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.

RICHARD WOODS

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Richard Woods is the British artist and designer behind the big, cartoony, painted wood grain furniture for HAY and Established & Sons, and the forest-themed 'Tree Trunk' ceramics at Wrong for Hay. His latest installation, for the current Folkestone Triennial, consists of a series of six mini bungalows dotted around the landscape in unusual locations. Here he talks to DesignFizz about architecture, furniture and his love for wood.

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

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Growing up, did you always have an affinity for making things?
Fishing was a big thing in my childhood. My dad was always preparing to go fishing and I remember being into making the fishing floats. They were shaped using sandpaper out of balsa wood and then painted on the top with bright colours. The bottoms were always painted with Rustins black satin paint.

What did you study?
I studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. I have always been a ‘maker’ and hands-on. Looking back at what I made as a student, it was always large. It always involved lots of wood and lots of paint, so maybe nothing much has changed since then!

How would you describe your style?
I think my work is always a cartoon. This allows it to sit physically within the real world while appearing to be visually separate from it. The works are sometimes interactive (floors, furniture). Sometimes they are ‘don’t touch!’ (sculptures and paintings). Whether you can pick them up or they are just for looking at, I think they play equally with our notions of taste and class – and hopefully have a sense of humour.

ABOVE: The new 'Wrongwoods' collection for Established & Sons, 2017
BELOW: 'Tree Trunk' vases for Wrong for HAY, 2015

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ABOVE: 'Bench Press' seating for Established & Sons, 2009

What unites your projects?
After studying sculpture at the Slade, I worked as a carpenter and general builder for about seven years. That was during the early 90s and the whole world seemed to be laying laminate flooring (and I seemed to be laying most of it!). My work is a fusion of what I experienced at college and then the work I did to earn money when I left. I would laminate floors during the day and then found myself printing my own versions of wood patterns in the studio at night.

What materials intrigue you?
Wood.

What’s your art/design ethos?
I’m interested in the spaces where art, design and architecture meet. There used to be an unthinking mantra that art and design somehow needed to be separated out. This was enthusiastically adopted by commercial galleries because it’s a handy way of keeping art more expensive. It’s a dogma that’s been harmful to visual arts, so if I have an ethos of any type, it would be to keep these worlds close and not separate them.

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ABOVE: Woods' mini 'Holiday Home' bungalows are dotted around the coastal town of Folkestone for the fourth Folkestone Triennial, a wry comment on second home ownership and the UK's housing crisis

What inspired you to take part in the Folkestone Triennial?
I visited the site and became excited by an idea that I felt would resonate locally and nationally. (Click here to see our post on the Folkestone Triennial).

What do you reckon is the solution to holiday homes and their effect on villages?
Build more wooden houses that are heated with wood-burning stoves.

Any other recent projects?
I am making a new public artwork commissioned by Birmingham's Eastside Projects and Banbury Council. The work involves hundreds of replica houses, copied from a nearby housing estate. Our tiny model houses will be attached to a canopy of trees in a small wood near the estate. The idea was to give the houses the best back gardens that a house could ever possibly have.

ABOVE: New designs created with Sebastian Wrong for Established & Sons' 'Wrongwoods' collection include the vibrant 'Palm Springs' dining table (top), in a sunny five-colour palette inspired by the Californian city, and a low level monochrome/grey sideboard and dining table

What’s next?
We have been working on some new tables with UK designer Sebastian Wrong. Our collaboration, which has been developing for 10 years now, is called ‘Wrongwoods’. Previewed at 2017's recent London Design Festival, they're the first new products we've made with Established & Sons for five years, so it will be really interesting to see what the world makes of them.

What’s currently exciting you in design or style?
dRMM's wooden pier in Hastings is great. It’s a beautiful big open space – good for running around. I love that they’ve managed to avoid all the usual, miserable retail opportunities and it makes you aware of the fantastic expanse of open sea.

Where or how do you find inspiration?
Walking in woods or listening to live music. We live near Epping Forest, so I can get out and hug a tree pretty regularly, and I try to see some live music at least every couple of weeks. It’s one of the luxuries of living in London. Last week we were lucky enough to catch Deerhoof, which was truly inspirational.

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Who are your design heroes?
This week it's artist Franz West and architect Kazumasa Yamashita. I'm also inspired by musicians Jonathan Richman and Richard Dawson.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
Anywhere with a big forest. There's a plan to take my kids over to Scandinavia pretty soon. I think we’ll find some big forests there.

ABOVE: The iconic 'Face House' in Kyoto by Japanese architect Kazumasa Yamashita

What’s your social media of choice?
Instagram. I’m more keen on pictures than words. 
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The Folkestone Triennial is on now until 5 November 2017. The new 'Wrongwoods' collection is available to order from selected stores. Visit establishedandsons.com for local stockists

Pictures: Peer Lindgreen, Thierry Bal