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Interview and selected readings

Excerpt from the interview with Toshiyuki Inoko, Creative Director, teamLab, on June 12, 2014, conducted, translated and excerpted by Miwako Tezuka

Miwako Tezuka (MT): teamLab creates many interactive works. What is the significance of interactive art?

Toshiyuki Inoko (TI): During the twentieth century content and viewers existed separately. But the emergence of the digital concept changed works to become participatory for the viewers. For example, during the late twentieth century most people received information from non-interactive media such as TV, radio, books, and newspapers. In contrast, today we spend most of our time using new media that allow our participation. The digital concept has enabled us to create participatory artworks.

MT: And these changes in both the medium and viewers set the backdrop for the birth of teamLab, the “super technologist group?”

TI: Yes. Let’s think about what the digital concept is. In the past, information came with some kind of physical medium as a set. For example, information such as music came in the form of a vinyl record. Today, thanks to digital technology, music exists independent of the vinyl record. In short, information has been freed from the limits of material media. This is same in artistic expression. Art is being freed from the limits of its conventional media such as a canvas. This means that digital art has no physical boundary and can contain so much information. It is the same principle as when a solid material becomes a liquid form—liquid has an exponentially bigger transformative potential than a solid matter. This transformative potential is brought to the realm of art thanks to digital technology. This change is happening very quickly and artworks are ever more flexible and able to change via the viewers’ participation. In a way, this has become the norm.

MT: According to that logic, teamLab’s work United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World, which draws inspiration from an eighteenth-century painting by Itō Jakuchū, already embodies that freedom to change.

TI: That’s right. I am perfectly fine with it being displayed on a 1,000-inch monitor when that becomes available.

MT: Is it less homage to Jakuchū and more like Jakuchū being a source of information that you transformed into a form that is contemporary to our time?

TI: Subconsciously, I think that is correct, but more consciously, we think there was a clearly logical theoretical structure in traditional Japanese spatial perception. In general, the Japanese spatial concept is said to be conceptual or innately flat while the Western perspective system is logical. But, I think the Japanese had their logic of space, and that led to the particular Japanese way of depicting space in art. In order to search for that logic of space, teamLab renders the space depicted in the traditional Japanese painting in 3D computer graphics. We first create a three-dimensional space on a computer, and then, through trial and error, we search for a certain logical structure in it. We are trying to find out what kind of spatial theory the Japanese had in the past, how they saw the space, what the advantage of this theory is in contrast to the Western perspectival system, how this spatial theory affects people, and so forth. What we discover through this deductive process becomes the seed of our new creation. Itō Jakuchū’s masume-ga (mosaic painting) happens to be unique in terms of its spatial rendition, so we began to question what is happening in that work by first reconstructing, in 3D computer graphics the space depicted in it. After we created the three-dimensional space on a computer, we could place each motif in the painting into that digital landscape. This restructuring process let us discover many things. Those discoveries kept informing our new expression. After all, it all began with the uniqueness of Jakuchū’s painting.

MT: When was the first time you saw his mosaic painting?

TI: I saw it in person for the first time at the Mori Art Museum’s grand-opening exhibition in Tokyo entitled Happiness. Of course, I knew Jakuchū before that show from books and catalogues.

MT: Were you interested in any other works by Jakuchū?

TI: I don’t really have any particular paintings that I am interested in. But, when I first found out about Jakuchū, I instinctively felt some sort of continuity between his art and today’s popular culture. When you read the manga One Piece by Eiichirō Oda, you see the lineage, or the continuity, from Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama. It’s this kind of continuity that I felt in Jakuchū. There is something that is shared by Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Itō Jakuchū but not found in the Western art history. We are very curious about what that is.

MT: By “today’s popular culture,” you mean specifically popular culture of today’s Japan, correct?

TI: Yes. It is the continuity between Jakuchū and the popular culture of today’s Japan as seen in the works by Akira Toriyama, Mattsū (another manga author), and so forth.

Selected readings

Bijutsu Techō Special Feature pixiv teamLab. BT, Vol. 63, No. 952 (June 2011), pp. 9–96.

Inoko, Toshiyuki. Who is teamLab? Tokyo: Magazine House, 2013.

Inoko, Toshiyuki. “Uniting Technology and Art: Creating a New Value” (Tekunorojī to āto no yūgō, arata na kachi o yo ni umidasu). (May 20, 2014).


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