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Takashi Kudo is communications director at teamLab. Founded in 2001 and perhaps the most prominent artistic and technological pioneers of immersive art in the world, teamLab’s collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology and nature. Through art, the interdisciplinary group of specialists – including artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects – aims to explore the relationship between the self and the world, in the process giving way to new forms. teamLab exhibitions have been held in cities worldwide and the collective is represented by Pace Gallery, Martin Browne Contemporary and Ikkan Art Gallery.

Interview by TANKPortrait courtesy teamLab

TANK How many of you are there at teamLab?

Takashi Kudo We started with about five members with backgrounds in physics, robotics, space, technology and engineering. My background is in philosophy. It’s hard to say how many people work at teamLab now – in my direct team there are about ten, but in the collective we don’t numerate or announce the number of contributors. It’s hard to say who is working on the artworks and who is doing other projects. 

TANK How did you decide to start working together?

TK Our backgrounds were all different but we knew each other from the time we were teenagers; I knew the founder when we were 19 years old. Most of us couldn’t really work for traditional Japanese companies, so we had no choice. I have a weird hairstyle so I can’t enter a traditional Japanese company. When we graduated from university, we were still eager to create something using the internet, technology and digital tools. If you want to use those kinds of tools you need to work with a team. We are not geniuses so we can’t create things individually. We needed different types of specialists, and this was an outlet for that. The name – teamLab – is rooted in this idea of collaboration. At the beginning, of course, we wanted to change the world – we were super young, 22 years old. There were many interesting digital technologies at that time, and the internet seemed like a big ocean of creativity. We wanted to go on big journeys – it was like One Piece, the Japanese manga. We had different characters forming a team and going on great journeys to find this “one piece”. We didn’t know where it would take us, and we still don’t know. We just had a powerful dream, to reach out and change the game. We still don’t know what the “one piece” is, we just wanted to be with our friends and do things together. 


Main Floating In The Falling Universe Of Flowers Autumn

teamLab, Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers (2016-2018) © teamLab

TANK What was the evolution of teamLab? At the time you started, were there other examples that were inspiring to you? We’re interested in where immersive art as a form came from.

TK It’s hard to answer. Let me tell you two stories. Around the turn of the millenium there were many new technologies that showed up. A client would ask us to make a homepage, and then they would say, “We have this physical space, can you make it cool?” We were very eager to create something, to work and to make money. But there is also a second, romantic story, and the one that now, 23 years later, has become like a beautiful memory. We wanted to change the relationship between humans and the world. We were interested in asking what humans are and what the world is. In the first ten years – our first phase – we focused on client work. They would show us problems and we would try to solve them with digital or technological solutions. These might be a homepage, or a database, or something different. The next phase was being what we call an “art collective”. We wanted to create something that we could not explain with words but that might have the capacity to change the world. At that time, no one treated us as artists. But in 2011, the artist Takashi Murakami came to us and gave us the opportunity to show our work at his gallery in Taipei. That was our debut on the art scene. In the last ten years we’ve continued to work on things that cannot be explained by words, that cannot be easily copy-pasted. We had to decide whether we should focus locally on the Japanese market or to go global. Japan is a very small island, it’s like the Galápagos. If the economy is good, we can survive if we just focus on the local market. But when we set out on bigger oceans, we realised that what we are interested in is how to expand our brains, our eyes and our ears. The digital world is super huge – it’s another world and we are watching it from small windows. We cannot fight with the huge companies of Silicon Valley, because we are too small, but what we can do is expand the physical world. Those were our first steps. As we discovered, what we can do is link higher dimensions to lower dimensions. For example, we live in three dimensions but we try to explain the world in two dimensions, with drawings or photographs. We need to add a higher dimension, to create some kind of logical shift. There is much more information on the higher dimension. One way to explain the world is to cut the three dimensions with a lens, which is called perspective. In the late 19th and then 20th century, you see this in photography in magazines, cinema and television. Perspective is just one channel of expression. If you look at Japanese or Asian art, you see a more spatial form of art, on scrolls or on walls, often depicting spaces like gardens. If we are going to express something using monitors or projectors or LEDs, we need to make a logical shift from three to two dimensions. The lens cuts the world, but at the centre is the fixed point of the human body. So we became interested in how we experience the world in our physical body. If perspective fixes the human perspective, what if there is no vanishing point? Then people can walk inside the space freely. We can be inside our imagination and creativity with physical bodies and bring other people into our creativity. We are not only interested in the relationship between humans and the world, but also between people. We need to change peoples perspectives and cognitive worlds otherwise we don’t change our lifestyles. I am 47, and when I was a teenager I loved to travel, like any other teenager. I travelled to Thailand, India, and other Asian countries and went to parties, and I was shocked. I could see these places in magazines, but seeing pictures of it didn’t change my lifestyle, I actually had to be there in my physical body. When I came back from backpacking it changed my way of thinking. What is art? What is design? Design is more answers, art is questions. 

TANK Thank you so much!

TK Can you give me just five more minutes? I told you we want to find a new relationship between humans and the world. When we educate people at school our relationship to the world becomes changed. This is something I learned from my son. He is nine years old and when he was four or five, he suddenly told me he wanted to swim. So I tried to explain to him how to swim, scientifically, how a human can swim In water. He watched a lot of movies and animes about how to swim. He said he can swim, that he understood. So I took him to the swimming pool and put him into the water and, of course, he sank. I tried to pick him up but he drank a lot of water. For two or three hours, he didn’t give up, he stayed in the water. He was stressed but he tried to relax and suddenly he got the point and he started to swim. If you want to understand water, you have to be inside it. Creativity is the same. What we create is like water. The beginning is, of course, research – we read books, and check out technologies. We think we can make it, but when we jump into the water, we sink and we fail. But we never give up, and keep on trying to understand the water, and suddenly at some point, you’re swimming. Most people think they understand the world through two dimensions or text. To understand something about London, I need to be in London. Still, our whole education is about textbooks. We think we understand the world, but we have misunderstood. It’s something I learned from my son. We want to jump into the ocean called creativity to swim.