teamLab. Transcending Boundaries


by Igor Clark

teamLab's digital wonderland at Pace London is coming to an end this weekend. The show was sold out within a few days; thanks to Pace London for fitting us in. This is what you've missed.

teamLab, a Japanese "collective, interdisciplinary creative group", sets out to "expand the capacities of art" through combining a range of creative disciplines to produce dynamic, interactive digital works. The main exhibit in "Transcending Boundaries", their latest collection at Pace London, is explicitly intended to take this combinatorial approach further: distinct generative pieces, designed and developed in concert, interact with each other in a carefully curated environment, providing a single space for the viewer to absorb and reflect as well as to influence aspects of the works themselves.

teamLab, Transcending Boundaries at Pace London, installation view

The exhibition's divided into three rooms, with the main body of the work in the first gallery. Emerging from the darkness of a shrouded entrance passage, you're presented immediately with two large interactive components, "Universe of Water Particles" and "Flowers and People", populating the end wall and the floor with a flowing, blooming, intermingling stream of light. A waterfall pours down over a mass of breathing, swirling flowers, running down onto the floor and parting around the feet of its viewers. On other walls, stationary screens display a pulsing, floating world of cherry blossoms ("Impermanent Life") opposite a hypnotic, disembodied brush-stroke creating calligraphic circles in the style of the eponymous Zen practice, "Enso". Fluttering around the whole room, butterflies dance from wall-space projections into on-screen overlays on the other pieces, crossing the barrier between the contained works and the containing space. Sensors around the room square the viewer-interaction circle by feeding inhabitants' movements into the installation; water and flowers shower and scatter accordingly, and the butterflies die and drop to the floor when you touch them.

Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders, Ephemeral Life at Pace London, installation view

teamLab, Transcending Boundaries at Pace London, installation view

teamLab, 円相_Enso

The second room houses a 6-panel generative rendering of a rising, rolling, smashing seascape. Edo-influenced waves arise from physics-model fluid line formations, waxing and waning in an endless cycle, evoking the animist ocean view of pre-modern Japanese artists. In the last room, through another light-blocked tunnel, you're handed a light-coloured shawl onto which series of projected flowers bloom, bud and bust in an otherwise darkened space.

teamLab, Dark Waves

Flowers Bloom on People at Pace London, installation view

For all the consistency of the Japanese aesthetic permeating the collection, it's interestingly mixed in its execution. The most obvious "interactive" components - the influence of the gallery visitors on the water and the flowers in the first and last rooms - are hard to pull off in real time, and as a result the effect sometimes seems a little sluggish. On the other hand, the butterflies' transitions from projections on walls to sprites on screens is really neatly done, and their death-dives when you touch them feel sufficiently immediate and convincing that I actually felt guilty about doing it.

The pieces that really stand out, though, despite the emphasis on the merging of boundaries between them, are the least intentionally "interactive". The detail in the cherry-blossom animation is pristine; the automatic calligraphy is beautifully meditative, and the constant creative destruction of the crashing waves is mesmerising. It's a visually rich series, even managing to be a little sumptuous while keeping a careful eye on the elegant constraint of its forebears.

Thanks to Pace London for fitting us in to what was a deservedly busy visiting schedule for an interesting and enjoyable exhibition.

Igor Clark is a London-based creative technology director who's fascinated by what happens at the intersection between art, tech and culture. Find him on Twitter and Instagram.

teamLab on the map