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Lyrical Abstract Environs: teamLab at START Art Fair

2015-09-15

As indicated by their name, the Japanese art and science collective teamLab approach their projects with the collaborative rigorousness of a science laboratory. Consisting of a specialist gang of creative hardware, network and computer vision engineers, mathematicians, CG animators and architects (to name but a few), the group tests the potential of ultra-technological experiences in an art context. They simulated the sensation of passing through a rice field as they filled Japan's pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 with a sea of screens at knee height, and discussed centuries of Japanese history with their recently closed solo show "Ultra Subjective Space" at Pace Gallery, New York. With a distinctively Japanese lyricism and ultra-technicality, their work brings to mind both sci-fi and traditional calligraphic painting all at once.

teamLab's commission for this year's START Fair, the prudent but ambitious micro art fair hosted by and in the Saatchi Gallery, was an unusually successful attempt of creating an immersive and interactive holographic experience. A black box space reveals itself as a galactic simulation, that with the help of projections and mirrors produces the feeling of floating in space. All projections are rendered in real-time, that is to say that none of the animations are pre-recorded – surely, one of this year's best photo-op for astronomical selfies.

From the ephemeral to the concrete, the animations depict a variety of spatial and temporal experiences and phenomena: light, movement, civilisation, nature. As visitors immerse themselves in this galactic simulation, the extent of the piece reveals itself with three singular works unfolding within the experience. The lyrically entitled "Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year" depicts the annual cycle of flowers, from spring to bloom and eventual decay. The viewer's movement in the space affects directly the growth of the flowers, causing them to bloom magnificently or suddenly wither. Through these simple symbolic gestures (cause-effect, nature-cultivation) our relationship to nature is discussed – even though the nature is digitally rendered. teamLab produced this piece after visiting the picturesque Kunisaki Peninsula in the south west of Japan, causing them to contemplate how human activity affects nature. While "Flowers and People" appears holographically on a mirror-surface, the piece "Flutter of Butterflies beyond Borders" moves around the room and its projections erase the boundaries of our idea of a "work".

It feels appropriate that it happens to be a Japanese collective that pushes digitally immersive experiences in art to its limit, considering the country's legacy in vanguard technology and history of non-perspective representation in painting (also known as Ukiyo-e). Thus, teamLab's work finally releases the hologram from the western, pictorial concerns of surface and perspective, and takes our breaths away by constructing lyrical and truly beautiful abstract environments in the digital.

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