Step through the dark tinted doors of the Cameron Art Museum’s newest exhibition, “A Time When Art Is Everywhere,” and prepare to be transported to an innovative new world. The world is filled with technicolor turtles, watercolor elephants and digital dragons, just to name a few.
The new, interactive digital experience is challenging the ways we experience art. It asks us to consider the interconnectedness between humans and nature. The thought-provoking artistic collaborations have been brought to North Carolina for the first-time courtesy of teamLab. The Tokyo-based collaborative consists of over 500 artists, programmers, engineers, animators, architects and mathematicians. Through digital technology, the collective aims to explore relationships between man and nature, and man and art, while simultaneously transcending physicality of traditional forms of artwork.
“A Time When Art Is Everywhere,” consists of three interactive installments: “Sketch Aquarium,” “Story of the Time when Gods were Everywhere” and “Flower and Corpse Glitch Set of 12.” Each provides visitors with a new way to explore art and interact with technology.
“It is unlike anything CAM has had before,” says Scott Relan, the museum’s head of communications and strategic planning. “Digital art has a way of sucking people in.”
Take, for instance, the innovative “Sketch Aquarium.” At first, the vibrant display may appear to be nothing more than digital fish projected on screens. It may not seem overly artistic … until viewers take a closer look. They will see a cartoon creature they just colored suddenly moving around on multiple panels. Projected on the walls is the illusion of an underwater seascape, complete with digital coral reefs, bubbles and stingrays, wrapping from one corner of the dimly lit space to the other.
Here’s how it works: Children and adults select a template of a turtle, fish, shark, jellyfish, seahorse, etc., and fill it in however they please with crayons. There are no limits. Once finished, they scan the image and watch as their ocean critter comes to life before their eyes. Kanji symbols in the corners of each printable make it happen; it tells the computer which animal shape to generate in the aquarium. Then visitors can physically interact with their sea creatures by touching the screen.
Tapping a digital sack allows a fish in the nearby vicinity to be “fed” by participants—or it may scuttle away.
The second installment, “Story of the Time When Gods Were Everywhere,” features various Kanji symbols—or Japanese language—floating from the top of the projection downward. When touched, the language comes to life. So if someone touches the translation of “tree,” they will see a watercolor bird delicately gliding to perch on a branch. A fire might burn down a forest, but the selection of the symbol for “water” can alter the outcome. Through audience interaction, a visual story is formed gradually and altered depending on symbols participants select. It’s similar to a “Choose Your Own Adventure.”
The thrilling and addictive experience means rich colors and dreamlike images dance from screen to screen because of the audience, not necessarily one artist—as traditional art exhibitions go. More so, it’s a testament to the advancement of technology and its enhancement of art. “I did a lot of digital work in my prior life,” Relan tells, “and we couldn’t do things like this 15 years ago. It’s mesmerizing to watch.”
Along with presenting storytelling in a new way, “Story of the Time When Gods Were Everywhere” reinforces the notion that no action goes without consequences. In a way, visitors make interactions possible by playing “God,” so to speak. They experience first-hand the delicate balance of creation and destruction between man and the natural world.
The third and final installment is “Flower and Corpse Glitch Set of 12.” While not interactive in the same way the other two segments are, the digital reimagining of a traditional Japanese print is powerful and moving. Twelve vertical vignettes spread from left to right down a long wall. Each synchronized panel tells an individual chapter in Japanese epic—about a city plagued by disease and ultimately engaged in war. In the end, it’s really showing viewers a behind-the-scenes look in how the digital art is created. In the midst of the story, an animated vignette dissipates and reveals mesh diagrams used to create the imagery.
“Flower and Corpse Glitch Set of 12,” dares us to contemplate the symbiosis critical to the coexistence of nature and culture. Some panels depict nature as beautiful and harmonious, with soothing natural earth tones, as well as cascading flower buds that bloom with electrifying reds and brilliant yellows. In contrast, other panels render the volatility of nature, with heavy flooding and rampant fires. The artwork poses critical questions about the extent to which consumers should consider their effects on the environment—or if humankind has the capacity to exert control over the cyclical forces of nature in the first place.
According to Relan, the Cameron Art Museum is bringing back an exhibit from the museum’s permanent collection to compliment teamLab’s “Flower and Corpse Glitch Set of 12,” a traditional print version of a Japanese fable.
“I think when people see a literal version of a Japanese story, they will probably appreciate each [form] better,” Relan says. “Digital is allowing us to do immersive audience experiences you could never do with flat works.”
Whereas crowds could briefly scan an entire two-dimensional print, teamLab has them experiencing the story through 12 animated panels within minutes. “A Time When Art is Everywhere” provides great insight into how the digital domain and advancement of science and technology will alter our perceptions of art in the years to come. Photographs and videos do not do the exhibition justice. In a time when we are so connected to the digital world around us, it is almost surreal to experience teamLab’s stimulating presentation.
“I think 20 years ago people didn’t appreciate digital work because it seemed shallow and cliché and flat,” Relan comments, “but there’s a depth to it now that [allows] older art enthusiasts to appreciate it in a way they wouldn’t have a few years ago.”