Architects design space. A building is just a way to create spaces. Information architects at Oracle design relationships with abstract concepts. So far the main way we have to create visible spaces for our users is by projecting pixels onto glass screens.
This may change someday. If the promise of virtual reality is ever achieved, we may be able to sculpt entirely new realities and change the very way that people experience space.
One sneak peek into this possible future is now on display at Pace Gallery in Menlo Park. Last week the AppsLab research and design team toured the Living Digital Space and Future Parks exhibit by the renowned Japanese art collective teamLab.
Still photographs do not do this exhibit justice. Each installation is a space which surrounds you with moving imagery. Some of these spaces felt like VR without the goggles – almost like being on a holodeck.
The artwork has a beautiful Japanese aesthetic. The teamLab artists are exploring a concept they call ultra subjective space. Their theory is that art shapes the way people of different cultures experience space.
Since the renaissance, people in the west have been taught to construct their experience of spatial reality like perspective paintings with themselves as a point observer. Premodern Japanese art, in contrast, might have taught people to experience a very different flattened perspective which places them inside each space: subjective instead of objective.
To explore this idea, teamLab starts with three dimensional computer models and uses mathematical techniques to create flattened perspectives which then form the basis for various animated experiences. I can’t say that the result actually changed my perception of reality, but the experience was both sublime and thought-provoking.
Their final installation was kid-centric. In one area, visitors were given paper and crayons and were asked to draw spaceships, cars, and sea creatures. When you placed your drawing under a scanner it became animated and was immediately projected onto one of two giant murals. We made an AppsLab fish and an AppsLab flying saucer.
Another area lets you hop across virtual lillypads or build animated cities with highways, rivers, and train tracks by moving coded wooden blocks around a tabletop. I could imagine using such a tabletop to do supply chain management.
Ultra subjective space is a pretty high brow concept. It’s interesting to speculate that ancient Japanese people may have experienced space in a different way than we do now, though I don’t see any way of proving it. But the possibility of changing something that fundamental is certainly an exciting idea. If virtual reality ever lets us do this, the future may indeed be not just stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.
Living Digital Space and Future Parks will be on display at the Pace Gallery in Menlo Park through December 18, 2016.