teamLab Borderless: A digital art experience

I decided to be spontaneous and get on a train bound for Tokyo this past weekend. (Or in my case, a series of trains because I had about 4 transfers before I arrived at my final destination). I was off to visit the one place I really wanted to visit, but didn’t get a chance to during vacation a few weeks ago. I was headed for the MORI Building in Odaiba, Tokyo to see the teamLab: Borderless digital art exhibition.

But let’s back it up to a very important conversation that I had the week prior, that helped kick off this adventure.

For the most part, my weekends are low-key. I usually stay home, run some errands, vacuum, and clean up the mess I make during the week. Sometimes I might go for a super long bike ride to a new part of town, or visit a park and sit on a bench and read, or have some video calls with friends and family from back home. But for the most part ,my boring weekends from home followed me here (funny that, you can’t really run away from yourself).

Anyway, I was on the phone with a dear friend last weekend and I was telling her all this, how I just try to save a few yen on the weekends by keeping it uneventful, and she laughed. “Oh no, that won’t do.” She reminded me that, yes of course I was here to work, but I was also here to live life and explore. And how was I able to adventure if all I did was stay home!? That’s not how the Allison she knew lived her life.

She made a very good point.

Money is money. Sure it’s important, but it’s not the most important thing. “You can always just make more.” Such simple logic, but so hard to digest. You can always just make more money, but you can’t ever get back that time lost by sitting and waiting around, watching the world move as you sit still.

That’s been in my head for the past few days and Saturday as I was laying in bed, awake at 5:00 am, I decided I was going to go to Tokyo. Again. Because why not? I had a place I wanted to see, and an empty day ahead of me to fill. And how many people have the ability to just take a day trip to one of the most exciting cities in the world?

Fast forward a few hours and transfers later, and I was standing in line (with every other tourist in the city it seemed…), waiting to enter the colorful world of the teamLab: Borderless exhibit that I’d only seen pictures of online. This was a display that I’m going to have trouble putting into words (but we all know I’m gong to try anyway). In a nutshell, it’s basically an art exhibit that is almost all digitally projected onto walls, screens, floors, mirrors, through foggy air, across sloping floors, and each and every person that walked through that gallery space. It was a spectacle to behold.

The exhibit started off with spectators walking through a short dark hallway, and being presented with the option to go left, right, or forward; I went left. I always go left. I had only a vague idea of what to expect.

A kaleidoscope of digitally constructed flowers blooming, swirling, floating, and moving covering each wall was not what I was expecting, but I was instantly mesmerized and delighted! With a nondescript techno tune filling the space above our heads, mirrors around every corner, and larger than life projections filling every square inch, I knew that was where I needed to be. No wall or room stayed the same for very long as the projections changed continuously, making each room seem new even if you never left it. Sometimes the projections didn’t even stay on one wall at all, but fluttered and flew around corners and dipped behind curtains, almost beckoning the unsuspecting viewer to follow them.

There was a main room of sorts, the flower room, with mirrors for most its walls, which wasn’t actually just one room at all. It was a maze unto itself, with sharp corners and new rooms hidden in plain sight, behind curtains that blended in seamlessly into the images projected onto it. It was hard to tell which areas I had explored and which were new after a few hours of walking around..

The rooms were sometimes small and dark, sometimes they stretched up two three stories up, and sometimes they were filled with mundane objects brilliantly transformed into works of art. There was a room called the Floating Nest, which was a giant rope nest suspended maybe 10 feet above a mirrored floor. We were told to lie on our backs and watch the projections of swirling masses of color above our heads, and reflected from the floor below. We laid there, color and sounds assaulting all the senses for a few minutes, and then it was over.

Another room was covered in wall to wall, floor to ceiling mirrors, which was already disorienting, then it was filled with lamps suspended from the ceiling, each one hanging at a different height. The lamps pulsed and glowed to their own rhythm, sometimes the entire room turning red or orange, sometimes it was a gradual gradient change from pinks to blues to turquoises. Nothing ever stayed the same color for very long. I think I accidentally walked into a few of the lamps because at times I was looking left, walking right, and trying to take a picture of something above me (the room staff were quick to steady any mysteriously swaying lamps…).

In one room, if you stood in the same place for long enough, flowers would blossom from your shadow and extend outwards into the digital river that you walked on. In another, butterflies hatched from your feet and would fly up the walls, out the doors, and flutter around the whole of the exhibition space. The art was worse at staying in one place than my 3 year olds waiting in line for the bathroom!

My favorite part was probably the hardest display to capture on camera. (Figures, right?) But it was more of an alcove than an actual room with 4 distinct walls. This space was recessed back into a very large opening, with the viewer standing looking into the space. But instead of two side walls and a back wall, the two side walls were angled and bent towards the back, giving the back wall an almost hexagonal profile. It almost looked and felt like a true IMax theater, where you are enveloped by the screen in that even your peripheries are seeing the images. Anyway, the art was projected in such a way that it seemed to fill the space. Almost as if it had no business being on a flat screen, but instead floated through the air and moved gracefully in the room in front of us. If you let your eyes relax and focused on the moving images, it was possible to let the rest of the room fall away and you could almost image you were standing right inside this alternate dimension.

I spent almost 4 hours wandering around and I still feel like I missed some parts of it! This is a place I will return to. I have to, the main attractions remain the same, but seasonal displays come and go. Maybe going during off season, perhaps in the winter would yield fewer tourists and more elbow room in some of the spaces. Never the less, it was a wonderful day trip and I have to remember that vacations don’t always have to be a week long, preplanned thing. They can sometimes be as simple as just getting on a train and going.

6 thoughts on “teamLab Borderless: A digital art experience

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