How teamLab Invents Tokyo’s First Digital Art Museum


How teamLab Invents Tokyo’s First Digital Art Museum

by Lucy Dayman | ART

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Universe of Water Particles on a Rock Where People Gather

Groundbreaking art collective teamLab are no strangers to genre-pushing, concept advancing explorations, crafting through their works a world where art and technology collide.

The high profile, yet enigmatic group have garnered an international reputation over recent years. Their digital art masterpieces have been displayed in Shenzhen, Singapore, London, and Paris, as well as their home city of Tokyo.

However 2018 heralded the group’s most ambitious work yet; a massive scale, permanent digital art museum which opened in June this year, MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless. Named Borderless for short, the museum is a collaborative work with prominent art supporters Mori Group, but the outcome is undeniably ‘teamLab’.  

A constantly evolving, labyrinthian network of responsive displays, interactive exhibits and hidden rewards for those who are willing to dig a little deeper. It’s a museum with two distinct sides: it’s an art experience for the sci-fi future, but still with a sense of the organic, an appreciation for nature, and a need for human influence.

We spoke with the teamLab group in an exclusive interview about just how the museum came to be.

Japan Objects (JO): How would you describe the Borderless exhibit?

teamLab (tL): We consider teamLab Borderless to be a digital art space where visitors are meant to wander, explore, and discover. It is not a gallery in the traditional sense, because the artworks in Borderless leave their frames to interact with each other and with the visitors, truly eliminating the conventional borders found in the usual art galleries.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Spirits of the Flowers

JO: You’ve been running for a few months now, what has the response been like?

tL: teamLab Borderless has gotten quite a bit of attention, both among domestic and international audiences. We opened on June 21 this year, and after only 85 days, welcomed half a million visitors. We have been sold out every single day as well, so it seems that people really enjoy our immersive digital art.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Light Evaporating With People

JO: Why did you decide to have the museum in Odaiba?

tL: We had looked into a lot of places, but this space suited our needs best. The ceiling was nine meters high in some places, and we had access to several floors, with a total floor area of 10,000 square meters. We wanted enough room to create a borderless world, and this was a gigantic, vacant space in which visitors could fully immerse themselves in our artworks.

JO: Unlike more traditional museums, there's no apparent order or path in which to see the exhibits, what was the reason for this?

tL: We hope that visitors will become lost [in our works], both physically and metaphorically, and that they will explore an immersive art installation. In doing so, we hope they discover the beauty of the borderless world.

 Our exhibitions are not like other museums, because the artworks have no borders with other works, they leave the installation rooms and move down corridors, communicate with other works, and sometimes fuse with them. Since there are no boundaries between people and the artworks, people become immersed in the installations. This, in turn, causes the boundaries between people to be in a state of constant flux. People use their bodies to explore the installations and create new experiences with other people. The result is a new kind of digital art museum the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

It is worth noting that visitors may not see everything in our exhibitions since our artworks are continually shifting and moving through the space. 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.

JO: What's the most popular artwork in Borderless?

 tL: This is quite difficult to answer, firstly because everyone has a different artwork that speaks to them in a unique way, and secondly because the artworks change and interact every minute, making it hard to draw clear lines between them.

The exhibit is also filled with rooms and passages that are often overlooked, so the crowded areas and queues vary each day, as different groups of visitors discover hidden areas.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Spatial Calligraphy, Reversible Rotation

JO: Before the launch of Borderless, teamLab created a number of temporary exhibits locally and internationally, what was the motive behind moving to a permanent space?

tL: From teamLab’s perspective, we think that new digital art will go on to change art, not just extending artworks into a new era, but changing the art space and museum itself, as well as the way people interact and experience art, and even the art market.

Having a permanent exhibit means that there are greater possibilities for experimentation with the artwork itself, with the way the space for art is used, and with the approach to the viewer. We would like to think about new ways for art to exist, not just in artworks, but inclusive of the space, viewers, and market.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Forest of Resonating Lamps

JO: Were there any unexpected challenges that arose from building a permanent space?

tL: Creating artwork is always difficult. Our artworks are generated by a team of hands-on experts through a continuous process of creation and thinking. Although the large concepts are always defined from the start, the project goal tends to remain unclear, so we need the whole team to create and think as we go along.

From the very beginning, our aim has been to change our system of values and contribute to societal progress through the medium of digital art. Yet an important unknown was how we could support the team financially through our art. We believed strongly in the power of digital technology and creativity, and we also loved the work. What we wanted to do was to create new things without genre limitations.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders

Since 2001 we have been creating digital art with the aim of changing people’s values and contributing to societal progress. Although we initially had no idea where we could exhibit our art or how we could support the team financially, we also firmly believed in and were genuinely interested in the power of digital technology and creativity.

We wanted to keep creating new things regardless or genre limitations, and we did. As time went on, while we gained a passionate following among young people, we were ignored by the Japanese art world. Our art world debut finally came in 2011 at the Kaikai Kiki gallery in Taipei thanks to the artist Takashi Murakami. Since then, we’ve had opportunities in cosmopolitan cities such as Singapore, and our works have also been exhibited in the Pace Gallery in New York. And within Japan, our efforts to publicise and exhibit our art ourselves have borne fruit and lead to drastic changes in our situation.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Black Waves

JO: The installations are forever evolving, influenced by the physical movement of the visitors. Because of this, do you expect the exhibit to look quite different in, say, a year from now?

tL: The bottom line is that teamLab’s utmost interest is to create an experience that turns the existence of unrelated others into something positive. We want to create an experience where the relationship between the world and yourself is borderless and continuous. We believe there is no such a thing as a perfect boundary between people; rather, the relationship should be more ambiguous and relating, even if the person is unrelated to you.

We have been aiming to dissolve the notion of boundaries between artworks, between viewers and the work, between you and the others, between humans and the world. Everything transcends, relates and intermixes. By experiencing it, you might think that everything in this world may be more borderless that you thought, and that the world without boundaries is actually beautiful.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Walk, Walk, Walk, Search, Deviate, Reunite

By people experiencing the beauty of the borderless world, and by knowing that having no boundary is beautiful, their standard of beauty may get inspired. This still won’t solve tomorrow’s problems, but after 10 or 50 years, people’s behavior may change unconsciously little by little due to their new standard of beauty.

In art installations with the viewers on one side and interactive artworks on the other, the artworks undergo changes caused by the presence and behaviour of the viewers. This has the effect of blurring the boundary lines between the two sides. The viewers actually become part of the artworks themselves.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Animals of Flowers Symbiotic

The relationship between the artwork and the individual then becomes a relationship between the artwork and the group. Whether or not another viewer was present within that space five minutes before, or the particular behaviour exhibited by the person next to you suddenly becomes an element of great importance.

teamLab believes that the digital domain can expand the capacities of art and that digital art can create new relationships between people.

JO: What are some examples of how the digital domain you have created expands the capacities of what art can be and do?

tL: Our artworks  'Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather’ and 'Memory of Topography' are good examples of how we feel that by expanding a space through digital art, we are able to indirectly influence the way that people in the area relate to each other. Now, if this space that has been expanded through digital art changes due to the presence of others, then the presence of others must be considered a part of the art. If such change is, in itself, a beautiful thing, then the presence of others can also be something beautiful. Through this combination of digital art and technology, we feel that we can make the presence of others something more positive.

With the kind of conventional visual art we have had until now, you could say that, from the viewer’s point of view, the presence of others was an interference, at the very least. In our exhibitions, we feel that the presence of others can be thought of as a positive presence.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Three Dimensional Light Bouldering

JO: In an interview with designboom, you said: “sometimes we have to create an artwork even if we cannot clearly see the artwork’s goal.” Why do you think it’s important to sometimes design without a clear purpose or outcome in mind? Did any of the Borderless exhibits start in that way?

 tL: We do not believe that it is important to create in any particular way. Whether we have a clear goal in mind or not, what matters to us most is our ability to create as a team.

 We believe in the importance of flexibility, both in our artworks as well as in the workplace. Unlike other companies that may have rigid, vertical power structures, teamLab has an organisational structure seems flat at first glance, but it is also extremely multidimensional, with an underlying layer that is unclear and undecided. This allows for flexibility in the team, allowing each member to create and innovate freely.

From a technical standpoint, it can be easier to work with a broad concept without the details or even a clear outcome in mind, because it allows us to assess technical feasibility as we work. As we explore and experiment, the goal of the artwork becomes more clearly defined as we determine what is technically possible and not.

© teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo: Inverted Globe, Giant Connecting Block Town

JO: Finally, for those planning to visit Borderless, do you have any words of wisdom or advice?

 We will give you the same advice we give to all our visitors who enter Borderless. At the front of the entrance hall before walking into the artwork spaces, we have written on the wall, “Wander, Explore, and Discover.” We hope our visitors will do just that.

MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless

Address: Odaiba Palette Town, 1-3-8 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan


Hours: 10am to 7pm (late opening until 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and the days before national holidays). 

teamLab is represented by Pace Gallery.

October 26, 2018 | ArtTravel, Tokyo