The digital art museums of TeamLab Planets and Borderless use mirrors, LEDs, projectors, and more to create unique and stunning experiences. Have a look.
Don't let the sports-club looks of TeamLabs Planets in Tokyo fool you. This is going to be an experience, that's for sure. You have to take off your shoes and socks first, as your feet are going to get wet.
Once you leave the locker area you're immediately absorbed into the experience. The carpet is soft against your feet, and in the distance you can hear rushing water. Just how wet will you get?
A ramp, covered in rushing water, supplied by a waterfall at the top.
TeamLabs calls this room Soft Black Hole. You sink and get absorbed into the floor, like a series of beanbag chairs. It's dark and soft music plays. It's incredibly relaxing.
After another trip down a dark corridor, you emerge into one of the most amazing spaces I've ever seen. It's called the Infinite Crystal Universe.
Mirrored walls, floor and ceiling create the illusion of an endless space.
Easily the best use of LEDs ever.
Each LED is individually addressable, and changes color based on specific patterns. There's endless motion.
Not visible: my giddy smile.
Thanks to the timed entry, it usually doesn't feel crowded. The Infinite Crystal Universe is sort of a maze, with pathways set between the hanging LED strands. Some of the paths end in larger open spaces, like you see here.
Sometimes there are just waves of color. Others patterns are like a star field and you're in space making the jump to light speed.
One pathway ends in a small room, just adjacent to the LED forest. Here you can use the TeamLab app to interact with the entire room, selecting what patterns will play.
TeamLab compares the space to pointillism: "Pointillism uses an accumulation of distinct dots of color to create a picture, here light points are used to create three-dimensional objects. This interactive artwork expresses the universe through accumulated light points that spread infinitely in all directions."
If I could, I would have stayed in here well past closing just to be alone in this incredible space.
Amazingly, the experience keeps going.
After you exit the forest of LED lights, you descend a short ramp... which is the same color as the water at the bottom. In the low light it's hard to see when the ramp transitions from dry to wet. The opaque water is warm, looking somewhat like skim milk (it's not).
Turn a corner, and you see this!
Mirrored walls once again play with your impressions of space. The warm water, up to my mid-calves, becomes a screen for hidden projectors.
As you watch, the projected koi start leaving light cycle trails. It's not a static program. The koi move "in" the water based on other koi... and you!
Soon, it's just a riot of light, color and sound.
TeamLab calls this "Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People - Infinity"
By this point, I had no idea what to expect. The difference between the infinite LED room and the koi pond was extreme, yet still related with light and "feel." I could imagine they'd be able to keep that up and then... this.
TeamLab calls this space "Expanding Three-Dimensional Existence in Transforming Space - Flattening 3 Colors and 9 Blurred Colors, Free Floating."
Once again mirrors expand the space. But in that space are massive floating balls. All have LEDs inside, and change colors in sequence.
It messes with the mind being in a space such as this, lit by one bright wavelength of color.
While the colors change in unison, the spheres float freely. You can even give them a nudge or bump.
In addition to red, green and blue, those colors are mixed to create nine others, which TeamLab calls "light in water," "sunlight on water plants," "iris," "sky at twilight," "morning sky," "morning glow," "peach," "spring maple" and this, which I assume is "plum."
It was fairly easy to duck around some of the spheres and be able to block anyone else from view. However, I felt it was important to give you some idea about the size of these things. I could have fit in the larger ones, perhaps not standing, but close.
The main sound in this space is one of fans. Fans keeping the spheres aloft (I assume) and others keeping them moving in the space.
I am easily having as much fun as it looks.
The mirrored wall as you exit this room creates yet another bizarre photo opportunity.
The last room at Planets was vertigo-inducing. It's called "Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers."
The floor is mirrored, but the rest is a dome with projected images that arc overhead.
The idea is to lie down and let it all wash over you. It's best to do that, because without a visual frame of reference, you brain has nothing to determine what's floor and what's space. It gave me a bit of a wobble, and I don't get seasick.
Once again, this isn't a prerecorded loop. It's rendered in real time and is never the same twice. What a fantastic way to end.
But it's not the end of our tour, just the end of TeamLab Planets. Up next is the nearby TeamLab Borderless.
On the artificial island of Odaiba is TeamLab Borderless, also called the MORI Building Digital Art Museum. Unlike Planets, the entry isn't timed. It's also not a linear experience. It's more like a traditional museum, in that there are multiple rooms to explore with no set pathway to do so. However, what's in those rooms is unlike any traditional museum.
A waterfall of light crashes on rocks of concrete and "flows" down onto the floor.
In the "Forest of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn" space, the walls and floor are covered with flowers.
Still photos can only do so much justice to the space. As TeamLab describes, "The flowers of Flower Forest are influenced by other works causing them to scatter. For example, butterflies gather in places where flowers are blooming, the flowers scatter when crows enter the forest or when the waterfall swells."
Fortunately, the flowers don't move a lot. Most just sway a bit. Otherwise this would be extremely hard to walk through.
As the minutes and hours pass the flowers grow and change, like seasons passing.
When in Rome, or in this case, when in an infinite forest of flowers.
Many of the walls are used as digital canvases for artwork. This changes artwork over time and all the artworks move.
One of my favorite hallway artworks was this roaming buffalo made of flowers.
Most of the time the man-behind-the-curtain stuff is hidden, sometimes literally behind a curtain. In a few of the spaces you can spot the projectors that make it all happen. They're Epsons, which isn't surprising given that Epson is one of the sponsors of the museum.
There's another Infinite Crystal Universe at Borderless, but it's smaller than the one at Planets (so... less infinite?) and more crowded.
TeamLab calls this "Athletics Forest" and it's a "creative physical space." There are trampolines, hills and valleys in the floor, and more. It's all populated by light animals that move around.
This is seemingly a forest of black trees with light-emitting fungi. It kinda is, but the fungi are plastic and you can climb them. It's a bit of a game, in which the "trees" make sound if you step on the foot- and hand-holds in a certain sequence.
Using a little bit of smoke, a mirrored floor and some motorized lights, some wondrous visuals are created out of little more than air.
These look like off-the-shelf DJ or concert lights, but wow what an effect.
In between the performances I saw (they're ongoing), a few of the lights created a pattern like this, which seemed to follow people if they got close to the beams.
This was one of my favorite rooms at Borderless, not least because it was one of the least crowded. Projectors on the floor beam illustrated images of characters playing instruments onto glass panels.
There's some spillover onto the ceiling, and of course mirrors in the walls. The effect was incredible. It was like an infinite orchestra.
There's no single conductor.Each figure is on its own but influenced by the figures around it, and some are influenced by you, if you stand close enough. TeamLab calls this "Peace can be Realized Even without Order."
This was another cool one, called "The Way of the Sea in the Memory of Topography - Colors of Life." It's a room full of lily pads that you start under, then climb so you're standing above. They're lit via projectors far above. What's projected varies. Sometimes it's waves of light, other times...
The pads get lit with an ongoing display of different designs. My favorite was this -- it looks like green fireflies. The mirrors in the walls make it feel like you're in the middle of an alien forest. As they describe it, "This work begins when The Way of the Sea enters the Memory of Topography, a space of varying elevations. The work ends when the shoal of fish leaves the space and disappears."
After a very long wait, I arrived at "The Way of the Sea, Floating Nest." It's a net, suspended above a mirrored floor, with images projected on the walls and ceiling.
That's me, as seen from below. I'm using the mirrored floor, far below the netting, to photograph back up. This was the only exhibit in either teamLab museum that let me down. I think that's because it was so short and the wait was so long.
This, however, is the standout at Borderless. The line wasn't too long, but you only get a few minutes inside. It's a room that's all mirrors and hundreds of hanging lanterns that change colors.
It's called "Forest of Resonating Lamps." The color change is slow. Depending on the timing of your entrance, you'll get one color to start and maybe another before you leave.
Though seemingly random, the placement of each lamp is determined by a rigid design. The lamps interact with people as they move through the exhibit.
Both TeamLab Planets and TeamLab Borderless were amazing experiences and some of the most fun I've had in Tokyo (which is saying something).
For more about these digital art museums, check out Labyrinths of light and mirrors: Exploring Tokyo's teamLab Planets and Borderless.
I also put together and saved a Story on Instagram that has a few more photos and some short videos.