The gradual ebb and flow of the natural world can be imitated with technology.
That’s what many visitors have come to witness at Flowers & People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year per Hour since it opened earlier this year at Rice's Moody Center for the Arts. The project comes via teamLab, a group of technologists led by Toshiyuki Inoko, inspired by the spring season at Japan's Kunisaki Peninsula when the cherry blossoms are most vibrant. Knowing that, a visit to the installation on the cusp of autumn—whatever that means in Houston—feels like a fitting second act for the work.
Combining traditional Japanese art and innovative technology, teamLab immerses viewers in the cyclical blossoming of flowers. The group of technologists transposed 3-D models onto the walls of a dark room to interpret what they call "ultra-subjective space" where the animated walls are full of blooms in various stages of life: budding, blossoming, and diminishing, all while responding to the presence of visitors. This is not a video loop; a computer program renders the experience in real-time, providing a uniquely random experience that no two viewers will experience in the same way.
teamLab states how the project examines the way humans relate to nature, and, with the unfolding drama of climate change, the installation addresses an important topic, encouraging visitors to consider the subtle, perhaps imperceptible ways our encounters with nature inevitably alter it. Sensors detect movement so that the flowers react to the bodies that approach it, allowing visitors to witness the immediate response to their action.
The flowers grow in such a life-like way that it could be easy to forget they aren’t real, that the artwork is only an imitation of the real thing. But the beautiful realness of the installation offers a gentler approach to the idea of natural versus man-made, showing how small touches can have hugely positive—and negative—implications for the world. If you get too close, for example, the flower could wither and die. In that way, Flowers & People eschews tedious and political debates about man's impact, instead permitting you to see, touch, and know the truth firsthand.