Exhibition view of TeamLab Continuity 2021, Asian Art Museum San Francisco. (© TeamLab, courtesy of Pace Gallery)

Asian Art Museum's interactive TeamLab exhibition is a funhouse of the future

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If you've ever gazed at a contemporary work of art and said "My kid could do that"...or worse, "I could do that!" well, here's your chance to prove yourself, hotshot.

TeamLab: Continuity, an interactive exhibition on view at the Asian Art Museum through February, offers visitors of all ages the opportunity to participate in making the art.


The exhibit is a digital wonderland housed inside the museum's brand new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion. The immersive art experience features a deluge of digitally animated neon plants and animals, projected onto the walls and floor. The visuals are referential of traditional East Asian brush painting, but the way they fill the space is nothing like ink on parchment. Many of the projections use motion sensor technology to respond to visitors' movements: flowers blossom and blow across the walls; seedlings sprout to life at the touch of a hand; a flock of crows flies beneath your feet as you walk around.

Exhibition view of 'TeamLab Continuity,' 2021, Asian Art Museum San Francisco. (© TeamLab, courtesy of Pace Gallery)

An art collective including animators, architects, and mathematicians, TeamLab formed in 2001 and has grown alongside technological developments. Where the group once produced animated videos and public sculptures, their new, immersive exhibitions are a different animal in terms of experience. In addition to producing increasingly radical experiences, TeamLab has also grown as an enterprise: Their permanent exhibition in Tokyo, TeamLab: Borderless, is the most-visited single-artist museum in its inaugural year (2018-2019). But while they've increased their scope, TeamLab maintains an aesthetic rooted in traditional Asian art and continues to create work aimed at giving viewers an experience the collective calls "ultrasubjective."

In TeamLab: Continuity, this means subverting the expectations of a museum outing—the inert viewer gazing at static objects. Instead, the collective transmutes the physical space of the museum into a surreal experience which in turn alters the way we think about the physical world we return to when we leave the exhibition. Because the display is rendered in real time in response to the audience, no two visits are the same. The experience is like a walk through a carnival funhouse, replete with mirrors that warp visitors' sense of space, or a visit to a planetarium gone extra cosmic.

The show also features a swelling orchestral soundtrack and incorporates floral fragrances throughout the different rooms. While these elements aren't interactive, they do contribute to the overall sense of immersion. And while visitors are immediately submerged in this sensory experience, the installation actually reveals itself slowly, unfolding the longer one stays inside the pavilion. Without extended engagement, it is difficult to appreciate the way the elements of the piece overlap and absorb each other, blossoming in response to movements in the space.

Like children at play, visitors interact with TeamLab: Continuity in a way that isn't prescribed and evolves naturally, every step through the experience blooming with novelty surprises. The saturated colors of the animations, which reminded me of something out of Bladerunner, are captivating enough to hold one's attention. Slowly discovering how the environment is responding to you has all the charm and feeling of a game. I was delighted when a brushstroke rushed across the floor, flowering into a sea anemone beneath my feet; it was thrilling to press my hands onto the walls and cause drifting kanji to sprout leaves or explode into balls of fire.

As the title suggests and as TeamLab makes clear in their artists' statement, the exhibit explores the interconnectedness of the natural world and makes us think about ways in which technology distances us from it. What struck me, however, was just how social the experience really was. Half the fun was in watching other visitors explore and experiment with the environment, giving a sense of shared discovery. What it offers is something we already have access to but take for granted: a sense of wonder and play that can extend beyond the exhibition into our appreciation for the small miracles of the physical world.

// TeamLab: Continuity is on view now at Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St. (Civic Center). While limited walk-ins are available each day, advance tickets ($20/adults) are recommended. For reservations, go to asianart.org.

Exhibition view of 'TeamLab Continuity,' 2021, Asian Art Museum San Francisco. (© TeamLab, courtesy of Pace Gallery)

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