Inside the world’s first digital art museum

Last year Borderless opened to acclaim in Tokyo, the first institution in the world to be devoted to digital artworks, and one in which online sharing takes centre stage. After becoming the most visited single-artist museum in the world, a sister museum has just opened in Shanghai.

We look to the founders, Japanese art collective teamLab, for insights on creating a world of artworks without boundaries.

teamLab’s Borderless Digital Art Museum opening in Toyko’s MORI Building

What happens when you combine 520 computers, 470 projectors, and up to 100 self-described ‘ultra-technologists’? teamLab decided to find out.

Since 2001, the Japanese artist collective – which comprises artists, architects, mathematicians and more – has been pushing the boundaries of art with their immersive, often ephemeral, digital works. The group has held wildly popular exhibitions across the world, and their eye-catching installations are shared widely on social media. In 2018 they took a major step by opening Borderless, a bricks-and-mortar museum in Tokyo, followed by one in Shanghai in November 2019. Their Tokyo Museum is the first institution in the world to be devoted to digital artworks, and one in which online sharing takes centre stage.

We want visitors to understand how digital technology can expand the conception of art. The art we create is made up of both the art and the viewer, and the existence and behaviour of the viewer can influence the art


teamLab Borderless, which opened in Tokyo’s Odaiba district and spans 10,000 square metres, was created in collaboration with Mori Building, a property management firm with a strong track record of supporting the arts and cultural sector in Japan. The museum features 50 of teamLab’s large-scale works, which are organised into five sections: Borderless World; Athletics Forest; Future Park; Forest of Lamps; and the En Tea House. Every exhibit is interactive, responding to visitors’ movements to create an ever-changing display of light and colour.

teamLab’s Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather © teamLab

Among the exhibits is Flower Forest: Lost, Immersed and Reborn, 2017, a room covered in projections of flowers that wilt when touched or stood upon, while others grow when visitors remain still. Forest of Resonating Lamps, 2016, features a series of lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, each of which changes colour when approached, while Multi Jumping Universe, 2018, allows visitors to form planets by jumping up and down in an outer-space themed room with a bouncy floor. At the heart of these works is a desire not only to bridge the gap between art and its audience, but also to initiate a ‘shift in the relationship between the individual viewer and the crowd’, teamLab says.

By creating an environment in which human engagement drives the works, the collective hope to make the act of sharing the space with another visitor something powerful and integral to the experience of the artworks. ‘The paradigm in traditional art has been to treat the existence of other viewers as a nuisance, but if the effect of another person’s presence on the art is beautiful, it is possible that that person’s presence itself will be seen as beautiful,’ they add.

Forest of Resonating Lamps, 2016 © teamLab

teamLab have created Borderless with 21st century art-lovers in mind, designing each exhibit to be shared on Instagram. Exhibitions featuring highly ‘Instagrammable’ artworks such as Yayoi Kusama’s ‘infinity mirror rooms’ , which came to the Victoria Miro gallery in London in 2018, have drawn huge crowds across the world, showing the growing global appetite for this kind of participatory and photogenic art.

For teamLab, the focus on ‘shareability’ is underpinned by a firm belief in the uniting power of the web. It’s a theme that is addressed in Crystal Universe, 2015, a kaleidoscopic maze of hanging LED lights that change as visitors wander around, creating what the artists describe as ‘a sculptural body’. Key to the work is a dedicated smartphone app that allows users to shape the environment they are standing in. ‘When you control the app, the artwork reacts, helping visitors create a scene that will never be repeated again,’ say teamLab. ‘The internet connection is what makes this artwork possible.’

By making the visitor an integral part of the world’s first digital art museum, teamLab are showing how technology and art can work together to bring people closer. ‘We hope that this exhibit will encourage people to rethink the relationship between humans and nature as well as their relationship with the world,’ they say. Beyond that, Borderless also provides an alternative view of how we can relate to, and interact with, cultural spaces in the future, and explores the role that technology and the web will play in that transformation.

Discover more about Borderless here.

With thanks to the Creative Economy team and Anyone//Anywhere.

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