Birth by Sleep, exploring Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park

teamLab future park powerhouse museum

The cave scene at Destiny Islands is an incredibly important location in Kingdom Hearts. In the game, it’s referred to as ‘The Secret Place’ and is hidden behind the waterfall on the island. The memories that are retraced via the drawings on the wall, indicate that this was where Sora, Riku and Kairi spent time in, during their childhood. At the end of the cave is a door, one that eventually turned out to be Destiny Island’s Keyhole.  I remember constantly running in and out of it despite nothing ever happening in it until later. I love the symbolism behind returning back to where you started and for that beginning to also be the end of the life that they knew. The scene where Riku unleashes the Heartless and Sora embarks on his journey still represents one of the most powerful innocence lost moments in a game.

A few months ago, my friend Julian and I went to Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park at the Powerhouse Museum. Walking in, I almost instantly regretted suggesting coming here. It was packed to the absolute brim with kids and their tired parents. It isn’t a children-centric exhibition but once there, you can easily see the appeal for a younger audience. Eventually you do get used to the mob and the cacophony fades in to the background, the same way your eyes get used to the darkness. The effect of having this expansive pitch blackness, lit only through light from the installations themselves lends a kind of hyper reality, where your average playground meets Tron, with a smattering of Vivid Sydney to remind you of which city you’re in.

Learn & Play! is by teamLab, an art collective, an interdisciplinary group of ‘ultra-technologists’ that collaborate across the themes of art, science, technology and design. Artists, programmers, engineers, animators, mathematicians and even architects make up teamLab, it’s a true multi-disciplinary approach.

The draw of the exhibition is the responsive artwork, that empowers you to navigate and redefine our relationship with nature using technology. On that day, Hopscotch for Geniuses was exceedingly popular with the kids, being a digitised floor that encouraged one to either step on the same glowing shapes (a la traditional hopscotch) or stomp your way around which both encouraged and extinguished the blooming of ‘flowers’ on the screen. Light Ball Orchestra saw a variety of balls of different sizes, placed in different positions, that could bump into one another. This created your very own light show as the colours and symphonies change with your own personal input via ball collisions.

“Traditional media, such as paintings, do not change in relation to the presence of viewers or their behavior. Digital art has the ability to change relationships among people who are present in the same space.” – teamLab

The most popular installation is the one right in the centre, called Sketch People. Sheets of paper are available with people outlines and you’re encouraged to draw your persona using the available crayons. These then get scanned and brought to life in the digital world where they will interact and supposedly form relationships with the other personas in that world.

I can’t remember the last time I held a crayon. The sticky waxyness and awkward oblong shape made it feel a lot more primitive in comparison to the Artline pens I use at work. I’m not an artist to begin with and it’s hard to be sophisticated with something as blocky as a crayon. Perhaps this was intentional by teamLab, to make it hard for people, especially adults, to stay within the lines.

teamLab future park powerhouse museum

I drew Rinoa because, naturally. Her original costume from Final Fantasy VIII is ironically the only iteration of her that I’ve never actually cosplayed in (Dion Rogers and Monty Oum’s transient princess). I always found it a bit old fashioned but looking back at it, it’s such a practical outfit, allowing for a full range of movement with minimal slips of the Janet Jackson variety. I’m sure I must have attempted to draw her many times as a kid, considering how much I admired her.

Julian drew himself, purple and piano keys, like some kind of amalgamation of everything that represents him. because the instrument is an extension of his finger tips, of who he is. To me, it was strongly reminiscent of the colours in The World Ends With You/すばらしきこのせかい, another Square Enix game with a strong undercurrent theme of music.

teamLab future park powerhouse museum

The word ‘trigger’ is now commonly associated with news or information that can invoke feelings of past trauma in individuals. Julian and I talk at length about our triggers based on negative experiences we’ve both had in the past. What we often forget to acknowledge are the positive triggers in our lives. For me, that’s definitely been harking back to my childhood of playing video games. If I’ve had a difficult day, video game music instrumentals are my usual go-tos to unwind. I sometimes leave YouTube walkthroughs or Twitch streams of Final Fantasy VIII on the TV while doing chores at home. The music plays a big role but sometimes even the familiar shuffling of characters or battle sounds has a calming effect. I was in New York three years ago and above and beyond the incredible experiences I had there, I’ll remember that random moment in the hotel room listening to Julian’s piano medly of Find Your Way, Balamb Garden and Ami that he sent via Facebook Messenger. It was like a sedative.

teamLab future park powerhouse museum

The largest component of the exhibition is Graffiti Nature – Mountains and Valleys. You can also draw animals into this, the difference being that afterwards, you can enter their world and ‘touch’ them, step on them if you wish, and they will respond accordingly. The effect was like having a real life extension of a video game controller which allowed you to be the master of your characters’ fate while still remaining captain of your soul. It felt like we were in a post-apocalyptic Eden, one where whales fly through the sky, lizards have mohawks and birds so iridescent as to put peacocks to shame. Maybe we, us and the animals we’ve created, are all dreaming too.

I don’t play a lot of video games anymore and at the rate my life is going, I don’t know if I ever will. At least not like how I used to. But I still have so many important memories that stem from games, so much of my work is informed by them and so many of my relationships have been strengthened by them. The gaming experience is totally unique because I was there, you were there, we were all there having this shared experience at different points in our lives, yet there’s always a feeling of camaraderie through having overcome the same adversities.

Julian is part of The Consouls, a band that plays jazz arrangements of video game music. They also do other big nerd stuff on Twitch. My other friend, Jonno is also in the band and his live streams are seriously great.

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