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.

CAMILLE WALALA

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French-born, London-based pattern queen Camille Walala has created eye-catching street art, murals, homewares, fashion, accessories, and installations, all sporting her trademark vibrant digital prints. The textile design graduate collaborates with top global brands, from Converse to Nintendo, and is now the star of this month's London Design Festival 2017, designing key commission Villa Walala, a pop-up inflatable playscape guaranteed to brighten up your day!

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired your LDF17 project Villa Walala?
Villa Walala is about creating the unexpected. It's in an open square in Broadgate, a City area surrounded by big offices, where people meet up, have lunch and relax. I wanted to design a giant stress ball, something people could squeeze, that would take them by surprise. It's an inflatable, soft, flexible tutti-frutti space, with round shapes, and a very bright colour palette. There are also deckchairs on the grass in my style of pattern. When people take their usual route into work they're going to go, 'What the hell?' I want to create a reaction, to make people talk and smile.

What’s your design or style philosophy?
A lot of people call my style Tribal Pop. It’s bright, bold and happy! When I was younger I was influenced by the styles and objects that my parents brought into the family home. My dad, who is an architect, had quite an extension collection of Memphis pieces in his house, so for me the movement is interwoven with memories of my childhood. I was always surrounded by colours and beautiful pieces of design.

Which colours and patterns are you drawn to?
Much of my inspiration comes from growing up in the Eighties and the Memphis Movement. In 2008 I found a book about Memphis and was so excited turning the pages. This was design with an element of playfulness, and a sense of humour – I loved it. I use a lot of black and white with pastels, and block colours. I have also drawn my pattern inspiration from African tribes like the Ndebele, known for their geometric painted houses. I find them both full of joy.

ABOVE: Camille Walala with her graphic, patterned WALALA X PLAY project – proof stripes, and dots, never go out of fashion!
BELOW: Like a cool bouncy castle, the huge, inflatable 3D Villa Walala installation on Broadgate's Exchange Square is the hero commission for this week's London Design Festival, intended to be interactive and foster a sense of community

You started your studio in East London in 2009. What got you into design?
I came to London in my twenties to learn English and was working in restaurants. I like colour, putting colours together. I can't really draw so I did a printed textiles course at the University of Brighton. I still have a really childish drawing style, I can't even draw a flower!

How did you make the leap from textiles to wall art?
I still work on a small scale in terms of patterns, as you do with textiles, and then apply it to a bigger scale. I do a lot of sketching, and collage, and play around a bit. I don't like working on computers much. I prefer the playfulness of collage, and then finish pieces off on the computer when you need the measurements or precise colours.

ABOVE: Pattern, colour and reflective surfaces make for a merry maze at WALALA X PLAY, an interactive installation on until 24 September 2017 at NOW Gallery in Greenwich Peninsula

Tell us about current installation WALALA X PLAY at NOW Gallery on Greenwich Peninsula
When the gallery asked me to create an interactive installation I was petrified, as I'd only done textiles and wall art before. I love the fun fair and wanted to make people bring out their inner child – to get lost, like in a hall of mirrors – so we came up with a playful design. I simply wanted to give them a good time. I was worried that no one would come, but we had so many turn up we had to create ticketed time slots. Young and old people were telling me afterwards how happy it made them. I was so touched!

ABOVE: Walala x Better Bankside's 'Colourful Crossing' art work animated Southwark Street in South London for London Design Festival 2016; Creating pastel-pretty murals to brighten up North West London's Park Royal Centre for Mental Health with charity The Nightingale Project
BELOW: The iconic 2015 'Walala Dream Come True Building', on the corner of Great Eastern and Singer streets in Shoreditch, London, commissioned by TV post-production company Splice

Who are your design heroes?
Nathalie Du Pasquier [a founder member of Memphis, who now paints]. She doesn’t want to hear about the Memphis movement these days, as now she just wants to do something new. As an artist you have to please yourself first. I also love Sonia Delaunay, who emerged in the Twenties and Thirties, and was one of the first artists to do Art Deco and make it accessible to everyday life. Her colours are beautiful, and she designed costumes, ceramics, and textiles, making art you can enjoy in your home. I recently got the chance to see some of the earliest work by Op Artist Victor Vasarely, another hero, at Fondation Vasarely in Aix-en-Provence.

What’s currently exciting you in design or style?
The bigger the better! I want to do a Vivid Sydney light projection on the Sydney Opera HouseI don’t want to move away from my current style but I’m interested in some rounder shapes. I’d like to push my creativity in terms of pattern and colour – although I'm not going to start doing flowers!

Where do you find inspiration?
I try not to look at things any more. You can accumulate too much information in your head. I prefer to do my own thing. I like to play with shapes. I go travelling a lot, and love taking pictures. I went to Mexico recently, checking out Luis Barragan's buildings and taking pictures of pattern, and the colours were so beautiful.

Where’s next on your travel wish list?
Vancouver for the Interior Design Show festival. I’m doing a talk there on 30 September. And then New York to see the Ettore Sottsass retrospective at The Met Breuer. I’m also going to Brixton in London to work on a mural for an after-school care facility for charity. The place has very bright lights and awful colours on the walls. I’m going to put that right! 

Have your worked on other social design projects?
I recently did a mural in a psychiatric hospital with pastel colours. It was nice to be a part of it. Being in a mental health institute that looked drab would make you feel even worse. It's depressing, like no one gives you any value. It was for a charity getting artists to paint these spaces and the patients really liked it. A little colour and pattern can create a warm feeling and make a big difference. I’d like to do a council estate one day – the uglier the better!

What’s your social media of choice?
I definitely like Instagram. It’s my best agent and I get a lot of my work through it. It offers so much possibility to be seen and discovered. When you share colourful stuff I've found people follow you more.
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Villa Walala is at Broadgate's Exchange Square, 100 Liverpool Street, London EC2 from 16 to 24 September 2017 (7am to 9pm), behind Liverpool Street Station. Find WALALA X PLAY at NOW Gallery, The Gateway Pavilions, Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 until 24 September 2017; book free ticketed 15-minute timed entry sessions in advance (10am to 7pm weekdays, 11am to 4pm weekends).

Pictures: Charles Emerson, Jenny Lewis