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For a few years now, if you visit Tokyo, one way or another you will hear about TeamLab. They self describe as “an international art collective, an interdisciplinary group of various specialists such as artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world.”. Little else can be said, as words for this type of experience seem not to have yet been invented. The exhibitions that derive from this confluence of practices have evolved throughout the years, getting increasingly more complex and defying.
In 2016, Nicole first stumbled upon TeamLab Planets:
“Before heading to Tokyo, I made a huge list of things I wanted to try and do through thoroughly scouring the internet and reading up on every little thing so that I made sure I didn’t miss out. So much so, it was no wonder that ads related to Tokyo were popping up all over my social media and TeamLab Planets popped up, announcing a new art exhibition in Tokyo.
The little kid in me has always had a huge soft spot for interactive experiences in art museums, so to see one entirely made of interactive experiences was like a dream come true. I’d mentioned it to my boyfriend who'd be travelling with me and the next thing we knew we were sitting in a shady spot in Tokyo trying to find some Wi-Fi and arguing whether making the trip was worth it or not. The first TeamLab exhibition was a little further out at this festival and meant a couple changes on trains and then trying to find the tent within this small festival. Plus, it was the middle of the day, we were both sweltering from the hot mid-summer heat of Tokyo and it meant that we would be dedicating an entire afternoon to this particular exhibition. Luckily, I had managed to convince him, which I probably would’ve been unsuccessful in if we had known how long the queue would be, and thus we made one of the best memories of our Japanese trip.
Once inside, we took our shoes off, locked our belongings in a locker and literally hopped into the first room made entirely out of cushions. Being able to allow ourselves to fall about all over the place unharmed was a load of excitement and fun, although a little precarious at times as my 6’5 boyfriend almost knocked out a few small children, and certainly released any tension from prior disputes.
This was certainly needed as the pièce de résistance was next, a soothing room covered from ceiling to floor in mirrors (would not recommend wearing a skirt) and dangling twinkly lights surrounded you that synced with hypnotising music. Unlike many other similar exhibitions around the globe, our time in this room was unlimited, meaning we could relax and fully absorb our surroundings. The hallucinating music and lights sequence were so calming I would have lied down on the floor and enjoyed it from that angle had I not been so aware of everyone's bare feet.
One of the best things about this exhibition is the way in which it forces you to slow down, something one occasionally seeks whilst in the mad bustling city of Tokyo. The room where you stand ankle deep in water reflects this perfectly, as you stand staring at the ‘fish’, lit up onto the water by multicoloured lights, which your legs attract if you stay in one spot for long enough.
“This was a big recommendation of mine for anyone visiting Tokyo that summer, and to find out that it had more of a permanent position in a building is wonderful.”
Meanwhile in 2019, Mariana, yet unaware of the existence of Nicole, as they only met the following year, decides to visit Tokyo and stumbles on it as well:
“While in Japan, I went to TeamLab Planets Tokyo, an interactive sensorial multimedia exhibition. I know it probably looks like one of those Instagram opportunity pop-ups, but it was much more than that. In fact, the most interesting rooms were not even photographable. It is all about texture and touch.
We are asked to enter barefoot. After a dark corridor made out of different materials, which textures you feel with the bottom of your feet, there is a waterfall ramp. This doubles as a way to wash yourself, the good Japanese way, after which you have someone handing you a towel. As the rest of the exhibition unravels you make your way through numerous rooms both dark and light, where either the floor moves, the ceiling is a flower planetarium, you feel like a human pinball or a mixture between mirrors and lights makes you believe you’re weightless and are floating mid-air.
Succeeding washing up, you walk into a new room and as soon as you enter, you sink. The floor is a giant pillow and you are Indiana Jones in search of the lost ark (aka. exit). After stumbling, tumbling and laughing your heart out at the spectacles your exhibition mates are making - and that you dearly wish you are not copying - you climb out to the exit.
While still catching your breath, you are blinded by the light and enter a cube that defies your sense of space. The four inner surfaces of the cube are covered in mirrors and strings of led are dangling from what you can only imagine to be the ceiling, or might it be the floor? Music and light go high and low and take you floating through the space, you might want to try to sit down and take it in for a bit.
Even the feeling of being barefoot brings something special to this experience. Reminiscences of childhood and this intrinsic need to run on the soft carpet. A maze of textured floor corridors leads you on, until you sink again, but this time you are deep into your knees in water. As visionary as yours truly is, I wore a mid-calf length skirt that dripped the streets of Tokyo later. I sloshed my way through schools of fish, that felt my presence and swam away and had flowers and sea flora projected on me - that would still not attract the virtual fish.
Like a dog, I shook my way out of the water and was not long after hit by a giant pilates ball. Pinball is not from my time, I’ve never played it outside of a phone app, but I can tell you, few have felt the game like I did. This room was filled with various huge rubber balls that bounced around in ripple effects, they were moved by people walking through them. Someone pushed a ball, that pushed another ball, that pushed another that threw me on the floor. This someone was my mother.
Family feuds aside, and softer floors this time, you are invited to relax in a room I can only describe as a flower planetarium. Enjoy this moment for a while, before you are forced back into the real world.
Essentially, it is unlike anything I have experienced before. It is a new boundary breakage in the art spectrum. Where multimedia meets sensory experience and the word “interactive” is given new meaning. Although some may say it is not art, what is art anyway nowadays?
No, it is not incredible artistry or the “best exhibition ever”. But it is great design engineering. It is a worthwhile hour and a half that makes you be more aware of your body and sense of touch and shifts the multimedia out of static screens. In millennial terms, it’s “bucket-list worthy”.”
So, here is our tip, whatever you do, if you visit Tokyo (or any other place where TeamLabs is showing like Shanghai or Macau - check their website). Go experience this, whether it’s Planets or Borderless or any other dimension. But make sure to book in advance! See you on the other side!