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Inside the Wired Wonderland at Pace Gallery's Pop-Up in Menlo Park

Anh-Minh Le | March 15, 2016 | Story Galleries and Performance

The former Tesla Motors showroom in Menlo Park, vacated by the company in 2013, is once again bustling with innovation—but of a much different variety. Gone are the electric cars and charging stations. Pace Gallery has transformed the 20,000-square-foot space on El Camino Real into a showcase for artworks that are digitally driven. Some are so fantastical and awe-inspiring, you might be tempted to ascribe them to magic.

Living Digital Space and Future Parks opened in February and runs through July 1. It features 20 installations by Tokyo-based teamLab, an interdisciplinary group composed of about 400 creatives whose oeuvre merges art, technology, design and the natural world. “Silicon Valley is famous for technology,” says teamLab’s Takashi Kudo. “So, of course, when we got the offer [for the exhibition], we said yes. For us, it’s very meaningful to do this in a place that believes in the power of technology.”

Pace is headquartered in New York and also has locations in London, Beijing and Hong Kong. The teamLab show in Menlo Park marks the launch of a new program for the blue-chip gallery: Pace Art + Technology. “The community has been incredibly receptive,” says Pace President Marc Glimcher. “One thing that’s very different is that in a gallery, the art is there and the art is for sale. This program has a broader reach, and it’s really not about selling anything. That’s what distinguishes this approach.”

Glimcher can distinctly recall his introduction to teamLab’s work, about four years ago in New York: “I couldn’t take my eyes off it,” he says. “Despite the unconventional nature of it, the response I had was the same as a traditional art experience. It was flipping all those switches in my brain that great art flips.”

While the technology employed in the teamLab show varies—from LED lights to screen-based holograms—collaboration is an important theme throughout. “Digital art really gets people involved,” observes Kudo. “It encourages co-creation.”

The pieces are designed for grown-ups and kids alike to interact with, marvel at and simply enjoy. In “Crystal Universe,” which consists of more than 150,000 LEDs, the dazzling and seemingly infinite points of light change as viewers enter and walk around the room. A website allows anyone to control the lights and, thus, their surroundings.

“Flowers and People, Cannot Be Controlled but Live Together—A Whole Year Per Hour” also offers a real-time immersive experience, with flowers undergoing various stages of their growth cycle right before your eyes—springing up, blossoming, withering and fading away—all in response to the movement of those in the space. The work covers the walls as well as the floor, giving the impression that you’re standing in a meadow.

In “Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders,” as the name hints, swarms of butterflies appear to take flight not only on a series of wall-mounted screens, but outside of them. Once again, the viewers’ behavior influences the art: When “touched,” the butterflies perish.

“Universe of Water Particles” is a 3-D waterfall video, generated by devising a virtual rock, upon which hundreds of thousands of digitally produced water particles are layered. A computer calculates the rate at which the particles should fall to achieve a stunning simulation.

An especially big hit among the younger set is “Sketch Town.” Its walls depict a cityscape, on which you can add your own creations. Illustrations—of cars, buildings, spaceships, monsters and more—are scanned and projected onto the walls, becoming part of the scenery. As if that isn’t delightful enough, a software program turns the scanned drawings into paper-craft patterns; the printouts can be assembled into 3-D objects.

“Using digital materials, we want to make art and make the world more positive,” says Kudo of the myriad interactive works that teamLab has endeavored. He adds with a laugh: “Imagine if everywhere you went, it was this much fun.”

Tickets $6-$20, 300 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650.462.1368, Pace Gallery

Originally published in the March issue of Silicon Valley

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