TeamLab’s exhibition Future Park feels like being inside a kid’s gaming app where you are designing the visuals and shaping the action, albeit with one big difference: it’s a team effort.
Future Park is a multi-sensory experience, from the bleeps and pings of the installations, to the saturated cartoon colours. But while a digital app draws its player in, all hunched shoulders and single focus, Future Park invites its users to move around the space, physically controlling the movement.
Overseeing the exhibition’s installation at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Ultimo is two of teamLab’s Tokyo-based crew, Shiori Shakuto and Shizuka Sasaki.
Future Park was borne from teamLab founder Toshiyuki Inoko’s desire to use technology in a positive way to channel his young son’s antisocial digital behaviour to create something connected and artistic.
“When you think of digital technology you think of smart phones or PCs where you play by yourself,” says Sasaki. “Our founder was looking at his child playing his phone and wanted to take it away from him. He was working in IT [yet] hating the technology. So through this exhibition, using technology, we encourage people to start playing together instead of by themselves. Everything is interactive and if there are more people, the artwork or play is more fun.”
Future Park features eight ever-changing installations that respond to human interaction. Light Ball Orchestra features around 80 giant sensor-drive acrylic balls in varying sizes. As you bump or roll them the sounds and colours change, creating an “orchestra” of sound and light.
Sketch Town is even more interactive and sophisticated. Visitors are invited to work with their choice of 12 templates made up of buses, buildings, rescue vehicles and cars that are then scanned and appear on a giant, colourful wall screen. You control the movement in the town and when a cartoon monster appears the town’s future is in your hands.
“The monster comes in and destroys the houses, but there are rescue cars, if people are drawing rescue cars. So everybody needs to work together to build up the town,” says Sasaki.
Other installations include a Hopscotch for Genius in which you control sound and movement with your footsteps; Graffiti Nature where your sketched animals, flowers and plant life are scanned onto an undulating floor that constantly changes with movement and art; and Screen with People where you annotate your own figure, which then interacts, fights and dances with the other “people” in a park.
Tellingly, the curators never need to instruct visiting children, who interact with them instinctively.
While teamLab was Toshiyuki Inoko's idea, Future Park has been brought to life by some of the 500-odd people who now work with the Tokyo-based collective (it also has branches in the US and an office in Singapore).
Their raison d’etre is digital art but its members come from diverse backgrounds. Sasaki graduated with an architecture degree from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and Shakuto is a social anthropology graduate from the Australian National University in Canberra.
“I was also studying environmental studies and questioning the idea of constructing more buildings, generating more waste,” says Sasaki. “Then I started thinking about the digital world and encountered teamLab. You’re not technically building anything but expanding space and making use of space. I thought that had a good future,” the 26-year-old says.
The concept of Future Park comes from a technology-driven nation of 127 million people all jostling for space and trying to use digital technology to create a different type of park that nevertheless achieves the same outcome.
“We’re not trying to redefine our use of the park, we’re getting inspiration from the ideas of parks,” says Shakuto. “Technology is always perceived as alienating people but actually, no, it can bring people together, like the traditional park.”
Future Park has toured to the US, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia and received fascinatingly varied responses.
“The way people draw is very different from one country to another. In the US the colour combination is very different from Japan – they go outside the lines, people think very freely, that’s very different from Japanese people who are very neat, the combinations are [predictable]. And in Taipei it was lots of couples, adults, maybe because in Taiwan selfies are popular and all the installations are very [social-media friendly],” says Sasaki.
Shakuto has only been with teamLab seven months but appreciates the similarities between anthropology and the digital art she’s helping create. “[Like anthropology], teamLab is all about going beyond the boundaries, questioning the defined categories in society, blurring the boundaries between art and science,” she says. “Every day is a stimulation, another way of seeing the world and it’s not just us building it, it’s a collaborative process.”
teamLab’s Future Park is at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences from November 24 to April 30, 2018.