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As one of the earliest creators of immersive experiences, Japanese studio teamLab has unveiled no shortage of innovative digital projects across East Asia. Some examples include the 2021 experience Reconnect: Art With Rinkan Sauna in Roppongi; the permanently installed FUTURE WORLD at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum; and of course, the teamLab Borderless museum in Shanghai. Now, teamLab has landed in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood with its new experience, Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest.

What happened

Galaxy& teamLab: Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest

With Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone in hand, visitors to the exhibition can interact with endangered species within an immersive environment. Image: Galaxy& teamLab: Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest, Harajuku, Tokyo © teamLab

Earlier this month, Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest was unveiled in partnership with Samsung and at the company’s Galaxy Harajuku concept store. The interactive, immersive environment transports visitors into a surreal digital forest complete with a futuristic Lisa Frank color palette, where, using the Galaxy’s smartphone camera, they can “catch” endangered animals with a virtual “observational arrow.” Each catch brings up detailed information about the animal, which can then be “released” with a swipe in the direction of its original location. The more the same animal is captured, the more information becomes available. Visitors can also use a “Study Net” to capture the animals with other visitors. 

The environment also encourages visitors to interact with the animals, which react to visitor actions. In the promotional video announcing the exhibition’s launch, a visitor is seen “touching” a gorilla’s chest, causing the animal to thump its chest ferociously, while a deer, when interacted with, turns to gaze at the viewer.

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Why it matters

Using gestures, visitors can “capture” animals to bring up information about the species before releasing them with a swipe in the direction of their original location. Image: Promotional video for Galaxy& teamLab: Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest

Immersive environments featuring digital projections, audio, and lights have become audience-pleasing attractions, even as they invite plenty of criticism for their often gimmicky formats. At first glance, teamLab’s Catching and Collecting in the Sacred Forest is similar to exhibitions like Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, but its on-site interactivity and gamified experience, leveraging Samsung’s mobile technology, allow for more meaningful visitor interactions. Instead of relying on graphics and sound alone, these interactive features encourage multiple and group activities, as opposed to simply providing an Instagram-friendly backdrop.

Additionally, the educational aspects of the space make it perfect for school trips and family outings, while providing a new model for human-animal interactions, potentially eliminating the unethical treatment of animals in zoos and aquariums by removing the need for caged animals. In this, it mirrors projects like OurWorld Bristol’s AR zoo and the French National Museum of Natural History’s Revivre exhibition, which demonstrate how technology can ethically educate audiences about the animal world and endangered species.

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