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Interview: teamLab (Story of the Forest)

'Future World' not enough for you? We quiz teamLab on what to expect at their newest installation, 'Story of the Forest'

Look forward to an art installation at the Glass Rotunda at the National Museum of Singapore that features roving animals, digital flora and seasonal weather in an expansive forest created by Japanese digital art collective teamLab – the same folks behind Future World at ArtScience Museum. Sixty-nine works from the William Farquhar Collection of National History Drawings (whose artist remains unknown) were brought to life for Story of the Forest, a two-year collaboration between teamLab and the National Museum of Singapore. We quiz the collective on what we can expect.

Visually, on what journey does teamLab hope to take visitors?

Visitors can expect an infinitely expanding universe of falling flowers blooming and changing over time as they cross the sky bridge. They’ll then enter a vast, interactive forest that cycles through day and night, all while changing according to Singapore’s seasons. And at the base of the dome, if they pause and stand close to the wall, a forest will rise up along with animals native to Singapore.

'People are no longer spectators but part of the work'

What was the biggest challenge in conceptualising the exhibition?

Probably how to effectively use and link up the different spaces within the immersive artwork: the drum space with its domed 15-metre-high ceiling, the bridge spanning the dome, and the 140-metre passage that continues from the bridge to the lower rotunda. The size and scale of the spaces were also a technical challenge.

Were there any obstacles faced in translating the works from static 2D works to animated 3D ones?

All 69 chosen drawings show off the Chinese artist’s exquisite brush skill and emulate the Western style of natural history drawings – and certain features are exaggerated, giving the drawings a certain charm. Our challenge was maintaining the charm and beauty of this artist's style when converting the animals into 3D models.

Do you think traditional art is losing its hold in the face of technology-enhanced exhibits?

With conventional art, the presence of others can be considered a hindrance – you’d count yourself lucky if you were alone in a gallery. However, with our works, the presence of others in the exhibition space can be positive since the digital art piece changes according to whoever stands near it. People are no longer spectators but part of the work. Digital artworks also allow us to show off immense detail and continuous change in a way that wasn’t possible before. 

Moving forward, how do you see teamLab growing and innovating itself?

We hope to eventually create a teamLab amusement park where visitors can be immersed in large-scale art. But beyond that, we’d love to harness the power of digital art and construct an entirely new city. We want to change the relationship between the people inhabiting the same space.

Story of the Forest is at National Museum of Singapore from Dec 10.

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