Friday, 10 March 2017

teamLab: Transcending Boundaries at the Pace Gallery

Formed in 2001, teamLab is a Japanese collaborative group of digital experts from a number of different disciplines including art, programming, animation, mathematics and design. Preferring the term 'ultratechnologists' they aim to transcend the traditional boundaries between these fields, with influences ranging from pre-modern art and ancient calligraphy to contemporary anime.

In this exhibition at the Pace Gallery in Mayfair the worlds of art, technology and nature blur around you and blend into a fascinating new landscape.

We were first shown into a small side-room where we were able to leave our coats and were swathed in white shawls. Our guide then led us into Flowers Bloom on People, a completely dark room, and instructed us to keep as still as possible (FYI, sitting down with your legs outstretched gives you the best balance between comfort, effect and viewing options).

What happened next was captivating. Slowly, gradually, on us (hence the shawls) and on the floor beneath us, flowers started to bud, blossom and - if you moved, or touched them - disappear in a flurry of scattered petals. My companion and I changed positions at one point and the flowers gradually regrew and, rather wonderfully, formed a bridge between us.

I can see why there are strictly controlled time slots for visitors; it was so absorbing that not only did the time fly by ridiculously quickly but we could both have stayed in there for hours, enthralled. Courteously, firmly, we were ushered out and into the main room.

This was equally magical. Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries is basically a virtual waterfall that streams down the entire far wall and then along the floor, flowing around the feet and hands of the viewers as it comes into 'contact' with them. What is particularly cool is that, like the flower room, this is not a pre-recorded or looped video; the installations react to you, to the other people in the room and even to each other, meaning that what you are looking at has never been seen before - and will never be seen again.

In Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders, Ephemeral Life, a cloud of butterflies appears from wherever you are standing and flutters around, heading off into the other artworks and interacting with them; for example the butterflies will gravitate towards the flowers generated by Flowers and People, Transcending Boundaries - A Whole Year per Hour which sees a seasonal year of different flowers bloom and die over one hour.

Enso is a work in progress for teamLab, who have been working on 'spatial calligraphy' since the collective first formed. Enso is the Zen discipline of drawing a circle with a single stroke, either as a written brushstroke or drawn in mid-air using a stick or cane, representing enlightenment, truth and unity. This three-dimensional version encompasses the speed, direction and pressure of the brush stroke as well as the visual aspects of the ink mark, so you are caught up in the process of creation as well as the finished result.

We left, reluctantly, feeling as refreshed and uplifted as if we had just finished a yoga class or spent half the day in a spa. When I grow up I want this in a dedicated relaxation room in my house (I read somewhere that the Spellings had three separate gift-wrapping rooms in their Los Angeles mansion, so hey, why not?). The only way it could potentially be any better would be the addition of some kind of subtle fragrance to make it even more immersively sensory — a series of different florals for the flower room? Something fresh and ozone-y for the waterfall? (Oh, and perhaps an ice bucket tucked away in the corner for some fizz . . .)

This exhibition transcends boundaries of many kinds: those between art and technology, technology and nature, between art and the gallery space and between art and the viewer. It achieved all you can ask of art; it provoked an immediate emotional reaction and raised questions we were still debating for days afterwards. Come on, teamLab; this needs to be a permanent installation somewhere in London. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Yours, creating flowers from darkness,

London Girl About Town xx