Toshiyuki Inoko is a man of science, but he’s also a man of art. While some might view these as opposing concepts, the 42-year-old Tokushima native happily embraces both identities. And TeamLab, the digital art collective he founded with four friends in 2001, is the perfect platform for him to exercise both sides of his brain.
What started as a passion project has become one of the world’s biggest art phenomena, characterised by immersive, interactive installations that blend disciplines of art, science, technology, design and nature – with input from artists, engineers, mathematicians and architects.
The first permanent immersive museum, TeamLab Borderless Tokyo, attracted 2.3 million visitors from 160 countries during its first year of operation, and garnered many, many more posts and shares on social media.
After many delays, Inoko and his team unveiled their new permanent exhibition at the Venetian Macao in June 2020. At TeamLab SuperNature Macao, visitors can explore more than 20 installations that will see them treading through digitally projected fields of colourful blooms that dance alongside the viewer as they move, or walking inside a giant white cloud as it separates and merges around them. It’s an experience that allows the viewer to interact with and become part of the art, making every viewing unique to each visitor.
In real life, however, the mastermind behind such groundbreaking artworks doesn’t talk like a scientist or an artist. Instead he sounds more like a philosopher, one who hopes to use his expertise in art and science to make the world a better – or at least a more beautiful – place.
‘For many of us who live in big cities where everything is flat and smooth, it’s easy to lose touch with the three-dimensionality of nature,’ says Inoko. ‘With TeamLab SuperNature, we’re creating a space where visitors can immerse themselves within our art works and explore new ways of looking at the relationship between art and humans, as well as between humans and nature.’
An information physics and mathematical engineering graduate from the University of Tokyo, Inoko’s interest in science stems from his urge to understand what the world around him is made of.
When asked about TeamLab’s creation process, Inoko immediately jumps into philosopher mode, and kicks off a discussion on the topic of human existence.
‘In the process of trying to understand the world through science, we break things down into smaller pieces – from cells to molecules, from a forest to a tree. But in the end, we lose sight of the bigger picture,’ he explains.
‘TeamLab’s art is our attempt to depict the world in its entirety. Through our artistic and scientific approaches, we try to figure out the meaning of existence – I see our artworks as part of that ongoing search for the answer.’
It’s a process that has certainly caught the popular attention. Since TeamLab’s first solo exhibition at Takashi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Taipei nine years ago, the Tokyo-based art collective has taken their works to Shanghai, Singapore, Los Angeles, Melbourne and beyond. Celebs like Hugh Jackman, Will Smith and Kendrick Lamar are among the millions of visitors who have posted their TeamLab experiences on social media. And Inoko is more than happy to see his work featured in all those selfies and Insta Stories.
‘It’s part of human nature – if you see something that moves or inspires you, you want to record it and share with others,’ he says. ‘I do the same when I travel.
‘Ultimately, what TeamLab wants to do is to become an inspiration to the people who come to see our shows, as well as the cities that host our exhibitions. For city dwellers, our understanding of the world can become very narrow as a result of our surroundings. Through our work, we hope to broaden that view.’
3 Highlights from TeamLab SuperNature Macao
1. Massless Clouds Between Sculpture and Life
Essentially a giant cloud that floats in mid-air, viewers can walk right through the installation, break it apart, and then watch as it merges back into one.
2. Inverted Globe Graffiti Nature, Red List
Inside a three-dimensional space with different elevations, endangered species swim and float across different mountains and valleys.
3. Mountains of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn
Witness the changing of seasons as cherry blossoms, sunflowers and other blooms go through their lifecycle while viewers interact with them.