30 August, 2018 – 6 January, 2019
Review by John Gayer
Massless, teamLab’s first exhibition in the Nordic countries of Europe, celebrates the transformation of Helsinki’s Amos Anderson Art Museum into Amos Rex by filling the majority of the institution’s newly minted subterranean home with a series of immersive, multimedia installations. Curated by museum director Kai Kartio and comprising five recent digital animations, the Japanese art collective’s mandate is to deprive art of its material qualities. Out of necessity, it also forces visitors to proceed hesitantly when navigating the pitch-black passageways leading from one installation to the next. This engenders a profound sense of relief in addition to immense surprise and delight when discovering the inimitable simulated environments that fill the museum’s galleries.
The one exception to this, however, is ‘Enso’ (2017), an inherently beautiful series of calligraphic brush strokes that splash onto a large wall mounted screen, which greets the viewer in the bright and spacious entrance hall. These splatters of digital ink, applied with an invisible brush, are never still. Floating in a shallow space, they slowly drift or rotate. At times, they grow ever more viscous and ink appears to drip from the edges. Wisps of dark vapour will rise into the space around them and much more solid-looking splinters of colour are also discharged and occasionally, a new brush stroke will be applied over an existing mark. The latter’s tones will lighten and become increasingly transparent until no visible traces remains.
This ode to fluidity is reprised and greatly magnified in ‘Black Waves’ (2016), a black, blue and white, primarily linear composition depicting a surging flow of water that is robust, visually alluring, ongoing and, in tandem with Hideaki Takahashi’s sound track, entrancingly meditative. Moreover, it recalls Hokusai’s formulaic and decidedly illustrative style of rendering, principally his famous ‘Kanagawa oki nami-ura’ (c. 1829 - 1833). Unfortunately, the chromatically related and site specific ‘Vortex of Light Particles’ (2018) fails to make an equally impressive impact. Located in the museum’s great domed space, it was intended to be the exhibition’s high point, but the ceiling’s pattern subverts the water’s flow. Moreover, the location of the giant black hole that is its destination, feels stilted. The walls that border the room also come across like an ill-fitting skirt. The heavy use of organ in the sound track adds an unwelcome churchy-ness. Though the potential of the concept is clearly evident, its realisation has not lived up it, and that is deeply disappointing.
In contrast, ‘Graffiti Nature: Lost, Immersed and Reborn’ (2017), is very arresting. The activity level of what can become a franticly exotic garden relies on visitors’ input, and of that there is plenty. Without it, the plants and animals that occupy it fade away. Rubbing one’s hand on a blank wall will, for example, counter this. The gesture will cause flowers to burst forth and butterflies to appear. Stomping on animals creates short lived splatters of paint to show up on the floor. Step on them too often and they expire. Anyone can also contribute to this ecosystem by colouring some of the preprinted animal line drawings. Once scanned, their creatures join the system’s population. But, as engaging as this installation is, the actions of rubbing and stomping soon lose their appeal. Interestingly, the most absorbing process involves participating in the work, which, to a degree, also sidesteps teamLab’s mandate. The desire to deprive art of its material qualities, even though the hand coloured images are not shown, is not completely realised. Participants cross a line; unlike viewers’ relationships to other works in the exhibition, here they do not remain mere observers. The process encompasses a modicum of personal freedom to affect the proceedings as well as haptic sensory experiences, at least to a degree.
In my mind, ‘Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space’ (2017), closes the presentation on a high note. This short, 4 min 20 sec long work takes in all surfaces of the otherwise empty shoe box-like shaped room. It begins with a flash of light and the sound of a gong, and then the static images wrapping the space begin to move and create the very realistic feeling that viewers and/or the space are tilting and turning. This appeals to fans of roller coasters, but risks making others feel nauseous. Soon, it seems we are zipping through the atmosphere with mythical Asian three-legged crows, as the action intensifies, the music also crescendos. It becomes impossible to see everything in this 360º work. Eventually flowers emerge. Petals are set adrift. Soon after forms suggestive of asteroids appear and the sound and motion begin to subside.
The accompanying guide states that the piece refers to the cyclical nature of life and the natural world’s transient nature. It is driven by a computer program and plays in real time. The sequences change with each performance and no two performances are the same. But does one need to be aware of these facts? Not really. Though correspondences to the other installations are evident, one can simply soak up the visuals, enjoy the soundtrack and go back a second or a third time to experience it again and again. It is very dream-like and, as is the case with dreams, much of what transpires eludes precise verbal description.