SHIZUKA SASAKI – teamLab

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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

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‘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.

LAB DE STU

Cutting-edge Melbourne design collective LAB DE STU has a knack for creating furniture and lights in graphic contemporary shapes and interesting colours. The trio – including Adam Lynch and Dale Hardiman (of Dowel Jones) and André Hnatojko – is also involved with limited edition, design-art platform 1-OK Club and unveils new collection's this week at 2016's Maison&Objet Asia, where they're exhibiting as Rising Asian Talents.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What’s with your name?
The name LAB DE STU is short for Laboratory Design Studio. It originally explained the vision of the studio, but was shortened soon after for ease because one of the designers had a stutter. This shortened name also reflected the change from studio to collective. 2016 sees LAB DE STU evolve into a brand.

How did you three hook up and what do you each bring to the party?
We met studying Furniture Design at Melbourne's RMIT together in 2011. We were quite young when we first founded the studio, so we really banded together as we were all friends. We each have very different focuses so the most important thing is that we all bring diverse perspectives and opinions.

ABOVE FROM LEFT: LAB DE STU trio Adam Lynch and Dale Hardiman (of Dowel Jones) and André Hnatojko
ABOVE RIGHT: The flat-packed 'Mr. Dowel Jones' tripod light by Dowel Jones. Made of Tasmanian oak and rubber, it comes in desk or floor sizes
BELOW: Launching at 2016's Maison&Objet Asia is Dowel Jones's first wire product, the 'Bradley Hooper' side table, coffee table and stool available in various colours and tops

What do you like to design and what’s your style?
We don’t strive to have a specific style, we are informed by market research and conversations with our manufacturers. Our style may be representative of who we work with.

Tell us about your Maison&Objet Asia exhibition?
As we all produce different work under the name LAB DE STU, we’ve decided to unify the designs through the use of colour. All but two works in the exhibition will be from new collections never seen before. Maison&Objet Asia will see the presentation of three new collections: André Hnatojko will be releasing his latest range of lighting, and Dale Hardiman and Adam Lynch’s brand Dowel Jones will release two furniture collections, including the steel 'Bradley Hooper' side tables, inspired by basketball hoops, which come in two frame sizes with tops in cork, walnut or ash.

How do you feel about being showcased as part of Asia’s design scene?
We’ve been recognised through various awards programmes and exhibitions within Australia since our founding in 2011, but we’ve never been labelled as rising talent internationally, so it’s greatly appreciated and quite amazing to be representing Australia and Australian design at Maison&Objet Asia. We’ve been lucky enough to present work in Europe over the years, but never in Asia, so the ability to exhibit in Singapore is fantastic. 

BELOW FROM LEFT: Dale Hardiman and Ash Allen's limited-edition 'Factory Works' vessel for 1-OK Club in extruded rubber coil, set on a found glass object that was then smashed; Dowel Jones's graphic 'Mr Merger' pendant light, in brass and rubber, with rotatable heads

Where or how do you get inspiration?
Inspiration comes from problem solving and usually from the most uncommon of places. Our practices involve looking at preexisting product typologies or problems and exploring them with the aid of manufacturers. We find the most interesting projects can come from visiting the strangest factories!

What’s currently exciting you in design or style?
We get excited by process and materials, so finding new methods or experimental materials influences our work and aesthetic. Bold colour has always been something we like to use, whether in products, styling or displays.

Who are your design heroes?
There is an endless list of people and eras who have influenced the three of us. We generally focus on experimental designers such as Max Lamb and Formafantasma, but also respect brands which make common products in a special way, for example Copenhagen's Wrong For Hay and New York's Good Thing.

BELOW: LAB DE STU's 'Hurdle Family' by Dowel Jones, including the 'Full Hurdle' and 'Half Hurdle' chairs

ABOVE: The 'Hurdle Tray' side table comes in covetable colours

Is Melbourne a big influence on you? And where’s on your travel wish list?
Our focus is predominantly on collaborating with local manufacturers, so living in a country with manufacturing forever moving away is difficult and influences all aspects of our design work. Asia is on our travel wish list as we’re always looking to Europe, America and Scandinavian countries for design, yet we are so close to Asia and there is such growth and opportunity in the design discipline there.

What’s your social media of choice?
We predominantly use Instagram as a quick and responsive way to introduce work and display interior projects. It's also a great way to get instant feedback from the public.
labdestu.com.au

LAB DE STU is exhibiting from 8-11 March 2016 as part of the Rising Asian Talents showcase at Maison&Objet Asia at Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. For past Fizz coverage of Dowel Jones, see their contribution to The Broadsheet Restaurant.

Pictures: Cricket Studio cricket-studio.com.au