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.

LOUISE OLSEN – Dinosaur Designs

Louise Olsen is one half of influential Sydney duo Dinosaur Designs, alongside artist partner Stephen Ormandy. Pioneers of using resin to create gorgeous homewares and jewellery, the pair takes inspiration from nature, art and the city they call home...

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What’s your design philosophy or style?
I like to create forms that nurture people’s senses. I love the juxtaposition between materials. I like to humanise modern materials such as resin and metals.

What do each of you bring to the design process?
Stephen and I work independently on our own designs for Dinosaur Designs. We both have our own signature, design sensibility and understanding of resins that we have worked with for over 30 years now. 

TOP: Louise Olsen and her work/life partner Stephen Ormandy, co-founders of Sydney homewares and jewellery brand Dinosaur Designs
ABOVE RIGHT : Debut hardback book 'The Art of Dinosaur Designs', published recently by Penguin Lantern, shares the studio's vision

Tell us about your new book The Art of Dinosaur Designs
Our book was a chance to open our studio doors and allow people to see behind the scenes of how Stephen and I design and create, and to discover some of the inspirations behind our pieces. We didn’t want to do a straightforward history, but we do cover some of the highlights of the past 30 years.

Where or how do you find inspiration?
I’m constantly inspired by nature. I love the way nature takes time to evolve and perfect. I find that when designing an object it takes time and there is a lovely flow that happens as one idea leads to another. 

ABOVE: Launched in October 2016, the duo's latest collection 'ColourBlock' features 'Totem' vases, pictured, alongside platters, plates and salt dishes in bold and soft primary hues. It also boasts sculptural jewellery, including bangles, earrings, rings, necklaces and neck cuffs, exploring colour blocking

What materials and colours are you currently drawn to?
At the moment I’m working on a collection inspired by sandstone, called 'Sand', launching in February 2017. I love all the variation of pigments in the sands from Central Australia to coastal beaches. Our recent 'ColourBlock' range played with solid hues, juxtaposing them, from cobalt blue and vivid coral red to refreshing accents of bright grass green, reminiscent of summer days.

How have art and nature influenced your practice?
We both have a passion for the world of art and nature as it offers never-ending change and beauty.

ABOVE: Sunrise at the iconic Sydney Opera House, one of Louise Olsen's favourite design destinations, by Danish architect Jørn Utzon

Is Sydney a big inspiration? And do you have any favourite local design hot spots?
We can’t help but be inspired by the ocean, the nature and the light of Sydney. For our favourite design spot it’s hard to go past the Sydney Opera House. We’re so lucky to have it – it’s an incredible icon. 

ABOVE: One of Olsen's influences is American designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Pictured is his walnut wood and plate glass 'Coffee Table' (IN-50), 1944; The freeform 'Cloud Sofa and Ottoman', c 1948, in fabric, foam, wood and iron; the Sculpture Garden at The Noguchi Museum, Long Island City, New York; A Noguchi installation at the museum

Who are your design heroes? Or which era, aesthetic or interior has influenced you the most?
Giacometti, Picasso, Calder, Bertoia, Ray and Charles Eames and Noguchi are our design heroes; they were all artists who also designed furniture, ceramics, jewellery, sets and costumes for film and theatre. Every era has its moment of beauty. I tend to think more about the future. 

Where’s on your travel wish list and why?
I’d love to see more of India; it’s so unexpected and varied, and there’s so much ancient history that’s still alive that sits alongside contemporary life.

BELOW: Dinosaur Designs' curvy store in The Strand Melbourne, and a more linear look in their Sydney boutique in the historic Strand Arcade

You have shops in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York and London – any plans for future launches?
We’re currently working on a new store in Crosby Street in New York, which will be open early in 2017.

What social media do you use most?
Instagram – because of its wonderful visual stories.
dinosaurdesigns.com.au

Pictures: Rachel Kara (portrait); Heleena Trahanas (book cover); Bec Parsons ('ColourBlock' collection, styled by Mark Vassallo, model Duckie Thot); Sydney Opera House; The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York (Noguchi furniture); George Hirose (Sculpture Garden); Elizabeth Felicella (Noguchi installation view)

See our review section The Library for more on new book 'The Art of Dinosaur Designs'