Toshiyuki Inoko, Founder of teamLab, was born in Japan in 1977. Shortly after graduating from University of Tokyo in 2011, he established teamLab with his friends. teamLab is a group of specialists from various backgrounds including engineers, programmers, CG animators, designers, editors and architects, and they are working to expand the definition of art using digital technology and change people’s mind by art. In our interview, we asked him about his unique view of arts, teamLab’s art pieces and the current exhibition at Japan Society in New York.
Interview with Toshiyuki Inoko
– What is the concept and highlights of the current exhibition at Japan Society in New York?
This time, we have exhibited three pieces, two of which are interactive works.
“United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World” was created based on an artwork by Ito Jakuchu, an Edo-period painter. It is an interactive digital art piece since it gradually changes in response to viewers’ gestures.
There is also a space that showcases “Flowers and People – Gold and Dark” that has the function to make flowers fall when you touch them and to keep the flowers blooming when you remain a certain distance from them. Flowers bloom and die naturally without any interruption by humans. But in this art piece, the lives of flowers become shorter when you touch them and more flowers bloom if you stay away from them.
These kinds of interactive artworks are affected by viewers’ behaviors and they become complete art pieces by including viewers rather than having them as observers.
Flowers and People – Gold and Dark teamLab, 2014, Interactive digital installation, Sound: Hideaki Takahashi
– Please tell us about team members of the project as well as the process from the design to the completion of your artwork.
“Life survives by the power of life” is created by a 3D CG animation team. First of all, we created a three-dimensional space on a computer and drew flowers and calligraphic brush strokes for the art piece in that space. Then, we transformed the drawings into animations using our theory of a logical structure of space called “Ultra Subjective Space.”
For “United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World,” we drew motifs inspired from Ito Jakuchu’s painting and then our CG team made three-dimensional objects of the drawings, which were then animated in a three dimensional space. The video was edited by computer to make tiles that make the mural change into abstract pixels when viewers face the tiles. The team for the project was made up of artists, a group of people for 3D animation, and engineers for the sensors.
I don’t envision the completed final versions of our artworks from the beginning. They are created through trial and error and we continually make improvements to our art pieces.
生命は生命の力で生きている / Life survives by the power of life
– What made you establish teamLab?
The main purpose of launching teamLab is to fulfill my personal interest. Not by myself, but with people with various specialties enabling us to experiment with a lot of new things. I wanted to offer a place where we can create and learn something new through experimentation. That’s why my company’s name includes the word “Lab.”
Right before going to college, the Internet came out and I recognized the coming of a new digital society, which led me to have an interest in creating something new in that new society. I was especially interested in changing people’s sense of value by innovation through technology and the arts.
However, the technological innovation had already been made by talented people in Silicon Valley – at such a spectacular level that I couldn’t compete with it. Therefore, I decided to focus on expanding the definition of art using digital technology and changing people’s minds by art, both of which hadn’t been done in Silicon Valley.
– Which aspects of the arts did you focus on?
Since I was little I have been immersed in computer games and comic books. For me they captured a space in a different way from that of Western perception, such as the space captured by a camera.
One day, when I looked at a traditional Japanese art painting, I felt the way that the computer games and comic books are depicted on a flat screen is similar to that of traditional Japanese paintings. Then I started to look at many old Japanese paintings, and felt that old Japanese artists may have had a different spatial logic than that of Western perspective that fixes your view when you flatten a three-dimensional space. In the ideas of physics, which was my major at college, lenses and Western arts are considered to be a logical way to convert a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional space. However, I thought flat pictures of traditional Japanese arts are a result of a unique Japanese logic to convert a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional flat screen.
It was at the time when I was about to go to college that the internet rolled out, and I was so interested in the areas of computers, digital, Internet and computer networks that I started to think I wanted to work in that field. Computers enabled me to interpret a three-dimensional world to a two-dimensional space in a variety of ways, so by using the computers I was trying to find out the Japanese spatial logic that is common to the old Japanese arts. Then by using that logic, I started to create Japanese art pieces myself.
Ever Blossoming Life – Gold / 増殖する生命 – Gold
– What did you want to represent in your artworks?
A reason that I started to create the artworks is because I wanted to find out the old Japanese spatial logic that is different from the Western perspective. When you look back at history, after big revolutions new ideas were introduced and completely new societies were established. In that process, things that had been important before the revolutions turned out not to be and vice versa. Therefore, I thought the old Japanese spatial concept was something that was disregarded in the modern society because there were no benefits to us. However, I believe there are some tips for the new society in that idea and I’m interested in finding it out and making things that go on into the future.
When you look for the traditional Japanese spatial logic, a common approach would be to read through old documents as historians do, but in my case I created simulations using a computer since my background is in physics. In the beginning, I had no idea about how the benefits from the traditional Japanese perspective go along with this new society and I started to find it out through a process of making my own artworks. So I kept making art pieces without thinking of places to showcase them.
Ever Blossoming Life – Dark / 増殖する生命 – Dark
– What are characteristics of teamLab’s artworks?
Digital technology enables things to change forever, and teamLab creates art that keeps changing by using digital technology. Since these pictures never stop changing, we cannot design it perfectly and we accept unexpected changes in the course of eternal change. Nevertheless, we need to continue to keep the beauty of these pictures at the same level during the change. In order to do so, we make use of the benefits of Japanese traditional spatial logic of what we call “Ultra Subjective Space.”
The Western perspective that is represented in photographs depicts the most beautiful moment. But in videos it is almost impossible to keep everything in a perfectly beautiful manner. Although it is hard even in a 3-minute video our artworks change eternally and the same moment does not happen even in 100 years. “Ultra Subjective Space” made it possible to keep the same level of beauty in our art pieces.
“Flowers and People – Gold and Dark,” one of the art pieces that we have exhibited at Japan Society, has flowers all over the floor and walls. Behind the artwork is a space where flowers are blooming. If you consider a space as a combination of surfaces and project objects on the wall, the objects are distorted. However, it doesn’t happen to our artwork of “Flowers and People – Gold and Dark.”, even though we didn’t program when and where the flowers bloom. Since it all depends on the viewers’ reaction, our artwork keeps a certain level of beauty all the time.
In the past every cultural area had its different perception of space. I want to pursue an old Japanese spatial perspective since I happened to grow up in Japan.
– The exhibition at Japan Society was preceded by an exhibition at a Pace Gallery in New York in the summer of 2014. How have New Yorkers responded to your art works?
Ultimately New Yorkers have shown the same reaction as Japanese. But I think it implies many more meanings. Japan has been facing issues of aging population and older people have more money and power than the younger generation. In Japan even if people around my generation like my artworks, it is hard to get support and help from older people, so I end up not being invited to major events. However, in New York, young and talented people have power and money. Also, older people have more pressure to keep up with an up-to-date society. I like New York in that respect. If I have a chance, I would like to show my works again in New York. I will go wherever people ask me to go.
Founder of teamLab, was born in Tokushima in Japan in 1977. Shortly after earning a bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Engineering and Information Physics from the University of Tokyo in 2001, he established teamLab with his friends. teamLab is an ultra-technological group that is made up of 350 specialists from various backgrounds including engineers, programmers, CG animators, designers, editors and architects. The mission of the company is to introduce something interesting to the world by using digital technology with the collaboration of specialists in various fields. Recently their work has expanded not only to Japan but also to Asia, America and Europe.