The art collective creates each artwork as a team. They start with a broad concept and then problem-solve their ideas; this approach obscures the direction that the piece will take. Throughout their artistic process, they hope to affect change on shared systemic values while contributing to societal progress through digital art: to create unique pieces without the constrictions of genre or two-dimensional materials.
Their exhibitions defy standard models of museum curatorial practice in that there is neither a beginning nor an end of a particular gallery or artwork. teamLab’s creations bleed and fuse with one another. The visitor becomes a curator of their own experience by moving through space and engaging with pieces that attract them. In an interview with Japan Objects, teamLab points out that they intentionally designed the exhibitions so that visitors are unlikely to encounter every artwork during one visit. “This is meant to reflect the world: if you are looking at something in the world, there is always something else you have not seen.”
teamLab is confident that this new era of digitization will alter art as we know it as well as the institutions that guard, conserve, and share it. They believe that changes in art will inform how people expect to interact with art and even the art market. The group’s work has permanent collections in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and the Amos Rex of Helsinki among others. Ambitious plans lay ahead as they prepare to open another permanent museum in Shanghai, China this fall. teamLab has six current works and exhibitions currently on view across the globe. Check out their website to see if there is one near you.