The internet is hotly debating whether 2016 is the year virtual reality goes mainstream: New headset displays like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard may bring immersive digital experiences to the masses. However, Japanese art collective teamLab has long been pursuing its own complex approach to digital environments. Unlike a headset, its interactive installations don’t privilege a single optical perspective. Many encourage you to move around or through them; your actions can even make them morph, mutate, and evolve. TeamLab’s show, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, gathers 20 of its works into a 20,000-square-foot digital interactive art extravaganza.

Founded in 2001, teamLab began with web design but now boasts a 400-member-strong group—which includes animators, programmers, architects, and more—
who collaborate on everything from office interiors to software. The work’s whimsy belies its technical complexity: For instance, the LED cloud of Crystal Universe changes its dazzling colors and patterns based on visitors’ movements and a custom app. “The viewer is an active participant and ultimately becomes a part of the artwork,” said teamLab.

teamLab Living Digital Space Future Parks

A landscape of interactive mythical creatures and elemental forces swirl across the wall in Story of the Time when Gods were Everywhere. The work tries to create a narrative: “The objects that emerge from
the symbols influence one another and are influenced by the actions of other people…” (Courtesy teamLab)

The collective also cites what it calls “Ultra Subjective Space” as inspiration: There’s no privileged position to experience its art. The piece Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together–A Whole Year per Hour stretches across the walls of an entire room. Like in Crystal Universe, sensors and software constantly react to your movements, guaranteeing one display—seen from afar or up close—will never be exactly repeated.

Some exhibits go even further. Sketch Town and Sketch Town Papercraft let children color in a paper outline of a car that is then scanned, converted into 3-D, and inserted into a dynamic animated city. There, the children can move their digital cars—and other children’s as well—with their hands. They can even print a paper version of their car and fold it into a toy. “This project aims to encourage children to become aware of what the child next to them is drawing or creating,” said teamLab. “They may come to think it would be more fun to build something together.”

Paradoxically, it’s the art’s shared physical spaces that make teamLab’s virtual realities more social. “As people become part of the same space and artwork, the relationship between self and others changes.”

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