to experience teamlab’s latest exhibition is to transcend the notions of an ordinary art show. the japanese collective has rooted more than a dozen, deeply-immersive digital installations across an ancient mountain and its surrounding forest, inviting a profound sense of self-reflection, active participation and peace. 

 

designboom was invited on an exclusive visit to japan to encounter ‘a forest where gods live’…

teamlab mifuneyama
mifuneyama rakuen park is located in the japanese prefecture of saga 

 

 

the journey begins in mifuneyama rakuen park — a 500,000-square meter garden situated in the historic japanese prefecture of saga. arriving to the remote area is, in itself, a mesmeric sojourn across ancient land, dotted with traditional sukiya-zukuri structures and terraced rice fields.

teamlab mifuneyama
‘drawing on the water surface created by the dance of koi and boats’

 

 

while the landscape of mifuneyama rakuen has taken shape over the course of millions of years, the park itself was created 172 years ago at the end of the edo period, and maintains a deep relationship with the history of the site. winding promenades, a picturesque pond and an ancient villa-turned-tea house blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings, blurring the borders between wild and manmade. high above, the monumental mifuneyama mountain watches over an active and lush ecosystem of sacred trees, ancient stones, hidden caves, and a diverse community of flora and fauna. it is a peaceful and poetic place that induces a deep sense of contemplation and calm. serenity lives here.

teamlab mifuneyama
a ghostly gathering of digital koi fish emerges beneath the boat, eventually transforming into vibrant brush strokes 

 

 

for thousands of years, people have looked for meaning in the relationship between humans and nature. both exist in an eternal cycle of life and death, ever-evolving with the trials and tribulations of time. throughout history, humanity has caused immense damage to nature, yet has similarly been devastated by it, too. the connection is complex, multi-faceted and of great magnitude to teamlab’s core thinking. 

teamlab mifuneyama
by day, and by night: the pond turns into a jackson pollock-like painting | gif © designboom 

 

 

conceptually, the tokyo-based collective is guided by the idea of artistically interpreting the natural world without harming it. digital interventions made of light seek to foster previously unfamiliar understandings, impressions, and interpretations of the natural environment we exist alongside. at mifuneyama rakuen, in harmony with this vast labyrinth of land, teamlab has introduced an artistic dimension to the milieu of mountains, trees, and ancient rock formations, unmistakably guided by the principle of nature as art.

 

 

watch: light and sound envelop the area over the course of a hypnotic sequence of scenes 

 

 

14 immersive installations transform the park into an awe-inspiring, open-air museum. each digital art experience is intrinsically interwoven with the environment, magnifying the shapes, characteristics and fundamental facets of the landscape. beginning at 8pm each evening, visitors can roam through the park’s seemingly-infinite trails to encounter teamlab’s interventions, participating in an enchanting nighttime art adventure. on the eve of designboom’s visit, troves of exhibition-goers could be seen wandering around the garden with jaws dropped and eyes agape, undoubtedly in a state of tranquil awe.

teamlab mifuneyama
‘universe of water particles on a sacred rock’

 

 

entitled ‘a forest where gods live’ — an homage to the spiritual history of the site — the exhibition is presented by shiseido as part of their continued support of the creative arts. interestingly, the name ‘shiseido’ is drawn from a passage in chinese literature, which reads ‘praise the virtues of the earth which nurtures new life and brings forth significant values.’ throughout its 145 year history, the company has endeavored to ‘inspire a life of beauty and culture’.

 

the exhibition spotlights shiseido’s new skincare brand WASO, and the concept behind it: all things beautiful come from nature. inspired by the japanese philosophy of washoku (the art of traditional japanese food), the products use pure, natural ingredients to help foster a sense of simple beauty.

teamlab mifuneyama
a powerful, digital waterfall releases a virtual rush of water over the massive rock
image © designboom

 

 

we begin at mifuneyama rakuen pond, where a small boat sets out on the water’s edge. a cool blue glow emanates from the vessel as it slowly meanders across the serene and still surface. a ghostly gathering of digital koi fish emerges beneath it, swimming in tandem with the boat’s steady movements. without any predetermined action programmed, each koi is left to react to the motion of its neighbor.

teamlab mifuneyama
the projection’s calculation is based of the actual physical movement of water
image © designboom

 

 

suddenly, a whisper of light materializes beneath the boat. as the koi stir, their bodies begin to cast kaleidoscopic trails of radiant color, leaving a wake of illumination in their path. like a jackson pollock painting, brilliantly-hued lines and strokes are gradually revealed on the water’s surface. over the course of a hypnotic 13 minutes, light and sound envelop the area until the entire pond is flooded with streams of saturation.

 

 

watch: a sacred rock becomes the nucleus of a powerful waterfall 

 

 

a narrow trail of stone stairs leads to the next digital intervention — a projection cast onto an enormous ancient stone enshrining the deity, inari daimyojin. towering above the rock’s crown is the powerful force of a digital waterfall, cascading virtual water over it and into the earth. the projection’s precise calculation is based of the actual physical movement of water, changing as visitors touch or make contact with the face of the stone. viewers experience a powerful surge of solitude, surrounded by a mingling of spirituality, nature, art and history.

teamlab mifuneyama
‘graffiti nature – living in the ruins of a bathhouse’

 

 

along the way, visitors happen upon a natural arrangement of subtly illuminated stones, which seem to ‘breathe’ light as they radiate and fade in the profound darkness of the garden. a tree-lined pathway is also illuminated by a subtle glow, shedding light on their organic branches. teamlab furthermore ‘frames’ parts of the forest with carefully articulated geometries of light, leading visitors through a window of woodland.

 

 

watch: flowers grow and dissipate beneath visitors’ feet as they meander through the bathhouse

 

 

as we head deeper into the park, we encounter ‘ever blossoming life rock’ projected onto an enormous moss-covered rock formation. a digitized tableau of pink, purple, and red flowers grow, bud, bloom, wither, disperse and eventually disappear on the face of the stone. the virtual flora — taking form from the annual blooms common to the area — infinitely shift through the cycles of life, flourishing and fading away without end. the mass of the stone, which itself took an immeasurable time to take shape, becomes a poetic representation of life itself.

teamlab mifuneyama
visitors color in pictures of animals or flowers upon entry, later scanning them and adding them to the installation
gif © designboom

 

 

the park’s natural rocks become an important thematic element across the exhibition. deep within the dense brush of trees hides a huge stone that was overcome by mifuneyama rakuen’s wild natural vegetation. the roots of a japanese maple tree physically split the stone in half, emerging from the rock in a twisted entanglement of bark and boulder.

teamlab mifuneyama
the same bird we’ve just colored and scanned now flies across the room and interacts with other animals 
gif © designboom 

 

 

‘spatial calligraphy’ — a term teamlab describes as written forms in three-dimensional space — is cast onto the rock’s rough façade. the projection is the image of ensō, the zen practice of drawing a circle with a single brush stroke, freeing the mind to let the body create. the force, dynamism, and deep symbolism of calligraphic writing perfected in this practice, is articulated through a digital progression of three-dimensional gestures, which organically materialize on the face of the ‘split’ rock.

teamlab mifuneyama
‘resonating forest – cherry blossoms and maple’

 

 

a further display of digitized spatial calligraphy can be discovered on the façade of a cave with a fascinating and deeply spiritual history. 1,300 years ago, a monk entered the caves at mifuneyama rakuen and engraved five hundred arhats (a person who has attained the goal of nirvana), alongside the image of three buddhas. strongly connected to the history of the place, the water from the area has long been used as medicine by many local people. on the outside of the cave, teamlab has reconstructed japanese writing in three dimensions in a continuous and ever-evolving calligraphic choreography. inside, light is cast onto the trio of ancient buddha carvings, revealing their representation by night.

 

 

watch drone footage: the park’s cherry blossoms, maples, and azaleas find themselves illuminated in the darkness

 

 

as we make our way down a set of stone stairs deep within the natural garden, we wind up in a surprising space — indoors. these are the ruins of an ancient bathhouse, a once active space of congregation and contemplation. on the top floor, visitors sit at tables and color in drawings of flowers, frogs, and various other flora and fauna they’re given upon entry. after coloring a bird bright blue, we make our way to the lower level, and our drawings are digitally scanned. 

teamlab mifuneyama
‘ever blossoming life rock’

 

 

prompted to proceed to the ground floor, visitors find themselves surrounded by a immersive and active digital ecosystem of illustrated plants and animals, each one drawn by another visitor. the digital habitat follows the natural order of jungle ecosystems: animals eat each other, flowers bloom and die, and the entire milieu is in a continual state of change. 

 

 

watch: a digitized tableau of pink, red, and white flowers grow and eventually disappear

 

 

back outside, huge areas of land are touched by teamlab’s hand. mifuneyama rakuen’s vast azalea valley is illuminated by spellbinding waves of light that undulate across the immense sweep of greenery. with mifuneyama mountain towering overhead, the glowing plants slowly ‘breathe’ white light as unseen visitors meander around them, an effect of which is contemplative and quietly profound.  

teamlab mifuneyama
the virtual flora infinitely shift through the cycles of life 
image © designboom 

 

 

the boundless expanse of the park’s cherry blossoms and maples similarly find themselves illuminated in the darkness, yet these trees emanate a brilliant composition of color. movement of passersby affects the tone of light. as one tree changes color, neighboring vegetation ‘catches’ the hue and passes it throughout the woodland. the entire forest becomes an ever-changing rainbow that reminds people to be aware of the existence of other living things in the space they share.  

teamlab mifuneyama
flowers flourish and fade away without end
gif © designboom

 

 

finally, allowing visitors to engage with shiseido’s new line of products, teamlab has designed the ‘WASO tea house’, where digital flowers bloom inside of a teacup. as liquid is poured, flora emerges from within the vessel, evolving in an endless state of growth. rendered in real time, the projection responds to the action of the visitor, scattering petals when the cup is moved and growing new life as more tea is poured. each individual moment will never be experienced the same way twice.

teamlab mifuneyama
‘split rock and enso’

 

 

in the forest where gods live, art and nature are wholly intertwined in an enchanting and enriching adventure through the woods, where the boundaries between the digital and real world are entirely obscured.


‘spatial calligraphy’ is a term teamlab describes as written forms in three-dimensional space
gif © designboom 

 

 

watch: on the outside of the cave, teamlab has reconstructed japanese writing as a calligraphic choreography

teamlab mifuneyama
‘three buddha figures carved inside the cave of the five hundred arhats’
inside, light is cast onto the ancient buddha carvings

 

 

watch: ‘memory of continuous life’: light is shed on a pathway lined with trees, illuminating their branches

teamlab mifuneyama
‘sea of rocks of oblivion’: subtly illuminated stones seem to ‘breathe’ light as they glow and fade 
gif © designboom

teamlab mifuneyama
‘cut out continuous life – forest path’: parts of the forest are ‘framed’ by carefully articulated geometries of light

teamlab mifuneyama
‘cut out continuous life – forest canopy’: illuminated trees seem to be cut out of the landscape 

teamlab mifuneyama
‘life is continuous light – azalea valley’

 

 

watch: the azalea valley is illuminated by spellbinding waves of light that undulate across the sweep of greenery

teamlab mifuneyama
‘WASO tea house – flowers bloom in an infinite universe inside a teacup’

 

 

watch: as liquid is poured, flora emerges from within the vessel, evolving in an endless state of growth

 

 

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