“The process I go through in the art and the architecture, I actually want it to be almost childlike. Sometimes I think it’s magical” – Maya Lin
Architect-artist Maya Lin perfectly captures what has drawn me to Future World at the ArtScience Museum again and again since its 2016 grand opening. This permanent exhibition is filled with the works of teamLab, the firm cult-favourite that has secured its place at the helm of immersive digital art.
Founded in late 2001 by Toshiyuki Inoko and four of his mates, today teamLab is an extremely impressive collective of hundreds of artists, engineers, programmers, mathematicians, animators and architects. Famously, individual artists are not named in teamLab works, as the collective favours collaboration over individual genius.
For the first time since its opening, Future World has been renewed with 10 additional works. What used to be a journey of 4 themes has expanded into 5 themes, namely Nature, Town, Sanctuary, Park and Space. Here is a look at some of the new experiences on offer.
Within the single title of Transcending Boundaries, Future World now begins with an all-at-once experience of 6 works in the Nature gallery.
The gallery itself is a simple 4-walled structure, all 4 walls have been used which creates the feeling of submergence upon entering the space. The tallest work is Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries; a ‘waterfall’ which cascades down to visitors’ feet the moment they enter the Nature gallery. Seemingly superimposed on this work is the next, Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – Transcending Boundaries, A Whole Year per Hour. If you are patient enough, you can experience the waterfall adjusting its position on the ground to skirt around you, and flowers will bloom and burst from the same ‘evicted’ space where you would have been standing only moments before.
Transcending Boundaries has a natural synergy with its theme, and its title captures its greatest strength as a form of digital artistic expression. It immediately immerses the visitor in a space that dissolves distinctions between each of the artworks, and between the artworks and visitors.
Ignore the ignoramus who wrote on Tripadvisor that the entire Future World exhibition is a 30-minute experience – Transcending Boundaries alone can take you a good quarter of an hour to properly appreciate.
I was also very attached to the two works that preceded Transcending Boundaries in the Nature gallery – Crows are chased and the chasing crows are destined to be chased as well, Division in Perspective – Light in Dark and Black Waves. ‘Crows’ is based on the Japanese myth of Yatagarasu or three-legged crow. It was a source of great joy for me to learn of this legend. The three-legged crow is said to be an incarnation of the Sun, and its sighting a message of the will of the Heavens.
I also remember having a solid 5-minute power nap on a beanbag while the Black Waves filled my immediate and peripheral views….
What is Digital Art?
Let’s take a pause here to consider what exactly qualifies as digital art.
There are countless artists, both predating and postdating the teamLab collective, who have utilised technological tools to create or deliver similar iconography in art. One cool contemporary example would be that of David Hockney’s digital iPad art. Here, the gifted artist has used an iPad to create his paintings – his visuals are elevated through the use of a medium which is similar to, but more technologically advanced than traditional brushes and canvases. In a way, this experience may not be too dissimilar from that of viewing paintings on a website like Artsy.
In a teamLab work, by contrast, one can only consider the piece when one enters into it physically. Once this is done, you cannot help but influence the visuals, as well as your own sensory experiences and those of others — whether that’s achieved by touching the screens to create an image and make music, or by moving off from the spot you’ve been standing on, in order to allow patterns to burst forth:
An interaction with a teamLab work is programmed, yet undetermined. The creators might have programmed what happens when you tap on a Chinese character, but factors such as whether you will tap on it, or whether there will be another individual present who taps on a different character in a timely fashion, cannot be controlled. The permutations of programmed options reveal an infinity of possible outcomes. The Future World exhibition guide lets you know this too: ‘As the artworks change with each interaction, each visit to Future World will be uniquely different.’
teamLab’s works are on another frequency as compared to say, Hockney’s because they utilise technological tools to place visitors and the art in the exact same plane of reality. This is more about digital artistry than it is about digital art as a mere medium, or method of execution. All digital art is digital in form, but not all digital art is digitally artistic.
Returning back to Future World, Sketch Piston – Playing Music is a new addition to the Town gallery. Here, you can make little doodle shapes with your fingers on the screen, much like a sketch pad. But, if you tap anywhere on the screen, a little smiley-face-head will appear. Like a ping-pong, it will ricochet off your doodled lines and make music as it does so.
The creative freedom that children are able to exercise here makes this experience a huge learning opportunity for them. I found myself very appreciative of what this place can do for the cognitive development of newer generations. It can effectively challenge any negative limiting beliefs picked up by kids over time, regarding the freedom to express their creative personas.
Also, I only learned in my most recent visit, that it is possible to ‘cup’ the little people on A Table Where Little People Live like the kid in the top left corner. If I were to then bring the little person to touch the sun in the centre, the person would combust like a firework! This act, seemingly destructive in nature, departs a little from the more creative acts encouraged by the other works.
Is it disturbing that I was much more thrilled by my ability to combust the little people than to make music with the smiley faces…?
I chose to revisit this themed gallery after a complete round of all the galleries, and perhaps many can relate to the intuitive pull to this space in busy Marina Bay, which is evocatively named ‘Sanctuary’. Here, you will find a single new work, Impermanent Life: People Create Space and Time, at the Confluence of their Spacetime New Space and Time is Born. The music accompanying the visuals is a big part of its perceived comfort, as well as the work’s more monochromatic palette. This is an addition to Future World where silence does the piece a higher justice than any verbose description could. During your visit, take a moment to decide whether you’re standing on a black floor with white dots or a white floor with black dots?
The work Crystal Universe has been rehung, and I did manage to perceive the difference – the work has gone through some maintenance after interference by the many selfie-takers and button-pushers of the teamLab interactive app.
There is much irony here in the intention behind the theme and design of this gallery, juxtaposed against the reality of visitor engagement. Space has the potential to provide perspective; to allow a viewer to stand back and understand the scale of human presence within an infinite universe.
Yet, the all-too-common process here for the average visitor involves getting a perfect profile shot, checking their cameras to see it’s been done, and then rushing out to make sure they’ve minimised the grief caused to the next selfie-taker in line.
There is a great nervousness in this process borne from the exact narrow perspective which the work strives to remedy. I saw many visitors project their anxieties and insta-egos into this wondrously beautiful space.
teamLab founder Toshiyuki Inoko has said:
‘Perhaps, through these experiences, people will come to spend their days more co-creatively.’
It is a good thing I am not in charge of visitor experiences at the ArtScience Museum, because like some kind of art-culture tyrant I would make it compulsory for everyone to spend at least one visit devoid of phones or cameras on their person.
Until I have that power, I shall stick to bringing every friend and family member visiting Singapore, to Future World. It’s simply the perfect excuse for me to enjoy an afternoon of childlike play, no matter the time, no matter the day.
Future World is a permanent exhibition presently on display at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands.