The expression “Arts and Culture” is always linked. James Clar reflects on the terms’ relationship, how, “Art creates something for culture, even if it’s not immediate to the general public… People forget that.”
Using technology and light, James Clar experiments with the modern mediums to reflect the pulse of the times. Speaking to the artist via Zoom, he says, “You and I right now are talking through light technology. It’s a toolset for creating art.” Screens are light systems, he says, “That’s where we get a lot of information and how we view reality.”
In James Clar’s latest solo exhibition at the Silverlens gallery in New York, the artist creates artwork that reflects the complexity of our multicultural world. He says,
“’By Force of Nature’ is really about nature versus nature. It’s about the individual and the ‘culture of us.'”
As a diaspora-born Filipino who just moved to the Philippines two years ago, Clar’s work explores the difference between foreign-born and locally-born Filipinos, and “our potential as Filipinos themselves.” Born and raised in a small countryside town in Wisconsin, Clar later moved to study Film and Animation for undergraduate and graduate studies at New York University. Later, Clar moved to Tokyo, Dubai, and back to New York while establishing his career as a contemporary artist.
“Parents” — A Video Portrait of Artists Through The Parents’ Eyes
Visible only by crouching down to peer through a fish tank, “Parents” is a unique video work that combines a captivating aesthetic with deep conceptual exploration. The natural movement of the live goldfish combines with the artificial movement of the recorded film. The concept itself is intriguing, as Clar interviews the parents of prominent Filipino artists, all signed with Silverlens—assemblage artist Miguel Aquilizan, sound artist Corrine de San Jose, Gregory Halili, who works on a minuscule level on ivory and seashells, as well as the parents of James Clar himself.
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The artists’ parents discuss their children’s chosen career choices. One mother says, “We tried to encourage him to have a regular job like a normal person. But he wants to do his own creativeness.” The father finishes, “We can’t really force him.”
In the process of interviewing parents of Filipino artists, the artist expresses there was some difficulty, saying, “It’s really difficult because people are shy. Parents are shy. And then the artists are shy about what their parents might say about them.”
Clar asked the parents the interview question: ‘Describe what your child does for a living.’ He cites the importance of the subject, saying “When we grow up, our first source of information is our parents. That’s how we understand who we are as an individual, and what our culture is.”
Interestingly, Clar points out the career of an artist in the Philippines is still not very common. In effect, parents “don’t really understand what it is we do as a job, or what the function is. There’s a disconnect. We learn culture from them, but at the same time, we’re artists—we’re cultural workers.” Despite this, Clar believes this mindset is quickly changing through dialogue on the internet and increased exposure to museums, ultimately growing awareness of what art is.
Exploring Potential in a Collaboration with Hidilyn Diaz
“When Silverlens asked me to do the solo in New York, I immediately wanted to work with Hidilyn Diaz. She’s amazing—Asian, Female, and the best in the world.”
Clar says, “I think it’s important for people in New York to see what can be achieved despite their perception of what we can do. In the West, think they wouldn’t think of Filipinos as strong. So it’s important for them to know, and for even for us to know, that you can achieve something and be the best in the world.”
Standing against a wall in the main room are five massive aluminum sheets, each reaching up to eight feet tall. The metal installation was not fabricated by the hands of Clar, but formed under the weight of Hidilyn dropping heavy barbells. Installed almost like a landscape, the artwork seems symbolic of the strong woman’s action turning her skill into art.
Clar reached out to Hidilyn last September. The process took a while, between the Olympic winner’s training, as well as Diaz’s initial aversion to tread into the foreign waters of art. Clar began by visiting their training site in Rizal. He remembers initially hitting it off with Diaz’s husband and coach Julius Naranjo, who is also a diaspora Filipino. Slowly, Clar and Diaz built a friendship. Clar recounts a trip they took together to Art Fair: “It was interesting to see how her [Hidilyn’s] eye starts to pick up artworks she liked, which were oftentimes figurative. She would analyze the figure or muscle tone in the artwork. Her perspective is very unique from her own experience.”
The second artwork collaboration Clar mounted at Silverlens New York was an installation towering at almost 20 feet. Clar recorded Diaz’s brainwaves through an EEG unit (electroencephalogram), which monitored her brain activity as she did different activities: exercise, sleep, and watch the playback of her own gold-winning performance. Clar displayed the date on the LEDs.
Diaz and her husband graced the exhibition of Clar’s opening of ‘By Force of Nature’ in New York, and are planning to go to Tokyo on a trip together in the coming week. Clar sings high praise and respect for what they’ve accomplished, circling back to one of the main themes of his exhibition—“It’s about potential. Despite what other people think they can or can’t do.”
From major collaborations with esteemed artists to world-famous athletes, Clar starts up conversations that deepen understanding of Philippine culture through kaleidoscopic art pieces. Now with his recent move to his studio in Manila, it’s exciting to see what James Clar is going to create next.
‘By Force of Nature’ is on exhibition at Silverlens, New York from March 9 to April 29, 2023.