Borderless: what to expect from Jeddah's new digital art museum

Art collective teamLab, born in Tokyo, is behind the immersive project that recently broke ground

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On the shores of Al Arbaeen Lagoon, overlooking the Unesco World Heritage listed old town of Jeddah, a new type of museum is taking shape.

The first permanent teamLab Borderless museum in the Middle East broke ground last month and the project promises a labyrinthine space of more than 50 artworks across sections that include Borderless World, Athletics Forest and Future Park.

It is scheduled to open in 2023, and an exact date will be announced soon.

Japan's teamLab, an international collective established in Tokyo in 2001, is made up of talented people from a variety of industries. They include artists, programmers, computer graphics animators and mathematicians.

The group is recognised for embracing digital technology and fostering a symbiotic relationship between art and the viewer.

The work responds to multiple sensory stimuli — light, sound and touch. Multi-Jumping Universe, for example, has visitors springing on vast flexible floors, their movements directing the flow of light and music around them.

On Hopscotch for Geniuses: Bounce of the Water, meanwhile, visitors hop on shapes that appear on the floor, triggering the appearance of marine and land-based animals or insects.

The group is responsible for museums and permanent exhibitions around the world, in Tokyo, Shanghai and Macao, with more to open soon in Beijing, Hamburg and the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Works by the collective can also be seen in museums from Los Angeles and Istanbul to Adelaide and Helsinki.

They're no stranger to the Gulf region, joining a group show in 2021 as part of Riyadh Art and in 2019 at the Future Investment Initiative event in the Saudi capital.

TeamLab also has a presence with its Future Park installations in Dubai's OliOli Children's Museum and The Scientific Centre in Salmiya, Kuwait.

Borderless Jeddah will be the first time the collective has put down roots in the region, however, emphasising a growing interest in immersive digital art in Saudi Arabia and across the Gulf.

Similar experiences have been seen in permanent spaces and exhibitions such as Infinity des Lumieres in The Dubai Mall, the Rain Room at the Sharjah Art Foundation and the Theatre of Digital Art in Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

Scroll through the gallery below to see inside Dubai's Infinity des Lumieres:

TeamLab describes the new project, a collaboration with Saudi Arabia's Athr Gallery, as “a world of artworks without boundaries, a museum without a map”.

“We prefer to speak as a collective — no individual represents the entire collective,” the group told The National in a statement.

“Artworks move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence each other and, at times, intermingle, without boundaries,” it said of the Saudi collaboration.

What this description means in practice, for example, is visitors might see crows flying around one space, but they originated in another.

“As they fly about, they affect other artworks, causing flowers to scatter and fall,” the group said.

While many of the artworks are not new, there is one installation planned exclusively for the Jeddah museum, featuring a 15-metre high golden sand waterfall.

“The space is forever transforming as people, flowers and sand waterfalls continue to interact with each other,” teamLab said.

'Golden Sand Waterfall', an artwork that will be exclusively revealed in teamLab Borderless Jeddah. Photo: teamLab

Another new artwork to be unveiled at the museum involves a cluster of giant, flaming megaliths that are transformed by people and other artworks.

The museum will also be home to a section for children, with the aim of inspiring another generation of Saudi talent.

The space has been years in the making. The idea emerged after Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture visited teamLab Borderless Tokyo in 2018, the year it opened.

The museum had 2.3 million visitors in its first 12 months, including celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Will Smith, and was also named one of Time Magazine's World's Greatest Places 2019.

“After the visit, they reached out to us for a possible collaboration, and conversations began towards the planning of the project,” teamLab said.

“The teamLab Borderless Jeddah project has been in planning and production since 2018. We are thrilled now to be in the process of building the museum from the ground up and see the project come to life.”

While the project uses cutting-edge technology, the concept is steeped in history and cultural legacy, the group said.

“Our work is based on the continuous accumulation of human knowledge over a long history. For that reason, it is very significant for teamLab to be able to open the permanent teamLab Borderless in Jeddah, right next to a World Cultural Heritage Site.

“We hope that people will be able to move between the seamlessly interconnected past and present, and to imagine an ideal future.”

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Updated: May 30, 2022, 1:30 PM
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