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James Clar is an interactive light designer and an installation artist. James shows his work at a range of places, such as "Triennale di Milano" in Italy and New Museum of Contemporary Arts. He is drawing the attention of the various fields. Recently, he was invited to DOTMOV 2004 and The Media Arts Festival in Japan, sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Also, he is currently creating an interactive video capture system for one of Unite Bamboo's outlets in Daikanyama. As it is noticed above, he is expanding his production to outside the U.S. His unique and minimal work represents his excellent skills and his interesting originality with a number of elements of animations. Cool visited his studio in Brooklyn this time. We asked James about his vision toward design, including his experience of visiting Japan.

COOL: Firstly, can you tell be your brief profile and career background?

James Clar: I studied film at New York University. After that, I went straight to New York University’s graduate program, ITP, Interactive Telecommunication’s program and studied visual system. I also worked at Enybean Atelier, which is a media collective in New York and Fablica in Italy.

C: What made you start doing lighting art?

JC: As a visual designer, I think it’s important to understand how the eye works, so working with light is really basic level, so you can play a lot with lights depending on your idea. There are many lighting artists who take one theory and play out of it like three-dimensional design. That’s one way you eye can see data. Another way is a color data. When you close your one eye, you can see all the different colors bouncing, white, brown, and etc… After you see it, your eye is attributed to dataset. It’s a minimum system tries to recreate a color dataset. A visual designer needs to know your eye is always the one to pick up the data and interoperating the data later one. And to work with light as the media, you have to know how light works, whether it’s a bounce light or a reflective light, and need to use those ideas to spread those ideas. A musician composes sounds; I, as a visual artist, create lights.

C: You were mostly working on animation in a film, weren’t you?

JC: Actually, I started out film. In the first year of undergraduate, I was majoring in business, which does not relate to arts at all. I then switched over to film; and my parents freaked out. I used to play with my dad’s camera. My friends and I had fun doing the animations, so I thought why not just trying to do that as a career? Working within film and being in a film department, it got hard. A filmmaking is a huge production and requires so many people. It’s heard to get things precisely the way you want. The ideas you have need to go through so many channels when you are creating a film, but animation seems logical. Everything is on screen, so total control is on the screen. I then started 3D animation because in 3D animation you can have more dynamic and more lighting works.

C: Are you interested in any other art?

JC: I’m interested in minimalism. Minimalism means cutting all the extra stuff. It’s just a clean idea and no extras. I love Dia:Beacon, which is a warehouse has all the minimal arts.

C: What your concept behind your work?

JC: I created a new piece, “Circle Square” using the minimalism concept. This is really clean and trying to enable the concept. Another piece, called “Interactive Digital Dress,” I had this collaboration with Hariri and Hariri in New York. We developed a kind of a bendable screen. One of its ideas of the piece was a screen embedded into a dress. If you talk to the dress or interacted with the dress, the screen in the dress creates a certain pattern and react depending on how you to talk the dress, which means the clothing has a life of its own. Another idea of the dress was also to have a creature living in the dress. It’s a visual reprehensive like Tamagochi. The idea of this is to look at clothes more dynamic way.

C: From where do you get your inspiration?

JC: A lot of the concepts come from animation. I learn how to use a space and how to create a movement by counting frames and observing its timing. When working at Eyebeam, I was exposed to many established artists. I saw how they functioned and how they brought out the ideas. I also get influence from seeing other artist’s work.

C: What is the most important thing during the process of creating your work?

JC: A lot of the time, my work has wires and microchips embedded into lights, so until the end I don’t know if the light really works. It’s not unusual that I plugged in the light, and nothing happened, so it’s important that I always make sure if each process of my project works properly.

C: Is there any designers you have influenced?

JC: Ingo Maurer is awesome. He does a lot of lighting designs, but his pieces are static, different from my work. It’s more like a product design. Other designers, people like James Turrel and Dan Flavin, they have been doing lighting arts for a long. It’s interesting to see where their ideas and influences coming from.

C: You were invited to the Digital Film Festival, “DOTMOV 2004,” in Sapporo, Japan. How was it?

JC: Shift, a web magazine, promoted the exhibition on motion graphic works at Soso Café in Sapporo. I represented my work at there. They wanted me to present my work because it was something different. I like Japan a lot. I’m trying to build up more reputation and basis in Japan, so I can work both in New York and Tokyo. I think there’s a great market for my work in Tokyo. For instance, as for the culture, Tokyo easily accepts the new technology. When I was there the reception for the work I did was really positive.

C: You exhibited your work at the 8th Media Arts Festival, sponsored by the Agency for the Cultural Affairs, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in February. It was your second time showing your work in Japan. How was it?

JC: The exhibition for Japan Media Arts Festival was great! The other works were really great to see; there was a wide range of work from experimental video games, new media art, to animations. The opening ceremony was really nice at the Westin Tokyo; a lot of press was there. I think for the two weeks the exhibition was open; and over 44,000 people came. In Tokyo I was just one the "NHK Digista," which is a digital arts television program.

C: What’s your vision toward the future?

JC: I would like to continue experimenting and playing the ideas in lighting to have more abilities, but also in a long way, I would like to get into more environmental design. Some projects I’m going to hand out in the near future, I’m starting to move more toward not just product but a larger scale.

James Clar
James Clar has been recognized by numerous publications such as Frame, Axis, IdN, including being awarded the "Design Distinction Award" by I.D. Magazine 2004 for his thesis project done at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication’s Program. After receiving his Master’s James did work at Benetton's Fabrica design facility in Italy, he was an artist-in-residence at Eyebeam Atelier in New York, and was the inaugural artist for the FedEx Institute of Technology & Lantana Projects in Memphis. James has exhibited at numerous gallery spaces including New Museum of Contemporary Arts, Chelsea Art Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Milan Trienniale, and collaborative work for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York. Through his progressive work he has been invited to share his insight by guest lecturing at various conferences in New York, Seoul, Tokyo, and Memphis.

text by Kazumi UMEZAWA, photo by Noho KUBOTA
Currently, the Internet is used throughout the world by all generations, from the young to the old. However, the Internet’s history is still young. When the Internet started to enter people’s lives, a Japanese web designer appeared on the scene and roused a new wave in American business. His name is Yoshi Sodeoka. After he worked at Viacom, America’s major media group and the world’s biggest entertainment company, he as art director started World.com in 1995. 1995 is the year that Windows95 was introduced; an event that caused an explosive, worldwide movement. Next year the numbers of households using the Internet reached over 10 million. Sodeoka, who still works in New York as a freelancer, talked about the recent state of the Internet.

COOL: Can you briefly tell me about yourself and what you are working on right now?

Yoshi Sodeoka: I came to New York in 1989 when I was 20. I was studying arts and computers at the Pratt Institute. After that, I was working at MPB for about two years. I then started working on my own business and I founded a company with three other partners. Now I’m on my own again and doing some arts and design. As for the arts, I mainly work on videos and demonstrate them at museums and galleries.

C: What made you come to New York?

YS: I was going to Temple University in Japan and met a teacher from New York. The teacher was the Dean of Parsons School and was teaching arts and design. He was older than me but we had many things in common so we got along well. He was about to go back to New York and he asked me to continue my studies there. So that was the main reason for moving to New York.

C: You obviously have done various projects in the past. What do you think about your work at Viacom and World?

YS: Soon after graduating from school I started working at Viacom; I worked there for about two years. I did not know anything yet at that point, so I learned a lot from MTV projects and many other projects. At World, I could mostly do anything I wanted to do. I was an art director and I had the freedom to make the decisions most of the time. At that time the Internet was just getting popular, so everybody was interested in what I was doing. I really believed that I could do interesting things.

C: Is there any difference in web design from the past to the present?

YS: Design has changed a lot after the birth of the Internet. Unlike magazine and books, you can see current information right away on the Internet. Also, design in general has improved a lot. At the same time, there are many more people that imitate the designs of others. When one good design comes out, everyone wants to imitate it. Because of this many designs lack originality. Before the Internet became popular there were more people working on unique and individual designs. We have so many things going on now, so if you don’t know what you really like you probably would get lost.

C: What area of design do you find most interesting?

YS: Communication is important in the field of design because we have to create designs that someone else wants. Not only is skill important, but we are also required to find every solution in a limited amount of time. Every time creating a design is challenging, and each experience is unique. As for my personal art projects, creating them involves a totally different process from commercial design because with my projects everything comes from my inspirations. It does not have a given deadline, so I alone am responsible for the creating a schedule for completing my work step by step. I do two completely different things, art and design, so I don’t have a good balance.

C: Can you tell me your policy toward design?

YS: I’m trying to create designs that not only have a good appearance but also have deep concepts and make the audience think. I always wonder if this duality in my design is possible. I don’t think a design always has to have a complicated look because some designs that look so simple and easy sometimes have deep meaning inside.

C: Where do you get your inspiration?

YS: It depends on my project, but mostly my inspiration comes from normal life. I don’t go to museums to get the inspiration. And, especially if I’m in New York, I don’t really have to be conscious of getting it.

C: What’s your recent project?

YS: I worked on VH1, station ID at MTV. Also, I worked on a music video for Beck. Right now, I get more projects in video design than in web design. I prefer a short-term project for design because if the design project takes a long time, I would loose my interest. For me, I can be very creative when I’m forced to be so.

C: Do you have any vision toward the future?

YS: I have been doing design for a long time, so I want to concentrate more on arts; especially I want to work with video art. When I had the company with my partners I had to devote a lot of my time to the company -- but I’m on my own now, so I have more freedom. I want to use half a year of my time for myself.

Yoshi Sodeoka
Sodeoka studied graphic design at Pratt Institute. After graduation, he was involved in inventing CD-ROM for MTV at Viacom. In 1995, as an art director, Sodeoka started an online magazine, World.com. As a starter of Webzine*, he has become a superstar in web business and has won many awards, such as the New York Folio Award and the I.D. Magazine Interactive Media Design Award. His interactive digital projects have been introduced in many websites and CD-ROMs, also exhibited at Sun Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American art, and Germany Museum of Design. *Webzine is an online magazine or an online journal that is formatted into a homepage. The name, Webzine, is combination of “web” and “magazine.”

text by Kazumi UMEZAWA
English / 日本語
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