Touching the Future
Combining art, science, and technology, teamlab’s large-scale permanent exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Artscience Museum aims to bestow a sense of wonder, create meaningful relationships and, ultimately, change the world. By Rachel Ang
The Future World exhibition at Artscience Museum combines art, science, and technology
Imagine a garden in which you can watch flowers blossom and wither in a matter of minutes; an empty landscape raining strange symbols that bloom into trees, mountains, and wild animals at just the touch of a hand; or a darkness that is suddenly split by a light burgeoning into beautiful, shimmering patterns all around you, until you feel like you’ve just witnessed the creation of the world.
These are just three of the 15 new artworks to be found in Future World, the new resident exhibition within the Marina Bay Sands Artscience Museum. Brought into being by the Japanese collective, teamlab, it takes up about a quarter of the available space within the museum with its interactive multimedia artworks, effectively creating Singapore’s largest digital playground.
It’s actually quite an amazing feat, considering the seemingly contradictory demands of the museum’s commission: an exhibition that must at once feature the best qualities of art and science with the use of cutting- edge technology, appeal to both children and adults, and a permanent fixture in the museum that is at the same time ever- new and ever- changing. By anybody’s standards, that’s a pretty tall order, and one that, at first glance, seems impossible to fulfil.
Yet, teamlab has managed to accomplish it, curating a collection of immersive artworks that invite visitors, young and old alike, to touch, explore, and be delighted by these high-tech installations. Additional works and continuous research and upgrades conducted by teamlab will ensure that you can expect a new and unique experience each time you walk through those doors.
Man in Nature
Instead of being arranged as a single narrative, Future World is divided into four thematic chapters: Nature, Town, Park, and Space. The moment you enter, you’ll see a short corridor leading to a digital garden of flowers and butterflies ( Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together) before reaching a spectacular diorama titled 100 Years Sea.
100 Years Sea demonstrates perfectly that fluid combination of artistic expression, technology ingenuity, and scientific enquiry that the Artscience Museum and teamlab hope to present to their audiences. It does so by taking the scientific data derived from the World Wildlife Foundation ( WWF) regarding the rise in sea level due to climate change, depicts it in elegant art inspired by traditional Japanese screen paintings, then uses technology to animate it such that the change of 100 years is conflated into 10 minutes, and the viewer gets a glimpse of the world being engulfed by water until there is nothing else left.
It is precisely these urgent environmental issues currently facing our world today that both teamlab and Artscience Museum yearn to correct through education in the form of well- made art. Honor Harger, a New Zealand- born artist and the executive director of the Artscience Museum, comments, “To address some of the challenges we face today, we need the understanding generated by science, and the emotional connections made possible through art. Global issues such as climate change stems in part from our disconnection with our natural environment. We need projects that create meaningful connections between people and their environment, to help them understand that we are within and not outside of the natural world.”
Co- creation is another running theme, particularly in the Town and Park chapters. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise considering teamlab works by rallying the expertise of ultra-technologists and professionals from technical and creative fields, including artists, engineers, architects, and mathematicians. But the collaborative process not only takes place in the making of the art but also in the viewers’ experience of it.
Take, for instance, Sketch Town and Sketch Aquarium. Each taking a long stretch of wall, these landscapes are designed to be populated with cars, buses, buildings, planes, spaceships (for the Town), and all sorts of aquatic creatures (for the Aquarium). It’s easy. Simply colour in the drawing of the object or animal of your choice, and then scan it in and watch your two- dimensional picture come to life within the digital artwork. You can even go up to the wall and touch the objects, and see how they respond. Hint: get yourself a fighter jet and wait for the dragon to terrorise Sketch Town.
Interaction doesn’t end at working together, such as in the context of Town, with all the urban planning and building there is to do to get the animated civilisation going. Learning to relax and have fun with other people is just as important, as refelcted by the third chapter, Park.
One such installation that requires more than one person to work is the Light Ball Orchestra. Visitors are invited into a pit with huge bouncy balls that change in colour and emit musical notes when touched. As you interact more and more with these balls, knocking them around and into each other, a song starts to come together, transforming the space into a dynamic succession of composition, colour, and sound.
Ikkan Sanada, who has played a key role in introducing teamlab to the local contemporary scene since it staged its first exhibition at the Singapore Biennale 2013, points out, “The presence of people changes the artwork. It will influence the state of the artwork, which then affects the relationship between the artwork and you.
“It’s different from viewing the Mona Lisa in The Louvre. With 20, 50, or sometimes hundreds of people, it’s very annoying. However, with teamlab’s art, others around you become a part of the creation of a new environment, and you are encouraged to cultivate positive relationships with each other in order to participate and have more fun with the installation than you could by yourself.”
A Sense of Wonder
“We wanted to create a world rather than a traditional exhibition experience,” said Harger. “Visiting Future World was intended to be like going to a national park, where you can go back again and again to walk in the gardens. Every time that you go there, you’d have the incredibly enriching experience of seeing nature evolve over time, and have a sense of wellbeing.”
And this is indeed the feeling that you get as your journey through this futuristic digital utopia reaches its grand finale with an astronomical delight in Space – the 178,000- LED spectacle that is known as Crystal Universe. An electronic tablet in the corner of the viewing gallery allows you to select the astrophysical phenomena you wish to feast your senses on, whether stars, planets, galaxies, or even gravitational waves, a prediction by Albert Einstein.
Watch from the gallery or stand among the strands of light as they swell and fade captivatingly around you. It’s an experience that is difficult to describe, but it’s quite probable that you will find yourself in awe of the twinkling beauty of celestial space, recreated only in a relatively small scale within this dazzling installation. After basking in the glory of weightlessness as a result of being confronted by such a vast and majestic landscape, one can’t help but emerge from the experience with a renewed sense of appreciation and wonder.