When enigmatic design collective teamLab announced the upcoming opening of the world’s first digital art museum in Tokyo, the hype was almost palpable. On the heels of the launch of several international permanent exhibitions, which saw the self-styled ‘ultra-technologists’ rising brand of computerised, immersive works light up cities from Paris to Singapore, Borderless was about to bring an already extraordinary showreel to life.
The anticipation was electric, not least among the Japanese public who had become enraptured by increasingly dazzling displays of technology-powered artworks that contradicted everything they’d been told of what art should be — and yet did everything to confirm it. Started by a group of graduate school students in 2001, the evolving body of mathematicians, animators, designers and programmers from all over Japan that currently make up teamLab have surprised, moved and bewitched with increasingly ambitious artistic feats.
Borderless, fittingly located on the futuristic man-made island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, opened in June 2018 to a rapturous reception and has since gained global notoriety, with sister exhibitions opening up in Dubai, Finland and Beijing.
Related article: East Meets West in Tokyo
Inspired by nature, powered by engineering and expressed as art, Borderless is composed of 470 projectors and 520 computers inside a 10,000-square-metre giant box. Different walled rooms take up the windowless space so that you feel like you’re exploring a magical maze, with every seeming dead-end opening up a portal to a different experience. There are jungles and waterfalls generated through projections that fill up a whole room; a forest of gravity-defying trees of lamps, and a room of hanging LED lights that replicate the distinct feeling of rain. It’s part fun-house; part traditional theatre, and a whole lot of innovation in between.
Once you’ve entered through the doorway and felt your way down a pitch black corridor, you enter the exhibition. There is no route, roped-off area, or special sections costing extra. You are free to explore and wander; taking pictures or chatting to people around you. Each ‘work’ has its own title, derived from a certain theme. Take, Memory of Topography, for example. In a room filled with what looks like giant lily pads, various weather scenes are projected on to the top of them while the movement of people scatters further projections of petals and insects. As visitors walk through and beyond the artworks they inevitably impact them — a provocative call to reflect on humans’ indelible environmental footprint.
Related article: The 7 Most Beautiful Gardens in Tokyo
Ultimately it’s democracy that is writ large across the teamLab art narrative. With so many people from so many different fields working together to create a singular vision, it had to be. For the ordinary viewer, the one who struggles to get past the typical intellectual elitism of contemporary art, Borderless is, above all, a portal into a new world of artistic beauty and entertainment.
The museum feels undeniably timely. In an era of political discord, social upheaval and economic uncertainty there’s something very powerful about so many people collectively producing a museum for all. It’s perhaps a sign that there is hope; we just have to think outside the borders.
Related article: 24 Hours in Tokyo
Plan your visit
Address: Odaiba Palette Town, Aomi 138, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Mondays-Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays: 10am-7pm
Fridays, Saturdays, days before public holidays: 10am-9pm
Closed every second and fourth Tuesday of the month
For more ideas on Do, Dine and Spend, visit our Destinations page.