TeamLab in Saitama: “Shmoos” Among the Trees

Earlier this summer, my friend (and fellow author) Jonelle Patrick and I hopped a train to Saitama Prefecture, West of Tokyo, to visit “Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest,” the permanent TeamLab exhibition in Saitama’s Musashino Woods.

TeamLab is an interdisciplinary, international art collective that “seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world.” Put more simply – teamLab exhibitions are amazing multimedia experiences, even for those who don’t wake up in the morning and “choose art.” (Trust me on this, if you get the chance, go.)

Jonelle and I met at the station and walked to the wooded park where the permanent exhibition is installed. We had a few minutes before the exhibition opened for the evening, so we grabbed a table at the little beer garden just outside the exhibition space–because steam cakes and beer are always the right answer.

Steam cakes and beer in Musashino Woods

A few minutes later we bought our tickets and entered the exhibition space. Parts of the exhibition are visible from outside the fence, but you really need a ticket to enjoy it, because although you can see the “shmoos” (a note: teamLab calls them “ovoids,” but as a child of the 1970s, these are always going to be either shmoos or alien eggs to me) and hear the music from outside, you can see a lot more, and the experience is really different, inside the fence.

Shmoos in daylight. Can you see the photographers?

We arrived about an hour before sunset, because we knew (from visits to the teamLab Planets exhibition in Tokyo, which also has a small ovoid space) that the installation would look very different in daylight than it does at night.

During the day, the “ovoids” (SHMOOS) are a reflective silver color–which makes photography challenging, unless you want to create unintentional fun house selfies.

Old shmoo and new shmoos

A few of the older shmoos had begun to lose their silver coating, so we could see the LED lights inside.

The lights became more pronounced as sunset approached, and the lights on the ground began to illuminate the trees. We were really impressed with how well the LEDs “colored” the foliage.

The colors get more pronounced as the light fades.

Relaxing instrumental music (more new age than classical, though with elements of both) played through speakers placed in strategic locations around the park. You can see one near the right edge of the picture above.

By sunset, the shmoos had transformed from silvery ovoids to glowing balls. The colors change in time with the music–but also any time a person touches or pushes one of the ovoid forms. When that happens, the color change spreads out from the one that was touched to all the others.

Color change in progress…

The colors shifted through the entire rainbow, from fiery red to deep, calm violet, and sometimes ghostly white. Like all teamLab installations, the shifting is not predetermined or pre-set; it happens organically, both in response to humans interacting with the ovoids and by randomly-generated computer decisions.

Ghost shmoos

Although the installation isn’t very large (you can walk directly from one end to the other and back in five minutes, if you’re motivated and moving fairly fast) there’s a lot to see, and since the lighting, music, and colors are always changing, it’s easy to spend a long time there and not feel you’ve “seen all there is to see.”

One of the paths through the park

Several paved paths wind through the exhibition, up and down the hill and along the hillside.

Saturated blue

It was interesting to see how the colors changed. Sometimes, entire areas were saturated with a single vibrant color. At other times, the hues shifted rapidly, with very few of the visible shmoos the exact same color. It’s hard to show it accurately in pictures, because the camera seizes a single instant in time.

I think I took close to 300 photos during the couple of hours that we were there–and Jonelle took just as many. We spent quite a bit of time just walking around and enjoying the event without cameras, too. It was fun to photograph, and also great fun to stand and walk around in the moment, without trying to save or record the experience.

Magical Shmoos

I’m a huge fan of all the teamLab exhibitions, but I’ll admit I wondered at first whether this one would be “worth it,” since it “only” had a single type of art. Admittedly, the shmoos are one of my favorite teamLab pieces, and I never get tired of seeing them. Even without that, though, this was absolutely worth not only the price of admission, but the 90 minutes on the train (each way) it took to get there and home.

Have you seen the Acorn Forest exhibition, or another teamLab installation? Would you, if you had the chance?

2 thoughts on “TeamLab in Saitama: “Shmoos” Among the Trees

  • July 20, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    The pictures are so neat but I am sure it was unreal in person. Those are definitely Schmoos 😉🩵

  • July 21, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    What a great blog, Susan. The pictures are fabulous. How I’d love to experience this exhibition. I have never heard of teamLab … — Carol

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