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.

AMANDA TALBOT

Sydney-based Australian stylist, design consultant and author Amanda Talbot cut her teeth on Livingetc and ELLE Decoration magazines in the UK, before collaborating with industry names from Ilse Crawford to IKEA. Her new book Happy aims to create 'joyous living spaces though design.'

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired you to write Happy?
After I wrote my first book Rethink: The Way You Live I realised that all those I featured may be going about life differently but they all just wanted to be happy. It got me thinking about how design can help people to be happier. 

What is happy design?
Happy design is emotional. It speaks to our hearts as well as our heads. It displays optimism, self-confidence and empathy. Historically words like ‘happy’ and ‘design’ have not been used together; pragmatism won out. People thought happy design was bold, childlike colours and houses filled with novelty ideas – places where you don’t want to spend a lot of time. Today, more architects and designers want to create objects and spaces we can enjoy. 

What key design lessons did you learn?
What makes one person happy can be another person’s nightmare – such as paint colours – but there are key elements we can all draw on. Tap into nature, lighting, colour, humour and flow, and create spaces that encourage more spontaneous, playful experiences in your home.

TOP PICTURE: Architect Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen's bear duvet, from By Nord, adds a cheery touch
BELOW: Unexpected colour brings fun touches to the homes of Paris creative director Jean-Christophe Aumas and Sydney design label Kawaiian Lion. Art and quirky ornaments up the feelgood factor

What was the most feelgood home you visited?
Each place I visited had its own inspiring feelgood factor. I loved designer Lee Broom’s London cinema room with a popcorn machine. Jo Wood’s Camden home was full of smiles and surprises, such as her skull wallpaper. I adored the giant Anish Kapoor-like silver slide in a New York apartment. The huge feasting table in an Amsterdam house showed me the importance of where we sit and eat. Tenka Gammelgaard’s Copenhagen home proved that a happy space is all about attitude.

Any little tips that can make a big wellbeing impact?
Stop following fast-fashion trends and ask yourself what makes you happy. Stepping away from the happy clichés is very liberating. It’s rare that we simply savour the moment, make the most of what we have, or put energy and love into our homes. When choosing colour for a space I now consider first what mood and activity I want to encourage. I also learned the power of editing. We need an intervention in how much we shop! 

What are the worst offenders when it comes to unhappy interiors?
I asked that question in my Happy Poll. The common answers were lack of storage, space, daylight and gardens, too much clutter, not enough room for alone time, outdated interiors, and excess noise.

ABOVE: Smile style: an owl figurine at artist Tenka Gammelgaard's monochrome home

Tell us about your work on Sydney's Coogee Pavilion (above).
I helped design this 'happy' bar/restaurant at Coogee Beach, alongside Justin and Bettina Hemmes, from owner’s Merivale, and Kelvin Ho from Akin Creative. For the ground floor, launched in July, I created a giant magnetic scrabble game with a library ladder to reach the top, customised ping pong tables with colourful geometric patterns, and introduced outsize Connect Four, Jenga, and Noughts and Crosses. We wanted adults and children to feel part of the space. I also commissioned a giant whale light. We opened the rooftop on 30 December, with four bars in a beautiful conservatory, styled as if it belonged to an eccentric botanist. 

Any other current projects?
I mentor young talents at The Design Residency, which I co-founded in Sydney. It’s an incubator for fledgling fashion and homewares designers to turn their products into viable, commercial brands.

Which residents should we be watching?
Shilo Engelbrecht has enjoyed incredible success during her time with us (table linen, above left). She had her gorgeous textiles included in Kit Kemp’s Ham Yard Hotel in London, an art exhibition with UK lifestyle boutique Anthropologie, visited Italian homewares label Missoni, and attracted top global buyers. Varina Krook from Stash Textiles is also a brilliant illustrator whose new range explores Australian historical houses and botanical motifs. British store Liberty helped with her production. Sophia Pearce from Flotsam/Jetsam has designed the marvellous ‘Buoy’ light (above right), ideal for the urban nomad. Grace Wood uses wool from her family farm to craft beautiful felt cushions, throws, over-scaled objects and wall installations. 

What's exciting you in design?
People like Dutch-born, Melbourne-based designer Joost Bakker, with his pioneering approach to sustainable living, plants and zero-waste.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
Western Australia. It’s the home of cute marsupial the quokka, my mascot while writing Happy

What’s your social media of choice?
I love Instagram. It’s so instant, image-focused and most small businesses say it has had huge impact in growing their brands. 

'Happy' by Amanda Talbot (Murdoch Books, AU$69.99) available now