How many museums around the world can instill that sense of childlike wonder, where visitors feel like they’re floating in an imaginary world?
It’s the call of MORI Building EPSON DIGITAL ART MUSEUM teamLab Borderless, the groundbreaking interactive art exhibition in Odaiba, Tokyo Bay. The museum has been open to visitors since summer 2018.
The project is led by Mori Building Co., Ltd, a cityscape developer, and teamLab, a digital art collective, both pioneers in their respective fields.
teamLab announced in 2021 that the permanent exhibition in Odaiba will close in August 2022, only to restart in a new form at another location in central Tokyo. Fans are already buzzing for what the art collective will bring next.
“What we can say now is that it will always be called teamLab Borderless, and it will always be in Tokyo,” said Yoko Kuwabara, who spoke with JAPAN Striker during a media day on April 13.
Commenting on the rare displacement of such an exhibition, Kuwabara continued, “Our team wants to keep the Borderless concept alive, because art is borderless, and so is the relationship between us and art.”
An innovative way to make art
The Digital Art Museum has impressed countless people around the world in just four years since it opened in June 2018.
The venue received the Guinness World Record as the “most visited museum” in the single art group category in 2019, with 2,198 million visitors in the calendar year.
The numbers beat out strong competition from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain.
And it’s easy to see why. There are more than 60 works of art in the two-story teamLab Borderless exhibition, spread over 10,000 square meters.
“Until now, when you went to a museum and saw, for example, the Mona Lisa [by Leonardo da Vinci], you were seeing the same work of art that existed 100 years ago, weren’t you? said Kuwabara.
“This [exhibition] is different,” she continued, “it changes with time, with the season, with visitors interacting, and then the impression that visitors get from the art also changes. It is the idea that you are participating in art.
The name of the exhibition is also right, because the whole museum is an embodiment of “without borders”. There are no maps to move around, just arrows showing how to get to other spaces. Many rooms have mirrors, sounds and lights that make visitors forget where they are, as if they were in a parallel universe.
On the second floor, there’s an aquarium-themed room, with projections of moving fish on the walls. Fish can be drawn on the spot and then scanned, so that they materialize into projections.
There is something for everyone, regardless of age, nationality or taste, bringing an innovative experience to all the senses. There’s a trampoline with space-themed projection mapping, a room with huge floating balloons, and even a cafe where you can enjoy interactive projections while sipping a cup of coffee.
The more than 500 projectors and 420 computers are operated by Epson, providing high quality performance, 365 days a year.
“The fact of being able to present such a beautiful project, with such quality [technology]it’s not something that’s possible everywhere, and I think it’s a pride for these works of art,” Kuwabara said gratefully.
Host social media
teamLab Borderless has its roots in overseas exhibitions, such as in Singapore from 2016.
The art collective teamLab itself was born in 2001. It had the ambitious goal of bringing new artistic experiences to the world.
Following exhibitions abroad also in the United States, France and Hong Kong, the collective decided to create a flagship exhibition in its country of origin, Japan, in Tokyo.
“We wanted to do something bigger, and so we prepared for the Tokyo  Olympics and Paralympics, so we can show our art to the world,” Kuwabara said.
Kuwabara also explained that teamLab has the ambition to reshape the global perception of Japanese art: “For visitors to Japan, you can go and see [Katsushika] Hokusai [woodblock prints], or temples in Kyoto. But we wanted to be part of the modern art movement, so that in the same spirit of Yayoi Kusama, teamLab could spread around the world.
And teamLab’s most powerful weapon? In tune with the times, social networks.
When the museum opened in 2018, it was a rare example of a place where photos were allowed everywhere. The flood of colors, lights, interactions between visitors and works of art make it the Instagrammable destination par excellence.
Kuwabara illustrated what looked like the immediate success of the permanent exhibit:
“Before we knew it, celebrities such as Flying Lotus, Pharrell, The Weekend, Angelina Jolie, they visited and uploaded their photos, and word spread like crazy everywhere. People were like ‘what is this?! We have never seen anything like it! »
Many other VIPs also walked those same color-lit hallways, including Will Smith, Kim Kardashian West and former first lady Melania Trump. As photos of these celebrities were released, the appeal for people wishing to visit the museum from abroad increased.
In its first year since opening, Mori Building revealed in a press release that half of the 2.3 million visitors came from overseas. Among them, 50% came to Japan for the main purpose of visiting the museum.
“Overnight, we became famous overseas, and I think [teamLab Borderless] has become the go-to place for people coming to Tokyo,” Kuwabara concluded.
Moving forward, keeping the concept of Borderless alive
Like all museums around the world, teamLab Borderless took a hit during COVID-19 and had to introduce measures to make visitors feel safe during the pandemic.
However, the pandemic has not stopped the creative flows of the artistic collective. During COVID-19, teamLab launched a project called Flower Bombing Home in 2020. Users could draw a flower on their mobile phone, and all entries were collected into a blooming flower YouTube video. The idea was that since people couldn’t go out, art could still be created and enjoyed from the comfort of your own televisions.
“Since COVID-19, the world has implemented many borders and become more divided,” Kuwabara explained. “Now, more than ever, we want to convey the concept of Borderless and communicate the importance of art.”
The art collective shows no signs of slowing down in the future. teamLab is already set to hold a Massless Expo in Beijing in 2022, and a Borderless Expo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia by 2023, and Hamburg, Germany in 2024.
teamLab is also constantly pushing itself with new frontiers in art. In February 2022, he unveiled his first non-fungible token (NFT) artwork, called “matter is empty”.
The idea is that anyone can view and download the NFT. But only those who purchased the digital work have the right to modify it.
“It’s like everyone is groping for art, and everyone is exploring it together,” Kuwabara commented.
What else does teamLab have in store for the world?
Find more information on the exhibition which will close in August 2022 on MORI Building EPSON DIGITAL ART MUSEUM teamLab Borderless.
Author: Arielle Busetto
Video: Shaun Fernando