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

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.

MARTYN THOMPSON

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Australian photographer Martyn Thompson is well known for his enigmatic imagery which has appeared in style bibles including Elle Decoration, Vogue and Architectural Digest. Now a native New Yorker, he has turned his eye to designing esoteric fabrics for the home. We go behind the lens to see what makes him tick...

BY DEE IVA

What prompted you to start designing textiles?
I’ve always loved textiles. Thirty years ago I was painting fabrics, making them into clothes and selling them in a small shop in Sydney. I began taking pictures of them and my photography career was born out of that – it took over. So coming back to fabric isn't a total stretch. I had started exploring new ways to reproduce my photos and discovered the digitised jacquard loom. Although a little suspicious of the first results I soon fell in love – there’s a depth to the tapestry-like weave that speaks to the tactility I search for in my photos. I realised the potential for interior fabrics and began to develop the idea.

Tell us about your new 'Rock Pool' textile collection.
I was in Limeni on the Mani Peninsula of Greece on an editorial assignment. Standing at the end of a jetty staring at the rocks in the water below, I saw all these colours – amazing – like a painter's palette – dancing on the surface. I took a small cart load of photos and these became the basis for the 'Rock Pool' collection.

ABOVE AND ABOVE RIGHT: Martyn Thompson in his Manhattan studio
BELOW FROM TOP: Thompson's watery 'Rock Pool' design can be used to upholster walls as well as furniture. The chair is covered in a mix of 'Whitewash' and 'Painted Galaxy'; A range of Thompson's earlier designs including 'The Accidental Expressionist' and 'Melting' are used to cover these cushions; 'Ripple' from the 'Rock Pool' collection covers the wall, the small sofa is upholstered in 'Blotch' from the 'Accidental Expressionist' collection

Does your photography inform your designs?
It’s very literally an extension of it. Each of the fabrics begins as one of my photographs before we edit and develop the image into a repeat pattern. My photography has always been very much about a certain quality of light and a particular muted colour palette. Happily these qualities translate beautifully to the jacquard loom process.

ABOVE: The 'Green Buterflie' scarf from Martyn Thompson's first accessories collection is printed on silk and uses designs from his interiors collections

We hear you were quite the club kid in the Eighties…
Ahhh... that was the early Eighties. A lifestyle choice that didn't bode well for my university studies! I always loved dressing up and was a real show off on the dance floor. I started making my clothes when I was quite young and was totally enamoured of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. I didn't really think anything could get better than New Romanticism, but when their Buffalo Girls collection came out I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It’s still my fave fashion moment ever. I guess music was my first great love – and I admired performers like Siouxsie and the Banshees as much for how they looked as for their sound – though the music was fabulous too of course.

That period was an incredibly creative time, is there anyone who particularly inspired you?
There was a general spirit of getting on with stuff to just do it. For me, a young queer kid, this felt like a time outside of boundaries and prejudice. Boy George, Marilyn, Jimmy Somerville and other 'out' singers were a total inspiration. Homosexuality was still illegal where I grew up and I think these people gave me permission to exist.

What are your favourite design hotspots in the Big Apple?
The Future Perfect design store (below left) – David Alhadeff is a total advocate of what is new and is helping many new designers build their careers. I’ve always really admired Paula Rubinstein for her quirky take on vintage objects and textiles. Other favourites are Federico de Vera on Crosby Street – he has a really beautiful vision – and I love the new Oliver Gustav shop on Howard Street (below right).

Do you have any design heroes?
Yes plenty… to name a few, Gio Ponti, Mariano Fortuny, Vivienne Westwood, Susie Cooper.

Where's on your travel wish list and why?
Well, I'm crazy about Iceland. I love that there is still a sense of the unexplored and the impenetrable. It’s so ancient looking and can get really remote, really fast and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere with no one – not a sensation that's commonly achieved where I live in Manhattan!

What's your social media of choice?
I have an Instagram account but I'm disappointed that it has become such a commercial medium. I think that Tumblr can be really beautiful, especially the 'pin up' board format – that's my favourite.
martynthompsonstudio.com 

Pictures: Lauren Coleman (The Future Perfect)

LAVA

Chris Bosse is one third of architecture firm LAVA, an innovative practice based in Sydney, Berlin and Stuttgart. The trio’s global, multi-disciplinary portfolio ranges from a sports hostel in Germany to a UAE eco city and a sinuous exhibition space for 2016’s Sydney Design Festival.

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired your Sydney Design Festival exhibition design?
We designed the Powerhouse Museum exhibition ‘Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital’ (on until 25 June 2017), which was a digital dream come true. As a practice deeply entrenched in digital fabrication technologies, it was exciting to create an immersive space that provides room for storytelling and objects while being part of the story itself. Inspired by the exhibition content, our design explores the idea of a continuous line as a means to create a spatial continuum in a digital world, and to express the infinite possibilities of emerging digital data collection and manufacture. We used the latest technologies and CNC for fabrication, which were both time- and cost-effective.

ABOVE RIGHT: LAVA's Asia Pacific Director Chris Bosse
ABOVE: Futuristic exhibition design for 'Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital', part of the Sydney Design Festival at the Powerhouse Museum

ABOVE: LAVA co-founders Chris Bosse (Sydney), Alexander Rieck (Stuttgart) and Tobias Wallisser (Berlin)

What do the three of you bring to the party?
When LAVA was founded in 2007 the goal was to learn from the expertise of the three directors. Stuttgart-based Alexander Rieck brings knowledge of the working environments and building processes of the future, while Berlin-based Tobias Wallisser researches and teaches cutting-edge, digital planning technologies at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. I moved to Sydney in 2002 and my work is based on the computerised study of organic structure and resulting spatial conceptions. We offer a mobile, highly flexible network of specialist designers and collaborators across continents.

What's LAVA's design philosophy?
LAVA stands for Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, a laboratory for ideas tested and approved. The common thread is sustainable design – beautiful, efficient and contemporary, whether for an exhibition, a hotel or a whole city.

Our creative process incorporates mankind, nature and technology. Humans are at the centre, and we merge future technologies with the patterns of organisation found in nature to build a smarter, friendlier, more socially and environmentally responsible future. We use naturally evolving structural systems, such as snowflakes, spider’s webs and soap bubbles, for new building typologies – the geometries in nature generate both efficiency and beauty. By combining digital workflow, nature’s structural principles and the latest digital fabrication technologies we build more (architecture) with less (material/energy/time/cost).

ABOVE: Bosse contributed to PTW Architects' startling Beijing Olympics Watercube; LAVA's winning design for the UAE's future eco-friendly Masdar city centre; KACST Headquarters in Riyadh, and verdant Berlin mixed-used development THE:SQUARE, are both under construction; A 2012 bid to build the Secretariat of the Green Climate Fund in Bonn

Which projects are you most proud of? And what's up next? 
The National Swimming Centre in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games. I was a key design member at PTW for the Watercube, which won the Atmosphere Award at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale. Another was winning the international competition to design the centre of the world’s first eco city Masdar in the UAE.

LAVA designs currently under construction include a new university master plan and headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; a youth sports hostel in Bayreuth, Germany; mixed-use developments in Berlin and Hangzhou, China; and a residential tower in Hanoi, plus 88 houses in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

ABOVE: LAVA's design for the new Philips Lighting Headquarters in Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Sydney International Airport's sandstone-influenced regional duty free area, another 2016-completed project

We’ve also just completed a company headquarters and lighting showroom for Philips in The Netherlands, a regional duty free zone at Sydney International Airport inspired by the sandstone rock caves of Sydney Harbour, and a Japanese restaurant fit-out.

BELOW: Chris Bosse renovated his own sleekly organic Tivoli Terrace home in Sydney's inner-city Paddington in 2015

What drove the design of your own Sydney home?
Bringing the outside in was the priority in the 2015 renovation of Tivoli Terrace, a four-metre-wide terrace house, which links Victorian Sydney with the future of modern architecture. Every surface is a design element making a statement, and has more than one function like containing storage. New timber floors streamline the living areas, while sliding windows and timber screens open up to a courtyard and extend the space. Materiality was kept pale with natural wood and neutral colours, juxtaposed with iconic mid-century furniture and contemporary designer lighting which add 21st century cool.

ABOVE: A feasibility study for a Bionic Tower in Abu Dhabi, with an intelligent skin that responds to its environment; Featuring a shimmering façade of fins, Hangzhou's Zhejiang Gate Towers are under construction

Where do you get inspiration?
I start by going for a walk or swimming in the morning or at sunset – not only is it relaxing but that's also where I find ideas. You need oxygen running through your veins and you are completely enlightened. Going to work and sitting in front of a white sheet of paper is still the best moment, even if the sheet is a screen. A lot can get lost from idea to project and then realisation, and we try to diminish the gap.

What's currently exciting you in design or style?
‘Intelligent’ architecture. It is not about the shape but about the intelligence of the system. The intelligence of the smallest unit results in the intelligence of the overall system. I envision a world where buildings are responsive to external influences such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, and solar radiation; of networked building systems, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In the architecture of the future new materials and technologies enable an adaptability, responsiveness, environmental awareness and strength not seen in conventional architecture. I practice these principles in projects from exhibition design in Sydney to villas in Vietnam.

ABOVE: Also under way is the Y-shaped Bayreuth Youth Hostel in Germany, sporting innovative forms and sustainable credentials

Who are your design heroes?
German architect Frei Otto’s soap bubble experiments for the Munich Olympic Stadium in the early Seventies are a great inspiration. Verner Panton’s iconic 'Panton Chair' anticipated the digital revolution by decades. And Antoni Gaudi, who designed buildings of unspeakable beauty and innovation, inspired by nature.

Where's on your travel wish list?
Snorkelling – being underwater – anywhere, from the Great Barrier Reef to Vanuatu and Malaysia. The coral reefs are the cities of the future where species coexist and thrive together. The light refractions of the sunlight create endless patterns and artwork together with the sand. I would love to see Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands too, although not for work!

What's your social media of choice?
Anything visual, Facebook or Instagram.
www.l-a-v-a.net

Pictures: Jayne Ion and Marinco Kojdanovski (Out of Hand exhibition)

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