The brave new world of digital art: interactive exhibits at PACE


teamlab crystal universe v2

This digital art show at the PACE Gallery in Menlo Park has proved very popular. Slated to close on July 1, it has been extended to mid-December. I booked tickets in what would have been its last week, and it was hot, heady and heaving with visitors. The crowds reminded me just a little of when I went to see Shunga, the 2013 exhibition at the British Museum, though the draw in that case was the erotic content.

The show is the work of teamLab, a group of Japanese artists collaborating on works that explore the nexus between art and technology. It really consists of two shows, housed in different buildings. The first, "Living Digital Space", is more for adults; the second, "Future Parks", is theoretically for children but was packed with adults nurturing their inner child. Ocean creatures, space rockets and railway layouts feature prominently - plenty to keep a five-year-old boy happy, though frustrating when the interactive digital train tracks won't line up where you want them, and you can't fathom why.

In "Living Digital Space", the works are less interactive and more contemplative: flat-screen displays of constantly changing images, sometimes arranged as a series of smaller panels, sometimes unfurling across whole walls of a gallery. Themes are often drawn from the natural world, with motifs you might recognise from traditional Japanese painting, amped up: explosions of flowers, great frothing waves, crows, butterflies.

There is a strong technical underpinning, though. In Black Waves (2016), for instance, the image you see is based on calculations about the actual behaviour of particles at the surface of the water, yielding a computer-generated image which looks photographic but isn't.

The pieces that made me linger were those that used technology in more sculptural ways. I enjoyed Light Sculpture of Flames (2016), in which points of light in a giant cuboid produce mesmerising flame effects. Crystal Universe (2015), described as "an interactive installation of light sculpture", was exhilarating in the same way as a Yayoi Kusama mirrored room, like the one in the 2012 exhibition at Tate Modern.

Another immersive showpiece is Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders (2015), which I did not manage to see. The technology was broken and the room was closed while they fixed it. However, I was told I could come back again for free to see it another day, so perhaps I will. As art experiences go, this one is strange and tantalising, and admirably suited to its Silicon Valley location.

teamLab: Living Digital Space and Future Parks
PACE Art + Technology, Menlo Park, CA
6 February to 18 December 2016

Above: teamLab, Crystal Universe, 2015. Interactive installation of light sculpture. Image at