Visiting Planet Selfie: teamLab’s newest exhibition in Tokyo is a trip (to many different worlds)

I am a judgemental person. I am cynical and often critical of things. At times, it comes with the job, other times I just think I’m a naturally stressy kind of person.

The first time I heard about – or saw – the Future Worlds exhibition was through social media. My thoughts were along the lines of “why the heck is everyone’s profile pictures at the same place” but curiosity got to me and I went to read up about it.

At the helm of this concept is the international art collective teamLab, which was started in Tokyo. The creative group comprises talents from various practices and disciplines – there are artists, programmers, animators, designers, mathematicians, architects and more. So naturally, when such an eclectic collective comes together, you expect art that dabbles in many different genres and mediums.

Still, after a copious amount of research, I hadn’t (or couldn’t bring myself to) make a visit to the often-packed (I really hate crowds) exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. While some people find museums boring, I actually enjoy the vastness and quiet – it’s the ‘immersive’ and twinkly and ‘sensorial’ that I despise. But these are the challenges I have to overcome and crowds I must conquer if I am to be a real-life journalist with a balanced sense of extraversion.

So instead of taking a train via the Downtown Line to MBS, I decided to go straight to teamLab’s source: Tokyo, Japan.

Located on the manmade island of Toyosu – a vastly different setting than buzzy Marina Bay Sands – the exhibition building housing the collective’s latest project, teamLab Planets, looked unassuming.

Planets’ focus is on the body becoming one with the art – and ultimately the world which is also why you are required to be barefoot for most of the exhibit and, without giving away too much, your legs will get wet at some point(s).

Enter the void

The place is huge, a whole 10,000 sqm to be exact, so besides putting aside all your predispositions, you’ll also need to set aside some time to fully take in the experience.

The thing I found most surprising is how dark the exhibition’s rooms are – in a good way. It goes from 0 to 100 real quick as the guides usher you in from the brightly lit locker rooms into the dim corridors that lead to the experiential rooms.

<em>Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers</em>. Photo: Delfina Utomo
Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers. Photo: Delfina Utomo

No matter how many pictures you see of the rooms and how much research you do, seeing and walking through them IRL is still surreal. You walk, wade, and even crawl through rooms like the Waterfall of Light Particles at the Top of an Incline where you trek up a watery hill; Soft Black Hole – Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body, which is a room entirely made of cushions so you have tread carefully; and Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers, which a dizzying spectacle of falling blooms and leaves through the seasons, symbolizing the cycle of birth and death.

<em>Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity</em>. Photo: Delfina Utomo
Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity. Photo: Delfina Utomo

The crowd favorite was definitely the Floating Flower Garden: Flowers and I are of the Same Root, the Garden and I are One. While the name is a mouthful, the exhibit is exquisite, surrounding you with a garden of orchids that reach out to you (lots of photo opportunities). Another fave was Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity, a water-filled room in which you’re knee-deep in a ‘koi pond’ chasing fish or watching them turn into flower explosions when they collide with people. The ‘fish’ are all projections, of course, but it isn’t pre-recorded. Instead, it’s an interactive program that reacts to the movements of visitors. This is a common theme with most of the interactive exhibits – nothing is replicated, nothing can happen again.

Hard to selfie when there are so many people at <em>The Infinite Crystal Universe</em>. Photo: Delfina Utomo
Hard to selfie when there are so many people at The Infinite Crystal Universe. Photo: Delfina Utomo

The dim lights, combined with plenty of mirrored walls and light displays, can make it easy to feel lost navigating your way around this maze of an exhibition, But honestly, with plenty of ushers around, you are going to be just fine.

There’s no I in teamLab

One thing’s for sure – going to teamLab Planets alone is a mood. Almost everyone around me brought someone along or came in a group (better if you need new profile pics taken) but processing everything while trudging through it alone is surprisingly wonderful.

It allowed me to explore the spaces at my own pace and also encouraged some Big Think moments.

As I went from room to room, I started to feel more conscious of how I was affecting the space around me. From the more obvious like the pillow room (Soft Black Hole – Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body), in which my weight was literally causing the cushions sink and rise, to the maze-like The Infinite Crystal Universe (where I had to step out of the frame of plenty of photos so as not to ruin them) our bodies, and presence, matters.

A great room for a big think. Photo: Delfina Utomo
A great room for a big think. Photo: Delfina Utomo

I never knew I’d reach a kind of nirvana while sitting in a sunlit room full of alien egg-shaped domes (Moss Garden of Resonating Microcosms – Solidified Light Color, Sunrise and Sunset) in a corner of Tokyo, hundreds of miles from Singapore. But looking at my distorted reflection in one of those egg domes made me think, “The universe at this moment in time can never be seen again.” No wait, I didn’t think that. It was actually on the wall somewhere in the exhibition. But it was close to how I was feeling anyway.

The last two exhibits at Planets are the garden ones that you can take in after you emerge from the darkness into the light – another metaphor waiting to be made.

As for profile pics? Thanks to mirrors everywhere, I did manage to snap some killer selfies. Do I feel less judgemental of others now? Perhaps. While I can definitely take in an exhibition without needing to look at my phone, in the spirit of this exhibition’s ethos – that everything is connected – I felt the need to show my 1,000+ followers on Instagram that I was in a room of orchids with perfectly applied cat-eye eyeliner, in Japan, ready for my 11th konbini tamago sando of the trip.

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