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.

THEO WILLIAMS Another Brand

Acclaimed UK designer Theo Williams – formerly creative director of Habitat and head of design for John Lewis Home – has collaborated with manufacturer Qualita to launch his own furniture company Another Brand, the home of beautiful, no-nonsense pieces where quality is king

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

How did you get into the industry?
I started in graphics at Manchester University before switching to industrial design. There was a competition to design a radio, which I won. I used to live with a bunch of DJs so I took the idea of a wheel that spun through the stations from them. The next thing I was in Milan, needling people and designing products for studios such as Marco Zanuso, Prada and Alessi.

Describe your style in three words
Simple, honest, rational. I hate the phrase ‘form and function’ but it’s true. There should always be a reason for something being there. When I’m coming up with a new design, I start with a list of functions that the product must have before moving on to its finish and colour. That is what gives an object its design edge and transforms it into the thing of the moment. The shape doesn’t.

How did Another Brand come about?
After all these years working with lots of designers and big brands, I wanted to work directly with the manufacturer. We play to our strengths. They hold the stock and take care of distribution, while I come up with the designs. By partnering up with Qualita, we have created a new business for them and an opportunity for us. The idea is to work with a variety of manufacturers to create a cohesive collection of products.

ABOVE: Theo in his studio in Queen's Park, London
ABOVE RIGHT: The 'Tavolini Primo' tables are designed to tuck in together, each at varying heights and widths. Available in assorted colourways, the 'Primo' circular tables have a painted solid oak top and base and a natural oak leg, and are sold flat-packed in a kraft box
BELOW: The 'Tavolini Strada' set of three rectangular tables nests together in varying heights, lengths and widths and comes in five finishes, Light Grey, Petrol Blue, Yellow, Flame Red and Latte Oak

What was the idea behind the new Tavolini designs, launched at London Design Festival 2015?
The premise was to have something that you can pick up and walk away with in a lovely box – an impulse buy; the prices also reflect this. All the tables are different. There are oak, glass, metal and fabric tops… We’re a one-stop-shop for small tables.

How are the products made?
When it comes to designing for Another Brand, we consider the manufacturer’s capabilities. It all works backwards from what they can or cannot do. 

What’s coming up next? 
There’s going to be more Tavolini and we’re moving into upholstery and lighting. Theo Williams Studio has also been commissioned to co-design a capsule of accessories for McLaren Honda Formula 1 team in 2016 until further notice.

ABOVE FROM TOP: The circular 'Tavolini Primo' side table trios have a small footprint but are big on impact; In clear or smoked glass with oak legs, the 'Tavolini Ponte' coffee table has retro Italian styling
BELOW: Another Brand's earlier 'Cubo' range by Williams includes tables, storage and seating for dining/living rooms, office, bedroom or hall. Finishes, colours and sizes can be modified to suit you (we love this graphic blue). Qualita produces the furniture in London and Lithuania

What are your influences?
I quite like a grid. I’m drawn to things that are graphic-led and well thought out. I love proportions, posters and packaging books – things like that. A lot of my influences are from Italy. There was a certain formula to working there but it was liberating and instinctive. Also, back in the day there were no computers, so everything was drawn by hand. 

You spent 15 years working in Milan and two years in Amsterdam before moving back to London. How do the cities compare?
Milan was the exception to the rule. Everything was possible back then. The creative energy was enormous. For my first job as design director at NAVA Design, I didn’t speak any Italian and they just said: ‘Invent, think, create and see what we can do.’ They trusted designers to make things better. I remember aesthetics, taste and style being relative. It wasn’t judged on seasons or trends just good ideas and solutions. It was the attention to detail and perfection the Italians taught me; they were simply perfectionists at design, printing and production. I remember them fondly. They were my second family.

In Amsterdam I began working with a corporate structure for a couple of years, which was creatively driven but without the instinctive nature of Italy. Nobody really owned anything. It was inspiring for the first year but I missed the spontaneity and instinctive nature of the Italians.

London for me seems to have all of the above and more. After 17 years away from the UK I can feel an undercurrent entrepreneurial spirit, which I think defines British creativity, with a bit of wit thrown in. There’s a natural impulse where people are just getting on with it and this creates an organic point of view and personality. There is a tradition in the UK where designers are interested in the processes, but we have moved away from traditional manufacturing towards innovative creative solutions. Reacting to the market is one thing but the depth and choice of the colleges and mixed nationalities studying here creates this entrepreneurial spirit; if only they had more opportunity to make and not just design. A few more workshops and manufacturers would be useful. The ideas are plentiful. It’s the making of them that’s hard.

BELOW: We love the slender forms and bright weaves of Theo’s 'Tavolini Lago' occasional tables, which feature an innovative fabric top. Usually used for outdoor parasols, the Sunbrella material is red wine-proof...

Who are your design heroes?
Achille Castiglioni, James Irvine (who was a good friend of mine), Jasper Morrison, Marco Zanuso and companies such as Alessi. When you look at that Philippe Starck lemon squeezer, it’s ridiculous. It’s everything they don’t teach you at school. 

Where’s on your travel wish list?
I’ve got to go to Shanghai but I’m not sure that’s on my wish list as such. I’m taking my son to New York in April, which is exciting. I promised him we would do the Shard, the Eiffel Tower and next it’s the Empire State Building. 

If you weren't a designer, what might you have been?
A storyteller. I have piles of short stories that I have written, all based on my childhood. All of the stories are true.

ABOVE LEFT: Philippe Starck's iconic 'Juicy Salif' lemon squeezer for Alessi c 1990
BELOW: All of Another Brand's flat-pack 'Tavolini' tables come beautifully packaged in a set of three

Is there anything you wish you had designed?
I’ve always wanted to build a brand from the bottom up, which is what I’m doing now. 

What’s your social media of choice?
I like Instagram the best. I don’t do selfies on the beach but, instead, use it for things I see and love.
anotherbrand.co.uk; theowilliams.com