High-tech digital installations with traditional Japanese influences are on display in "Living Digital Space and Future Parks," the new exhibition at Pace Art + Technology, a pop-up space for the New York-based Pace Gallery. The gallery, located at Tesla's former dealership in Menlo Park, will present the large-scale exhibition by the Japanese art collective teamLab beginning Feb. 6 and continuing through July 1.
This intersection of art and digital technology is well-placed in the heart of Silicon Valley. But unlike other art fairs that have attempted to lure young and wealthy entrepreneurs into the fold of high-powered art collecting, "Living Digital Space and Future Parks" is strictly for visitors.
"The pieces are not for sale," Pace Menlo Park Director Elizabeth Sullivan said. "This is a museum-style show, intended to introduce Pace's new art and technology program." As they would in a museum, visitors will pay an entry fee ($20 for adults; by appointment only) before exploring the various rooms.
On a recent tour, teamLab's Noriko Taniguchi explained the history and philosophy of the 400-member collective that includes engineers, artists, programmers, mathematicians, CG animators, designers and composers.
Collaboration is key to teamLab. Taniguchi, who holds the title "Catalyst," stressed that each piece is the product of a group effort, with no one person taking a lead role and no hierarchy in the company. Usually, a group of around ten people work on a project, and "everyone is an artist." Although the company (founded in 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko) began as a technology firm, it has morphed into an interdisciplinary group of "ultra-technologists" who explore the confluence of art, technology and design.
The underlying philosophy of all of teamLab's immersive installations, Taniguchi said, is "Ultra Subjective Space."
"It's a more complicated approach," she said, "and people in the West may be confused by it."
While it may sound futuristic, the idea, which is basically a rejection of conventional rules of perspective, is rooted in the past. From the 17th to 19th centuries, the prevailing influence in Japanese art was of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, especially those of Hokosai. His "Great Wave Off Kanegawa" is a seminal image, reflecting the notion of the "floating world" that inspired Van Gogh and Monet. Since there is no focal point in the art, the eye moves horizontally and the viewer becomes immersed in the work. This interaction is also reflective of the Japanese belief that man and nature are enmeshed.
"We want people to have a feeling beyond the normal art experience," Taniguchi said. "We want people to feel that they are inside the art."
So how, exactly, is this achieved? Some of the multi-roomed environments consist of screens installed on walls, while others involve imagery that is projected around the entire space, from ceilings to floors. Most of the 20 installations include a musical component, with original compositions by a teamLab member. There is a suggested route through the building, with the idea being that the experience begins quietly and then increases in volume.
"Black Waves" is a translation of an ancient image -- the rolling sea -- into contemporary terms by means of digital technology. Standing before the screens, the viewer is lulled by the steady coursing of the water, depicted by thousands of lines that culminate with a crescendo of white foam.
"We calibrated the actual movement of waves," explained Taniguchi. "We respect nature, the movement of nature and the way it is complicated and beautiful."
Nature is the theme of most of the installations, which bear names such as "Crystal Universe," "Flower and Corpse Glitch," and "Flowers and People Cannot be Controlled but Live Together." The concept of being a part of nature runs throughout. Some installations have sensors that cause a change in imagery as the visitor walks through. Several sites will allow the visitor to select their own experience, through an app downloaded onto a smartphone. In many of the pieces, such as "Flutter of Butterflies beyond Borders," the artwork is being created in real time by a computer program, resulting in a state of continuous change that will never be repeated.
In "Universe of Water Particles," a series of curvilinear lines gives form to water rushing over a virtual rock. According to the exhibition catalog, "these lines give the impression of life, as though water was a living creature." The water flows in accordance with the laws of physics, but the Japanese concept of time and space is reflected by the time lag during the simulation of the water particles that leaves an afterimage. The objective for the viewer is that "their very souls are fusing with the water and its living energy, then perhaps they will be able to comprehend the connection between how the ancient Japanese perceived, felt about, and behaved toward the world."
If all of this sounds rather serene and contemplative, there are also rooms with eye-popping movement, color and sound. "Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as Well" is a digital installation in three dimensions on seven floor-to-ceiling acrylic screens. It tells the tale of Yatagarsu, a mythical bird, which is rendered in light and flies around the space, creating bold calligraphic lines of color.
When the piece was installed in Milan last May, Taniguchi said there was a fear that people might experience a sensory overload.
"No one fainted," she said, "and in, fact, most people commented on how incredibly immersive it is."
While the entire exhibition is described by Pace as a "digital playground for all ages," there will be an area in a separate building dedicated to youngsters. teamLab Future Park will feature interactive -- and yes, collaborative -- activities with names including "Sketch Aquarium" and "Hopscotch for Geniuses."
Taniguchi said that she and her teamLab colleagues believe that in the future, "creativity will be the crucial thing for humans, especially for kids, and we believe our 'co-creation' artworks are able to enhance people's creativity."
What: "Living Digital Space and Future Parks" by teamLab
Where: Pace Art + Technology, 300 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
When: Feb. 6-July 1, by appointment