teamLab explores the 'Now of Eternity'

Pace Gallery presents encore exhibition by Japanese art collective

Since opening in 2016, Pace Gallery has presented a varied, blue-chip roster of artists such as David Hockney, Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson and James Turrell (to name a few) in its Palo Alto space. The current exhibition returns to a favorite theme of the gallery: the intersection of art and technology.

"Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity" marks a second appearance by the Japanese conglomerate teamLab, with six new monitor works on view until Jan. 13.

For those who don't remember the first exhibition, it was a massive effort, staged in a pop-up space (a former car dealership) in Menlo Park. Twenty interactive, immersive exhibits were situated throughout the building in a museum-type installation, with none of the objects for sale. During the course of its 10-month run, more than 200,000 entry tickets were sold, which is probably one reason the gallery has invited the group back for a smaller, more intimate show where all the works are available for purchase.

"This show will mark a homecoming of sorts, since teamLab helped get it all started with Pace in the Bay Area. It will be an amazing opportunity to welcome new audiences to the gallery to experience teamLab's signature digital worlds," Pace President Elizabeth Sullivan said.

"Digital" is the key word in understanding the basis of teamLab's working method. All of its art is made by computer, using complex graphic algorithms. Some pieces also include recorded video.

"Everything we do is digital," teamLab founder Toshiyuki Inoko said, "and everything is the latest technology, so it is natural for us to explore and experiment."

When asked if he ever thought the collective, which began with five employees, would grow (now at 500) and become so successful, Inoko laughed and said he did not.

"We are a tech company," he explained, "and we originally started with web design and system integration."

Collective member Kazumasa Nonaka added that not all of the teamLab employees work on the art-related exhibitions, and that the technology part of the business supports their artistic efforts.

This past summer, the group opened a museum with more than 60 continuous installations in Tokyo. It was an immediate sensation.

"At this pace, we estimate that we will have around four million visitors a year," Nonaka said.

Most of the pieces displayed at Pace have facets of nature (water, flowers, birds, etc.) as subject matter.

"We want to always explore the relationship between humans and nature, and also the boundaries between humans and nature," Inoko explained.

The way the teamLab artists explore this relationship may use ultra-modern technology, but the imagery reflects a very traditional approach, and one that is uniquely Asian, the use of "ultrasubjective space." Nonaka explained that, unlike Western art, which relies upon various uses of perspective to achieve depth and space, the teamLab artist strives to give the viewer the feeling of being one with the art. He cited "Waves of Light" (2018), a piece that involves a continuous series of calligraphic lines that look like waves ebbing and flowing in the ocean.

"This piece was not rendered in perspective because that separates us from the world," he said. "We want the viewer to get inside the frame."

"Our work is all about continuity," noted Inoko. "It is about the flow of life, of time, of water the rhythm of life."

That sense of continuity is sometimes presented in a very literal way, as in the "Fleeting Flower Series, Chrysanthemum Tiger" (2017). In this single-channel work, thousands of colorful flowers bloom, flow, float and eventually form a large peacock that slowly moves his head. Stay a while longer and the flowers morph into a tiger. Taking in the full sequence requires over five minutes of watching -- perhaps a major effort for the average gallery/museum goer who only spends seconds in front of a work of art.

Nonaka acknowledged the patience required but pointed out that the pieces in the show were designed for discerning collectors.

"This can be purchased, taken home, when you will have more time to watch and get closer."

There are two works that take a more abstract approach: "Enso" and "Impermanent Life" (both 2017). These pieces operate on a continuous loop and depict swooping black brush strokes against a grey background. The strokes change and move in a circular manner, influenced by the Zen paintings made by monks for thousands of years.

"We wanted to explore the nature of calligraphy," said Inoko, "and the circle is a symbol of unity, the world and totality."

As with the "Waves of Light," watching the strokes flow and reform across the nine monitors is mesmerizing; one can imagine sitting in a living room and enjoying a meditative session of quiet reflection while gazing at the continuously changing scene.

The largest installation, for which the show is named, is a riot of color, movement and transfiguration. It gives a feeling of standing over a tide pool, watching the plants and flowers gently wave from side to side, followed by an explosion of blue, red, purple, yellow petals that take over the screen. Befitting its name, this nine-channel work loops continuously.

If you can't pop into the gallery, stop by and look into the front windows. All of the pieces will be running, with several changing ("Waves of Light" will transition from gold leaf to a black background) after dark -- very appropriate for an exhibition that addresses the contrasting concepts of continuity and impermanence.

Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at nonnenberg@aol.com.

What: "Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity."

Where: Pace Gallery, 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.

When: Through Jan. 13. Pace Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: Go to Pace.

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