Not done cornering the market on immersive, borderless cultural experiences, teamLab is set to unveil an exhibition that will submerge visitors — physically and sensorily — in the surprising combination of art and sauna. Opening on March 22 in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, TikTok teamLab Reconnect: Art With Rinkan Sauna invites its audience for a soak in an actual sauna to achieve a “sauna trance” or serene mental state, before leading them amid teamLab’s newest large-scale digital installations.
The pop-up tent that houses the exhibition may not be the “finest place” to engage with art, the Japan-based collective would admit, but it’s banking on the deeply calming effects of steam bathing to connect visitors with an art environment in whole and new ways. “Art is traditionally exhibited in luxurious places like palaces or museums,” said teamLab member Takashi Kubo. “We wanted to create a luxurious state of mind for people to experience it.”
teamLab’s marriage of art and sauna is not without precedent: last year, its Ruins and Heritage exhibition saw visitors immersed in the communal baths at Kyushu’s Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel as much as teamLab’s dazzling installations in a neighboring park. Reconnect, however, is a purpose-built environment that conjoins three areas — Sauna, Cold Bathing, and Art Submersion — for a continuous, 100 minutes-long journey that sustains the sharpened and centered state of mind a sauna trance imparts. Health and safety precautions, including social distancing and appropriate ventilation, are enforced throughout.
Across the space, visitors encounter teamLab’s installations such as “Walk Through The Light Circle,” a display of spatial calligraphy, and “Levitation,” which features a glowing ball that gently floats and dips, but always hovers just so between the floor and ceiling. Other works such as “Proliferating Immense Life” and “Array and Spiral of Resonating Lamps” involve interactive elements, allowing viewers to activate or participate in the installations’ visual states. Accompanying these sights are smells and aromas such as green tea and white birch, which are diffused within the saunas.
Outside of Reconnect’s confines, teamLab has teamed up with TikTok to present the augmented reality (AR) piece, “Every Life Survives in Fluctuating Space.” Available to Japanese users of the short-video app, the work is accessible through TikTok’s camera, and features digital flowers that bloom and shape-shift with their surroundings.
Why it matters
teamLab’s ability to craft absorbing, eminently Instagrammable spaces goes without saying; the Tokyo-based group’s two-decade track record is testament enough to its command of immersive art, digital technology, and visitor experience. Here, the introduction of wellness, in the form of the traditional Japanese steam bath, evolves the nature of its events, while meeting pandemic-prompted shifts in audience tastes and behaviors.
Launching as Tokyo cautiously lifts its recently imposed state of emergency, Reconnect is likely to resonate with consumers eager for escapist, in-person experiences yet mindful of their well-being. For at-home audiences, teamLab’s collaborative AR initiative with TikTok offers a creative diversion in line with COVID-era programming — a project that further signals the collective’s ambitions to broaden its immersive offerings beyond physical environments.