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.

CHRISTINA SCHMIDT Skandium

In the Eighties and Nineties Scandinavian furniture meant flat packs to most people in the UK but in 1998 a new destination store dedicated to modern and classic Scandi design arrived in London. The Fizz goes behind the scenes with Christina Schmidt, co-founder of Skandium, to see what floats her boat...

BY DEE IVA

How did Skandium come about?
The seed idea sparked when my partner Magnus Englund and I found a cooking pot in a provincial department store in Finland. It was the pot, we thought, what a ’looker’... so simple, like a child would draw a pot, yet perfect in proportion and execution. We learned that it was designed by typographer Björn Dahlström for a new kitchen range by Finnish company Iittala called Iittala Tools. Iitala had begun the journey of reinventing themselves for a contemporary market.

We thought the concept was smashing as all the objects were simple but divinely perfect, in a way the reinvention of modernism, celebrating timeless beauty. So we thought let’s put together Alvar Aalto from 1924 with these pieces because style never goes out of fashion. It is not about being fashionable. If it is beautiful and relevant, it is a long-term investment in the quality of your life. With this in mind, we headed to the little island of Hästö in the Finnish archipelago and sat by the water’s edge, contemplating what we should call this idea and how to go about it. That was summer 1998.

ABOVE: Christina Schmidt, co-founder and creative director of Skandium
ABOVE RIGHT: Casserole with lid by Björn Dahlström for Iittala, 1998
BELOW: Hästö island, where the idea for Skandium was born

Do you have a favourite classic Scandinavian design piece?
I do not have a favourite as such as there are so many superb pieces and the design chosen will have to work well in the space you are living in. But If I had to choose, I would always pick the 'PH Artichoke' pendant in copper, by Poul Henningsen, the 'Trolley 900' with basket by Alvar Aalto (great as a side table), a cooking pot by Björn Dahlström and the 'Lempi' glasses by Matti Klenell which serve water, wine and milk equally well.

ABOVE LEFT: 'PH Artichoke' pendant light by Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulsen, from £4,900
ABOVE: 'Trolley 900' by Alvar Aalto for Artek, £2,365
BELOW: 'Lempi' tumblers by Matti Klenell for Iittala, from £12.50

Describe your personal interiors style
I am not so fussed about ‘retro’ as such. I do like great design and love new ideas, no matter what time they are from. I love the craftsmanship and thought behind the classic pieces of Scandinavian design, hence my passion for it, but when executing a project I like to mix styles from different periods, to keep it simple and harmonious and throw in a bit of the unexpected.

You were once a fashion and lifestyle photographer, who did you shoot for?
That was 20 years ago! I worked for the local fashion magazines and advertising agencies in Stockholm. Among others I did a shoot with Izabella Scorupco (right) who had long dark hair at the time. We used an ice blonde bob wig on her for the campaign and she later cut her hair and changed its colour. Izabella went on to play Bond girl Natalya Simonova in GoldenEye. I had a brilliant assistant at the time, Elisabeth Toll, whom I am proud to say is now a stunning fashion photographer with international assignments. It all has to start somewhere.

Do you still take pictures and has this shaped or influenced your work at Skandium?
I always think and act from a visual point, it is innate. I do not take pictures for Skandium as there is simply not the time for it since the content of what we do is so very wide. My focus today is interior design which is my passion. For this I take pictures for Skandium to go online and for my Instagram account.

BELOW: 'At Ease' sofa by Daniel Schofield, £2,700. Exclusive to Skandium

What's next for Skandium?
There are so many companies out there and many offer the same or similar products as we have done for the last 16 years, so for us it is to enhance the focus on concept living and tighter editing on what we believe makes the Scandinavian aspect alluring. We don’t show everything just because it is on the market. For this year's London Design Festival we will showcase a new Skandium collection including a range of furniture by Swedish architect Jonas Lindvall and a Stig Lindberg retrospective with Swedish manufacturer Röstrand including our own range of bowls bearing Lindberg's distinctive illustrations from the children's book 'Daniel Tip Your Toe'.

ABOVE RIGHT: 'Stig Lindberg Bowls', £12.50 each. Exclusive to Skandium
BELOW: The first Skandium store touched down in Wigmore Street, London, in 1998

Who or what is currently exciting you in design?
I am actually more impressed with good craftsmanship and production than design as such. Without good craftsmanship there is never good design and in the ‘old’ days the craftsman was innately also the designer. I love seeing a mix of materials in an object where the combination enhances the experience, not just ‘entertains’. I will always love simple execution in both shape and material, such as the Collective Tools 'Serving Spoon' by Antonio Citterio for Iittala.

Is there anything you wish you had designed?
The 'Trolley 900' with basket by Alvar Aalto for Artek, as it is functional, stylish and very charming – the dream combination!

What's your social media of choice?
My personal one is Instagram without a doubt, I loooooove it!
skandium.com

Izabella Scorupco by Mark Mainz/ Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images