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.

SHIGERU BAN

Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is a champion of disaster relief, pioneering the use of temporary paperchip and shipping container shelters, and balancing pro bono projects with commercial work. As an inspiring show at Sydney's Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) explores his humanitarian structures, we met this maverick talent.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What's your design philosophy?
Problem-solving. Problems solved by design.

What inspired you to get involved with disaster relief?
I was tired of working for privileged people who had money and power. I like to design monuments, but I was quite disappointed that I was mainly working for privileged people, not the general public. Earthquakes don't kill people, but building materials do. I saw the very poor condition of temporary housing after natural and man-made disasters, and I thought I could improve the condition of these facilities. For me there is no difference between my pro bono and commercial work because I have the same interest and energy for both, and I get the same satisfaction. 

What materials intrigue you?
I use any materials available locally, such as paperchip – not paper by itself – which exists anywhere in the world, and is cheap, strong and lightweight. Even when I was working in Rwanda I found a paperchip factory in the capital Kigali. I'm especially interested in humble materials. If say I used steel, it's a wonderful material, you can do anything with it, but wood and paper have many more limitations. I'm interested in designing with the limitations of the material. Paper is interesting because it's lighter and weaker. I like to take advantage of the weakness of this material to make something different. 

TOP: Japanese architect Shigeru Ban
ABOVE: Ban's Cardboard Cathedral for Christchurch, New Zealand, was built as a community gathering space after the 2011 earthquake devastated the city's historic stone cathedral (see our earlier post). An interactive model of it forms part of Sydney exhibition 'The Inventive Work of Shigeru Ban, SCAF Projects 34 & 35'

What's next for you in terms of disaster relief?
I don't know, I hope I won't be busy! My goal is to make buildings that will be demolished. Shelters that will be dismantled after six months, with materials that can be recycled and reused after, with no waste. The problem is people don't want to move out of my temporary houses, so many of them are becoming permanent!

So is the line blurring between permanent and temporary buildings?
Concrete can be very temporary if developers get rid of it, whereas paper structures can be permanent as long as people love them, like my emergency cathedral for Christchurch. I would like to continue building monuments to be loved by people. Besides, beauty doesn’t come from the kind of material you use, it comes from the proportions. Creating light, shadow, natural ventilation and space between inside and outside are what make living conditions beautiful. 

ABOVE: Two original-scale reproductions of Ban's emergency structures occupy SCAF's Courtyard Garden. His paper log houses for Kobe, Japan (1995), and Ecuador (2016-ongoing) were designed in response to earthquakes and cost around US$2,000 a unit to build. Note the care taken to match the sandbag-filled, donated beer crate bases to the huts

After designing France's Centre Pompidou-Metz in 2010, your Paris concert hall La Scene Musicale was unveiled in April. Tell us more.
It was a former factory site on the Île Seguin. They wanted the design to be a symbol for the western gateway of Paris. I'm not the kind of person to develop unusual shapes. For me it's very challenging to design something iconic and monumental. I made a sail of solar panels, which rotates around a curved timber-clad auditorium, following the sun. Mosaic tiles inside the concert hall change colour from green to red.

What's currently exciting you in design or style?
Nothing new comes out anymore. Generally speaking, architects don't like inventing. People are afraid to be sued. If you do something innovative or experimental you can be sued very easily, especially in the United States. Now everyone's competing with different, funny shapes, which can be created by computer easily. They're interesting, but it's not innovative technology.

Any ideas for a solution to affordable urban housing?
I don't know why this is a problem because there are so many ideas to make affordable housing – as long as developers don't mind making less profit! It's not about creating tiny houses, it's about the construction method. Even with the same space we can make a comfortable house inexpensively. But cities are no longer being designed by urban planners or the government, now commercial developers are leading the way.

ABOVE: Installation details of SCAF's Kobe shelter, which features thick paper tubes for walls, lined with insulation and topped off with tent material; The Ecuador house teams paper tube walls with green-hued bamboo sheets, plus a thatched roof. Both eco-friendly units include toilets, and are easy to dismantle or recycle

Where or how do you find inspiration?
I don't suddenly get inspired by other things. I just continue developing my original ideas to the next stage, little by little. Rather than keeping an eye on cutting-edge trends or magazines, I'm just busy developing my own stuff, as I don't want to be influenced by others.

Who are your design heroes?
Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto. I like architects who invent their own material or structural system, because I hate to be influenced by the fashionable styles of the day. They both invented their own systems to design things according to the material. I was lucky to collaborate with Otto on my Japan Pavilion for Hanover's Expo 2000 and I learned a lot from him. He always tried to use the minimum material and minimum energy to make maximum space. My favourite architect though is Alvar Aalto. I designed an Aalto exhibition in Tokyo in 1986, but didn't want to waste precious wood for a temporary space. That's when I discovered that paperchip, made of recycled paper which I turned into a tube, was much stronger that I'd expected and inexpensive.

ABOVE: Inside, the SCAF exhibition features scale models, videos, and examples of building joints and partition systems developed by Ban for his temporary shelters; A model details the interior of the emergency cathedral for Christchurch, New Zealand, including bespoke furniture; Another showcases the sinuous roof of Ban's Japan Pavilion for Hanover's Expo 2000, a collaboration with late German architect Frei Otto

Where's on your travel wish list?
I love travelling... to enjoy the local food and wine. That's why I love coming to Australia! I commute every week between Tokyo and Paris, where I have offices. Usually I travel at weekends, so as not to waste the week days.

What should a design fan see in Tokyo?
I would recommend going to Kyoto instead. In Tokyo most of the buildings are designed by big firms, who aren't usually very good architects, so they're boring. It's the same for most major cities, whereas Kyoto has many interesting innovations. It's a more traditional town, and making buildings was so difficult in the past that you needed great ideas and craftsmanship.

What's your social media of choice?
I don't do it at all. Does my office use Instagram? I don't know!
shigerubanarchitects.com  sherman-scaf.org.au

'The Inventive Work of Shigeru Ban' is at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, 16-20 Goodhope Street, Paddington, Sydney until 1 July 2017 (open 11am-5pm, Wednesday to Saturday)

Pictures: Brett Boardman (SCAF)

MICHAEL ANASTASSIADES

Cypriot-born, London-based designer Michael Anastassiades is known for his pared back aesthetic and sculptural, one-of-a-kind lighting. A former Royal College of Art and Imperial College graduate, his perfectly poised designs use simple geometric shapes that complement both contemporary interiors and elegant homes

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

How would you describe your work and philosophy?
‘Reduced’ is how I would sum it up. I don’t like to use the word 'minimal' because I feel that is misunderstood in terms of design. What I’m looking for is simplicity. I like to remove excess information from the visual language of the object to distill it to a point where actually, what I decide to give it, is the bare minimum. I believe this is really important in communicating the idea behind an object.

Tell us about your new products for Italian lighting firm Flos. 
The ideas were different for each one. In the case of 'Captain Flint', it was about trying to make a light that works in a doorway. On the one hand, it can be a reading light next to a sofa, but by simply changing the direction you have an uplighter for a more ambient atmosphere, or you can even direct the spot against a wall or specific object. On a practical level, it is a light that works in all sorts of scenarios. The inspiration plays on the idea of balance. The cone balances on its tip, on a stick, which is an extension of the collection of the 'IC' light.

ABOVE: Michael Anastassiades with his 'String Light Cone Head' pendant lights for Flos, inspired by electricity pylon power lines
ABOVE RIGHT AND BELOW: 'Captain Flint' can be rotated through 360 degrees. It comes in two finishes – brushed brass with a white Carrara marble base and anthracite with a black Marquinia marble base

What is your starting point?
In the case of my latest collection for Flos, I addressed the notion of balance. There is a sense of anxiety, almost. How is it possible? How can a cone balance on a stick? The practicalities of a design are subconscious. They are always there and you have to solve them at the end of the day.

What draws you to lighting?
Lighting for me is fascinating because it is special. It is not the same as any other product design. It has to work in two different scenarios: when it is on and when it is off, and this duality is very challenging. When it is off, you view it as an object and the space it occupies but suddenly, when the bulb is switched on, then it exists in an entirely different way. The way it interacts with other objects, in terms of casting shadows changes everything. Of course, light is a very beautiful and very poetic medium and that is what attracted me to it in the first place.

BELOW: Also for Flos, Anastassiades' spherical 'Extra' table lamp plays with balance, and comes in bronze, graphite and silver finishes; The 'Copycat' light is composed of two connecting spheres. The large illuminated globe is contrasted by a smaller one in polished aluminium, electroplated 24 carat gold, black nickel or copper

Which of your lighting designs are your favourites?
I live with very few objects in my home and so the things that I choose are carefully selected. In terms of my own designs, I like living with them but it tends to work on a rotational basis because I don’t have space for all of them. There are different reasons why I like something. Sometimes it is sentimental in the sense that it could be one of my early pieces of work. Sometimes it could be a reminder of an experience that I’ve had.

ABOVE: Another balancing act is pulled off by the 'IC' standard and table lamps in chrome and brushed brass

Beyond lighting, is there any new design territory you would like to tackle?
I am already working on furniture. I have a partnership with US brand Herman Miller that allows me to explore that world, however, lighting is really my passion, my preference. The collaboration with Flos is important. We started in 2011 and the first product launch was in 2013.

Who are your design heroes?
I have many. I wouldn’t say they were heroes. It’s too much load to bear, I think, to be a hero. For me, I like different designers in the same way that I like a lot of artists' work. I am more inspired by art than I am by design.

Photo by HIT1912/iStock / Getty Images

Where’s on your travel wish list?
Unfortunately, I only go to places where work takes me. There is very little time to explore other parts. Cyprus and Greece are special destinations when it comes to choosing places to rest but they don’t excite me like Tokyo, for example, which I find fascinating. I’ve been many times but I always like to go back.

What’s your social media of choice?
I am quite distant from it. I do use Facebook, and Instagram I find interesting, but all these things consume you in a way that I don’t really like. I like to get inspiration from observation instead. They are good tools to keep in touch with people but that is the best use I can think of for them.
michaelanastassiades.com  studiomichaelanastassiades.com

Pictures: Frank Huelsboemer, Giuseppe Brancato, Getty Images