Artist's Thoughts

Why does teamLab continue to seek a “world without boundaries”?

teamLab’s founder, Toshiyuki Inoko, and art critic Tsunehiro Uno talk about teamLab Borderless.

Part of a four year dialogue between teamLab’s founder, Toshiyuki Inoko, and art critic Tsunehiro Uno about teamLab Borderless. The text is reproduced from the book "Advancing Humanity: teamLab’s Borderless World".

Inoko Toshiyuki, Uno Tsunehiro "Jinrui Wo Mae Ni Susumetai : teamLab To Kyokai No Nai Sekai", PLANETS, 2019, p.220-228

Jinrui Wo Mae Ni Susumetai
Inoko Toshiyuki, Uno Tsunehiro
JPY 3080 (tax included)

teamLab Borderless is breathtakingly massive

In June of 2018, during the exhibition period in Paris, the permanent museum teamLab Borderless (hereafter Borderless) opened in Odaiba, Tokyo. Art Critic Uno witnessed much of the exhibition setup, and also experienced several of the artworks after the museum opened. Based on the exhibition in Paris, he speaks passionately about his impressions. UNO: It seems that you were working on the Paris exhibition and Borderless in Odaiba at roughly the same time. As the titles suggest, both Odaiba and Paris share the same message, though in a different form.

Graffiti Nature - High Mountains and Deep Valleys, Red List © teamLab
Graffiti Nature - High Mountains and Deep Valleys, Red List © teamLab
Multi Jumping Universe © teamLab

INOKO: Actually, I haven’t used the word “borderless” directly until now. I feel that the world is currently heading in a terrifying direction. And in that atmosphere, I wanted to create a continuous, borderless, and beautiful world. To explain more concretely, Borderless is composed of five worlds with their own concepts. The first is the Borderless World. Art moves from the place where it is displayed, and it has the same flow of time as the visitors’ bodies. And by communicating with one another, the artworks create a single world without borders. The second world is called teamLab Athletics Forest. I’ll talk about it in more detail later, but in a nutshell, it is an effort to update one’s “physical knowledge.” The third is called Future Park (and it has works such as Sketch Aquarium, Sliding through the Fruit Field, and others). The fourth is the Forest of Lamps. Here, we display the work Forest of Resonating Lamps - One Stroke, which we showed in France in 2016. And the fifth world is the cafe EN TEA HOUSE, which we created in collaboration with Hirotoshi Maruwaka’s EN TEA. Here, when the tea is poured into a teacup, visitors can experience an artwork of infinitely blooming flowers (Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup).

Inverted Globe, Giant Connecting Block Town © teamLab
Uno poses in silhouette in front of Flowers Bombing in Paris.

UNO: By the way, the scale really surprised me. INOKO: Borderless is packed with artworks, to the extent that the walls, floors, and ceilings are filled with art. The museum has an enormous area of 10,000 square meters. UNO: I think it’s essential to discuss the challenge of this scale. I think it’s inevitable that visitors would have a different experience at this scale. Most existing art exhibitions can be viewed in a few hours at most, and I think that most previous teamLab exhibitions fell into this category as well. But this time, to really see everything would require at least half a day, making it almost like a theme park. If I were to try to see everything, I don’t think I would be able to even after spending a whole day here. INOKO: Rather, I don’t want you to see everything. In the first place, the artworks are always moving between various places, so it is impossible to grasp the whole picture. For instance, in the Crows series of works (Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space - Floating Nest), crows fly out from a space and enter the spaces of other artworks. In this way, rather than having physical boundaries between artworks, this is an exhibition where the artworks themselves show different aspects depending on where they are going and with what media they are shown. UNO: That certain artworks affect others, making the boundaries between artwork spaces disappear, is a concept that we first saw in your 2017 exhibition in London (see Chapter 9), but this time, the works change form when they move. But that’s just natural evolution, isn’t it. Or rather, it’s impossible otherwise. It would be meaningless if you yourself didn’t change, despite being free of boundaries.

The entrance to teamLab Borderless is right next to the staircase leading to the Daikanransha (ferris wheel) in Odaiba, where all kinds of people come and go.
Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup and Tea Tree © teamLab
During the photoshoot for this book in Forest of Resonating Lamps, Inoko told Uno about his signature dish “Inoko (Wild Boar) Hot Pot.” (Photographer: Jun Imajo)
Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Floating Nest © teamLab

INOKO: Up until now, artworks were considered to be an artist’s thoughts condensed into something material. But art made using digital technology is separated and released from the material, so an artist’s thoughts are no longer a thing itself. Rather, an artist can directly condense their thoughts into the user’s experience itself. When that happens, it becomes an optimal space and time, rather than just items lined up for exposure. For instance, it is more natural for human beings to move, so if an artwork is to be condensed into people’s experiences, I thought it would be good for the work itself to move in the same way as people. Also, a person’s time progresses from moment to moment, but the time of an artwork might stop or cut if it’s a video. I think this creates a boundary in spacetime, and I would like to eliminate that boundary. UNO: In other words, art in traditional museums was a control of space. That is, in a place that offers the physical experience of viewing something from a certain standing point, all you’re doing is seeing how the light reflected from an artwork hits your eyes. In contrast, teamLab is adding control of time to this. My point is that with visual culture in the 20th century, such as film dramas, people were not forced to align their time with the time of the artwork. In teamLab’s exhibitions, even when we are moving around freely without actively immersing ourselves, the artworks consume us. I think this is the answer to the problem of paintings not being interactive. You said something insightful earlier about the Mona Lisa, isn’t that right? (see Chapter 1) INOKO: I said that I disliked the crowds in front of the Mona Lisa because the painting isn’t interactive. UNO: Right. If the work changes because of the presence of other viewers, it would actually be preferable for there to be some crowds in front of the Mona Lisa, I think is what you were saying. But it’s an intervention of art and technology in interpersonal relationships, so to speak. It’s creating a situation in which the existence of others actually enriches the world. In contrast, these works intervene in the relationship between humans and time. We wandered around thinking, “Have I seen this already?” and our normal senses of space and time were lost. But this “lostness” itself was a part of experiencing the artwork. INOKO: Right, right. I wanted the artwork’s and my own body’s time to align naturally and for that boundary to disappear. UNO: I think this project started a few years ago when you said, “There are no physical boundaries in the 21st century.” That’s because in today’s world, it is difficult to partition or divide things. For instance, in the industrial society, a person’s lifestyle and worldview would have differed depending on whether they had a car or a walkman. But now, the influence of software such as Google is much stronger. And I think what that controls is ultimately humanity’s sense of time: how we use our free time, shopping on Amazon to save time, and so on. The moment the internet came out, the importance of space dropped dramatically. In that way, I think time divides the world more than spatial things. For instance, don’t we say “dog years”? I think that people working in the information industry in urban areas like Tokyo or London and people working in car manufacturing in the Rust Belt have totally different senses of time. That is why if we don’t intervene in the perception of time, the boundaries of the world will not disappear. I think this is a fairly fundamental change. INOKO: I see. UNO: It’s impossible to copy time. I’m sure there are people who would want to see the work Mona Lisa many times, but to put it extremely, if you had a perfect memory, wouldn’t it be enough to just see it once? But at teamLab’s exhibitions, since the artworks change depending on the time, each experience is completely unique. We can already in theory produce higher resolution images than the human retina can perceive. I think this trend began when reproduction technology was created, but if that were the case, things that can be reduced to information, such as beautiful photos or images, would have become less valuable. I feel a little bad saying this, but it’s very easy for us to get something that is almost the same as the real Mona Lisa. So I think it’s very important that teamLab is trying to intervene in our perception of time.

Experience Physical/Three-Dimensional Knowledge

Two people discuss the truths of the world in order to move humanity forward. In Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather (Photographer: Jun Imajo)

UNO: Just like in the Paris exhibition, where the line between “exhibition” and “atelier” became blurred, Borderless in Odaiba blurred the boundaries between artworks. But furthermore, it included an athletic exhibition inside where both adults and children could play together. INOKO: This (Athletics Forest) is a floor based around the concept of understanding the world through your body and thinking in three dimensions. You could say we promote the idea of “physical knowledge” (see Chapter 6). Above all, I am interested in “spatial awareness.” In fact, it is said that this ability is closely tied to innovation and creativity. Nature, such as forests or mountains, are extremely complex, three-dimensional space. UNO: It does seem that everything in the world is three-dimensional, other than man made structures. INOKO: Right. So the urban space is too flat, and paper, televisions, and smartphones are flat as well. When thinking about the world just with your head in a flat way, two-dimensional thinking becomes widespread. That’s why in this Athletics Forest project, visitors are forced to enter a complex, three-dimensional space to improve their spatial awareness. On this floor, there are three-dimensional artworks of varying shapes and sizes that you can’t move past without mobilizing your entire body. For example, in this work (Multi Jumping Universe), which was developed by teamLab, multiple people can jump on a trampoline at the same time. The place where you are standing rises or sinks depending on the influence of the person jumping beside you. UNO: The world of Athletics Forest also has the largest Graffiti Nature (Graffiti Nature - High Mountains and Deep Valleys). It really does feel like you’re climbing a mountain. I had to walk carefully, and I was surprised how it felt like an actual dungeon from an RPG! INOKO: We hope to make a creative athletic space where people can develop the hippocampus in the brain and enhance their spatial awareness through the experience of understanding the world with the body and thinking about the world three-dimensionally. I think that the ability to think about the world three-dimensionally is, as the term implies, a dimension different from conventional knowledge. Well, what I really want to say is that it should be called, “higher-dimensional thinking,” but that’s hard to understand, so I call it “three-dimensional.”

Evolving from “Two-Dimensional” to “Three-Dimensional” Thinking

UNO: I think the basis of teamLab’s activities over the past few years has been to start with the creation of animated works in a monitor based on the theory of “ultrasubjective space,” and then to move that to three dimensions. I think it was a surprise to be able to enjoy something that we thought only existed in a fictional world in a three-dimensional reality. This, combined with the fact that a world without boundaries can only exist in the art world created by teamLab, I think, overlaps beautifully as a metaphorical relationship. For instance, you often say that peace is the most important thing. Nations and peace don’t exist in reality, but we live believing that they do exist in the world. I think that these things that don’t actually exist but are in our brains are very two-dimensional. And now we can’t believe in things that don’t exist without human imagination. At this time, you use the power of technology to bring the 2D into the 3D, so that you can believe in those things. And I think that in itself is what drives the power of computers to bring our society closer to a nature’s borderless world. INOKO: For example, what is perceived as strongly individual is a natural part of the continuity of the world, it happens to live in this continuity of small and trivial things, and I think that in itself is very beautiful. And I think that all of the things that we recognize as definitely visible, all of the things that we take for granted and believed to be universal, are actually a fragile and ephemeral part of this continuity in the world. UNO: I think I mentioned that I’m doing a series of articles in “Shousetsu Tripper” (“Pan-Image Theory”), and I wrote that teamLab is trying to break down three boundaries: the boundary between humans and each other, the boundary between artworks and each other, and the boundary between humans and the world. But I think that the boundary between two and three dimensions that we’re talking about may be a different, fourth boundary. Ultimately, I think it’s a boundary between life and death… I’d like to think about this a little more. INOKO: After all, in order for humanity to move forward, we need to break down stereotypes. And I think that destruction comes with creation as a set… Aside from that (laughs), I’d like for Borderless to become a place where people who love this world can come back twenty or thirty times a year to play over and over again.

Inoko during the installation of Borderless. For some reason, Inoko looks good in a helmet. © teamLab