James Clar

James Clar, Tom, 2012

18 – 23 February 2014

Tom (2012)

A Tom & Jerry cartoon is re-edited frame by frame to remove Jerry from the cartoon. What is left is a video about a paranoid, violent cat running manically through the house.

Interview with James Clar, February 2014

You originally studied film and animation, and Tom appears to allude to your interest in popular culture and its influence upon your work, but also seems quite different to your wider practice. Is there a direct relationship between your video works and light sculptures?

To me, light sculptures and video works are very similar in nature. Essentially what you experience as a viewer in both cases is light streamed to your eye, then you interpret and analyse it to get meaning. The transition of my work from video to light sculptures happened in graduate school, and in the last few years I’ve returned back to using video.

I think there were a lot of conceptual references to the medium of film even when I was creating static light sculptures. For instance, The Setting Sun (2011) shows the colour of the sky as it sets into the horizon, with each light being a frame of time. This is reminiscent of an animation, but shows all the frames at the same time. Other works, like The Difference Between Me & You, (2010) use TVs as a sculpture while diffusing the light coming from them.

The overarching themes of my work deal with technology and media’s effect on the individual and society. I try to use technology as an art form in order to critique the influence of technology.

Where did the idea for Tom come from?

I was thinking about relationship dynamics at the time, and calling to mind various pop culture pairs and how they relate to each other; for instance Batman & Robin, Roadrunner & Coyote, and then Tom & Jerry.  I was thinking about how they work together, and how their characters are individually. Tom struck me as an interesting character because you feel bad for him, and yet you don’t want him to win. And then I thought “What if Jerry wasn’t even there and all this happens in his mind?” Then I think the context of his actions becomes even more extreme, and in fact you almost feel even more sympathetic towards him, while at the same time think he’s even more neurotic as a character. It amplifies these two extremes of sympathy and disgust.

Why did you choose to remove any sound from the original cartoon?

I removed the sound from the video because I didn’t want to leave any trace of Jerry in there, either visually or audibly.

You made Tom upon returning to New York after living in Dubai for five years, and describe the piece as a tongue-in-cheek take on the creative process an artist needs to take, as well as a satirical look at American politics. Could you expand upon this? How did living in Dubai, and returning to the USA, inform your practice?

For me, the work has personal meaning as well as a broader socio-political context. I made the work within the first few months of moving back to New York from Dubai. New York is an intense place, and working in the arts is quite competitive with the number of artists trying to make it here. You have to really push yourself and push your mind, which can sometimes have negative effects such as fear and paranoia.

The broader socio-political view of the work is that Tom is an allegory for the USA. He represents the fear and paranoia of US foreign policy, always looking for an enemy that sometimes doesn’t exist. The ending of the video is especially telling as Tom ties himself to a rocket that explodes into the US flag, and the last shot is of a ‘cave’ that is empty.  This alludes to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, with US soldiers searching the caves for him in Afghanistan and coming up empty.

James Clar (b.1979), is a light and installation artist who explores the effects of media and technology on our perceptions of culture and identity. His interest is in new technology and production processes, using them as a medium, while analysing and critiquing their modifying affects on human behavior.  Solo exhibitions include Data Packets, Galeria Senda, Barcelona (2013); Iris Was A Pupil, Carbon12 Gallery, Dubai (2012); Art Futures, and Art HK 11, Hong Kong (2011). Group exhibitions include Coming To Terms, Jackman Humanities Institute, Toronto and This is Not a Love Song, Museum Palau de Virreina, Spain (both 2013); Segment 3 & Segment 2, Borusan Contemporary Museum, Istanbul and Forwards / Vorwaerts, Q Contemporary, Beirut (all 2012). His work is held in collections in Europe, Dubai and the USA. The artist lives and works in New York.

Visit James Clar’s website