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

Men's Folio (Singapore) - - Contents -

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.”

Cre­at­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tively

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.

Dy­namic Re­la­tion­ships

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.

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