SHIZUKA SASAKI – teamLab

Shizuka_Sasaki.jpg

Japanese collective teamLab's immersive installations and artworks blend technology and creativity bringing together ‘ultratechnologists’ from diverse digital fields. The Fizz chatted to director Shizuka Sasaki at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, host to exhibition ‘Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park’.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What’s your design philosophy?
Throughout our artworks and spatial design we try to make other people’s existence a positive thing. With conventional art, like the Mona Lisa, you want to look at it by yourself and not be distracted by others, but in our artworks there’s always interaction. If someone’s touching it, or sharing the space, it changes around that person and makes the artwork beautiful. So those viewing it appreciate other people’s existence. We create a positive relationship between yourself and others.

How does the collective work?
It was started by our founder Toshiyuki Inoko with five people in 2001, but has grown to over 500. Most of us are permanent, but some work on a contract basis. I’m a catalyst for teamLab. A catalyst creates a team of people to make each project happen, drawn from different technologies. Sometimes we need mathematicians, sometimes special sensor engineers, or artists, designers or architects. So we gather specific teams and liaise through meetings.

TOP: teamLab director and catalyst Shizuka Sasaki. ABOVE: Interactive digital installations at Sydney exhibition 'Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park' at Ultimo's Powerhouse Museum, including 'Light Ball Orchestra', 'Hopscotch for Geniuses' and 'Graffiti Nature – Mountains and Valleys'

What inspired your touring show ‘Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park’?
We began as an IT company. When one of the co-founder's sons was little, he noticed kids were just playing by themselves on phones and tablets, not playing together. He was shocked, so took away the child’s phone. But then he thought, ‘I’m in the IT industry, why am I taking technology away from my son? Technology should be able to bring people in, and let them play together or be more creative with each other.’ So that’s how we started developing the idea of bringing kids together to interact and play through technology in this Future Park. Even though we use technology it’s not just for one person, it’s for a lot of people. Everything is interactive, so if you’re playing by yourself – as with our coloured 'Light Ball Orchestra' exhibit – it’s fun, but if there were more people it would be a lot more fun. There would be more sounds, interactions and colour, so it gets better.

In Future Park's 'Sketch Town' zone kids can scan their coloured-in drawings into a digital artwork and then move them around by touch. How does it work?
There are around 12 different things you can draw and put into 'Sketch Town'’s world. You can touch the pictures and move them around, and they will jump and dance. There’s a limitation to the artwork’s screen size, so once around 300 to 350 drawings appear on it, then your spaceship, say, or truck will start fading away, but they will last for a few hours.

ABOVE: Powerhouse Museum exhibition 'Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park' in Sydney, including interactive digital installations 'Sketch Town', 'Sketch People' and 'A Table where Little People Live'

How important is interactivity to your work?
Everything is interactive. We don’t want to create artworks that you just watch. We want people to be involved and actually to affect the artwork itself.

Why did you choose art as your medium?
It could have been any medium because our aim is to change people’s perspective. We wanted to create something that isn’t just a Japanese thing, but a universal concept. That’s why art is good to work with.

Where do you get inspiration?
We get inspiration from everything – art and architecture – but often from nature. We always blur the boundaries between science and art, and realistic things and virtual things. When you look at flowers, distant mountains or waves you think, ‘why are they so beautiful?’ We break down why they’re beautiful and create something from that concept.

ABOVE: Recent 'NGV Triennial' installation 'Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement' for Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria. Visitors' movement is tracked by sensors that communicate via computer with projectors, creating a visual vortex expressed as a continuum of digital particles

Tell us about your recent digital installation for Melbourne’s ‘NGV Triennial’ exhibition?
The 'NGV Triennial' piece was a vortex on the floor, which responds to people’s movement like water. The faster the person moves, the stronger the force is applied in that direction. If a person is not moving, no flow will occur.

Australian gallery Martin Browne Contemporary also shows your digital artworks. Tell us more…
Our artworks keep changing, synchronising with nature, weather or real places. We can’t give away exactly how we connect them to the outside world, but there's something like a GPS always talking to the system, and we create an algorithm. Perhaps the weather outside will affect the weather inside the artwork, or alters the behaviour of its inhabitants. Artworks change with the seasons or time of day. One client bought this ever-changing floral artwork, went on holiday and came back to find the flowers were totally different. They called us to say they liked it better before, but we told them they would have to wait a year to see their favourite July flower again!

ABOVE: Two teamLab digital artworks exhibited by Sydney gallery Martin Browne Contemporary, including six-channel 'Four Seasons, a 1000 Years, Terraced Rice Fields – Tashibunosho' and endless 9-channel work 'Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity'

What’s your social media of choice?
We have Facebook, Twitter and our favourite Instagram. Instagram works well for us because our artwork is very photogenic, so people like taking pictures at our exhibitions and posting them online.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
We do a lot of projects all over the world, so I travel all the time. After this I go to China. We get inspiration from everywhere, with shows like ‘Future Park’ touring from Asia to the US and Europe.

What’s next for teamLab?
On 21 June we have a huge permanent exhibition coming up called 'teamLab Borderless' about transcending borders. It’s at the MORI Building in Odaiba, Tokyo, and involves 520 computers, 470 projectors, 40 artworks and 10,000 square metres of three-dimensional space. We’re exploring the idea of connecting all the artworks together so there will be no borders between them. Everything is linked in some way, so for instance those little guys you’re looking at will go out of the artwork and go into another world or appear over there. We also have a Paris exhibition starting in May called ‘teamLab Au-delà des limites’.

ABOVE: Upcoming temporary Paris show 'teamLab Au-delà des limites'; and permanent Tokyo exhibition 'teamLab Borderless', in which 'artworks leave rooms and move, artworks communicate with other artworks, and artworks fuse with other artworks', breaking down the boundaries between art, the viewer and other people

teamlab.art
‘Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park presented by Toyota’ is at the Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney, Australia, until 30 April 2018. It will also open at Yang Art Museum, 3rd Floor, Building 14, Solana, No 6 Chaoyang Park Road, Chaoyang, Beijing, China from 25 June to 7 October 2018.

Catch ‘teamLab Au-delà des limites’ at Grande Halle de La Villette, Parc de la Villette, 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, Paris, France, from 15 May to 9 September 2018. ‘Epson teamLab Borderless’ will be on show permanently at Mori Building Digital Art Museum at Palette Town, Odaiba, 1-3-8 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan, from 21 June 2018. See teamLab exhibitions for other current and future installations.

BRODIE NEILL Made in Ratio

Born in Australia, Brodie Neill's designs have proved a global hit. His eponymous London-based label crafts limited editions and public commissions, while his brand Made in Ratio produces eye-catching furniture and lighting. A furniture design graduate from Tasmania, he has created work for Italian firms Kundalini and Riva 1920, as well as one-off projects for Austrian crystal company Swarovski and British fashion guru Alexander McQueen.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired you to start Made in Ratio?
I set up Made in Ratio in 2013 to create a more accessible furniture collection to sit alongside the limited edition and commission pieces produced by my studio, but one that still maintained my trademark high quality of form, originality and innovation. 

What’s the brand’s design vision?
To bring thoughtful and progressive ideas to life that are in perfect proportion: of form and function, time-honoured and new materials, traditional hand craftsmanship and boundary-pushing digital process. 

ABOVE: Brodie Neill with his sculptural 2015 'Wishbone' seats, three-way organic benches commissioned by Hobart's Brooke Street Pier
ABOVE RIGHT: The stackable 'Alpha' chair with A-shaped back

ABOVE: The head-turning 'Supernova' table and 'Alpha' chair helped put Neill's London-based brand Made in Ratio on the map, combining traditional craftsmanship with digital technology

Your ‘Supernova’ table and ‘Alpha’ chair have helped make your name. Tell us more.
Both ‘Supernova’ and ‘Alpha’ are the result of organic engineering, inspired by nature and refined through technology. The ‘Supernova’ trestle is formed by pouring 100 per cent recycled molten aluminium into a sand casted mould. We combined an ancient manufacturing process with environmental sustainability to produce a modern product with a long lifespan. A toughened glass top rests on the star-shaped trestles, which can be positioned in various multiples and orientations to create a dining table, desk or coffee table.

Our ‘Alpha’ chair is inspired by whale vertebrae that wash up on the shores of Tasmania’s coast. The name is derived from the A-shaped structure of the back legs and backrest, which give the chair its strength. ‘Alpha’ is formed from six components individually CNC-shaped and assembled into the single seamless form using traditional and contemporary woodworking techniques.

What projects do you have coming up?
2016 kicked off with Made in Ratio presenting our collection at January's Maison&Objet design fair in Paris, including reiterations of some of our most recognised pieces. We are planning events at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan and the London Design Festival. In Australia, I was delighted to be shortlisted for the recent Rigg Design Prize exhibition at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria. Made in Ratio also has exciting projects coming up in 2016 through its commercial partner Living Edge design store in Australia. In Hobart, we have designed the ‘Wishbone’ sculptural seating for the Brooke Street Pier, which is now open to the public.

BELOW: Made in Ratio's 2013 'Cowrie Rocker' rocking lounger takes its cue from the concave curves of seashells. The sweeping all-in-one structure is formed from plywood with a veneer of natural ash, ebonised ash, walnut or oak.

photo: brooke holm

photo: brooke holm

Do you still work independently as Brodie Neill on design-art and limited edition commissions? Or does Made in Ratio dominate your time?
The two studios work hand-in-hand and our research and experimentation for projects in one studio informs our work in the other. I established Made in Ratio as a small, self-produced collection to complement my complete creative output. Currently, under the Brodie Neill arm, we are working on private commissions in Asia and the USA, new furniture products for Italian brand Riva 1920, and ‘Portal’, an eight-metre sculpture for Brooke Street Pier on the waterfront of Tasmania's capital Hobart, a landmark meeting point that will be installed mid-2016.

Where do you get inspiration?
The beauty and complexity found in nature continues to be my biggest source of inspiration; over millennia, through evolution, nature has already resolved many of the design challenges we face today. This inspiration manifests itself in the overall form as well as the details in my designs.

ABOVE: Moulded from a single piece of Corian, Made in Ratio's 2014 'Pleat' indoor/outdoor bench effortlessly overlaps at each end to create an elegant silhouette

How do the UK and Australian design scenes differ?
With the help of modern communication, the two countries are now closer than ever before and through recent projects, I’ve been lucky to be part of both. London is nearer to other established design capitals such as Milan, Paris and Stockholm as well as burgeoning design scenes in cities including Berlin, Lodz and Ljubljana, which all influence the vibrancy of the creative scene and diversity of work across Europe. 

In Australia it’s great to see local design getting the chance to shine, thanks to some fantastic recent projects, with more currently underway all over the country. Through Made in Ratio’s partnership with Living Edge we are fortunate to be part of these exciting schemes.

Globally, we’re seeing a shift away from the bigger brands of Europe and North America – these guys still control the market share don’t get me wrong! – but we’re seeing a scope for smaller operations as alternatives and this suits locally designed and produced pieces in Australia and throughout the world. 

What’s currently exciting you in design, architecture or art?
I find it inspiring to see materials being used in original ways and innovation in processes where new life is breathed into forgotten crafts through the aid of digital design. It’s also at the crossroads of previously defined design fields that the real magic happens, where science meets art, nature meets technology and the old meets the new. Preconceived design disciplines are discarded allowing contemporary creatives to roam free across uncharted territory.

ABOVE: The 'Supernova' table in a fresh incarnation, supported by a trio of trestles in spaceage shapes and tempting turquoise

Which design era has influenced you the most?
The pioneering period of the 1950s and 60s has been particularly influential in my designs. It was a very potent time of experimenting with new materials and technologies. The era also saw an emergence of playfulness in designers and their sculptural ideas for the home.

Where’s on your travel wishlist?
I have just returned from the IMM Cologne design show and Paris. Over the next few months, I have some trips planned in Europe to meet the craftspeople we work with and visit factories. I am also keen to build on our success in the Far East and will be travelling to China and Japan towards the middle of the year and then Australia. 

What’s your social media of choice?
Design is inherently a visual industry so Instagram and Twitter lend themselves really well as platforms where we can tell stories through images and also seek inspiration and keep in touch with wider industry trends. Follow us on @madeinratio and @brodieneill.
madeinratio.com   brodieneill.com