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Interview with Hyun Jean Lee

The interview with media artist Hyun Jean Lee was conducted in November 2013 via email exchanges. Currently living and working in Seoul, Korea, Dr. Lee is actively engaged in art and research projects while teaching young media artists at Yonsei University. In this interview, she earnestly talks about balancing herself as an artist and theorist, and explains her process of creating art. All photos and videos are courtesy of the artist.

HJLee CalibratingWork Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
Hyun Jean Lee, calibrating her Wii art installation

You started as a painter but took up media art in the late 90’s and have been working with media art since. How did you make that transition?

Although I am working with different media now, my previous experiences with painting have influenced my sensibility and my way of thinking. I painted more than 10 years. During those years in art schools, I practiced to become a professional painter. But when I learned how to use video, I realized that the video medium was also very attractive.

Around that period, I gradually got interested in video, and I explored how to include the passage of time in painting. I also put an effort into making three-dimensional qualities by adding tactile layers onto the visual layer, although a painting is basically in the two dimensional realm. However, when I started to create video installations with the three dimensional screen structures, I found the video medium would be a more appropriate form for me to convey my idea efficiently and imaginatively. I could create my screen as I intended, for example, regarding the size, volume, and its form. So I started putting more time in creating video installations. Then I wanted to learn video art. That’s why I decided to study in the U.S.A. By the time I entered the ITP program at NYU, my interest had extended to incorporate interactivity. At ITP, I concentrated on learning computer programming, physical computing as well as how to manipulate video interactively.

Although I don’t paint now, I still often make drawings. Particularly when I work with installations, even when the overall creation process requires a mechanical and logical approach, I try to push my perceptual intuition and sensibilities into my work that I have accumulated from painting.

You are also a theorist. How does your study/teaching affect what you create as an artist?

Well, I am still not accustomed to introducing myself as a theorist. ^^ But I think I really enjoy studying and researching. During the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech, where I completed my Ph.D. study, I had to read lots of books and theoretical articles to pass the qualifying exam. It literally took several years.

Over the course of such years, I gradually became a researcher and got interested in the theories of digital media and media art. In fact, I had an interest in art history and theory before entering the ITP program. In order to understand them more thoroughly, I also read many books on philosophy. Although I had to spend most of my time obtaining technical skills at ITP and putting much effort into learning interactive media technologies at the Georgia Tech’s media lab (syn-aesthetic media lab), the years I had to focus in navigating these diverse theoretical realms gave me a chance to extend my previous theoretical interest.

I think that the attractive part of studying theories is the very process of understanding diverse theoretical perspectives and finding a map of how one theoretical issue can be connected with others. The feeling of drawing the map and expanding it bigger is really intriguing to me, and it makes me want to be involved in such theoretical practices more often. This practice sometimes helps me look at my artwork in a more analytical and critical view.

I think that the process of researching and writing is very creative like the process of making artwork. It is also a system of generating and developing new ideas. However, grasping theory and applying it at the same time is not always good. Sometimes theoretical work and art work conflict inside me. I think theories help me look at the world in logical and analytical ways. But when I habitually apply the similar approach to create my artwork, this analytic way of thinking blocks me and makes me hesitate sometimes. When a critical view advances too much, it becomes hard to work on my art, because artwork creation requires sensible perception, which differs from logical thinking. Theory can affect artwork creation in a negative way.

Recently I thought that I would have to try harder in order to strike a balance between artwork creation and theoretical research. I think the best way would be spending my time more evenly for both, although it is difficult to focus on them simultaneously. I tend to concentrate on theory and art separately, with a very long interval of time in between. These days, I thought of spending more time on artwork creation in earnest, since during last ten years, I spent more time on the theoretical studying.

You asked me how teaching affects me. Teaching is always great fun and productive for me. I learn a lot from students and actually I got many artwork and research ideas while teaching. When I see what and how I teach would influence how my students think and create, I feel a strong responsibility in teaching.

You recently re-created a previous work of yours “The sea – recognition of sea space” (1998). What made you revisit the old project, and how is it different from the original production?

HJLee the sea 1998 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
The sea – recognition of sea space (1998)

Yes, last May, I revisited my old video installation piece, “The sea – recognition of sea space” (1998). I re-created the work and entitled it as “The Cubic Sea” (2013). The reason I revisited this work is simply because the art museum of Ewha Woman’s University asked me to show this work for the museum’s exhibition.

Since my video installations are often big, it is hard to reserve the work as it is shown in an exhibition. So I break down my installations after exhibitions and whenever there is a request of showing, I just consider recreating for the new context. Actually every installation, I think, needs to be reconsidered based on the context of an exhibition. Spatial context is very important. When a show is decided, I visit the actual space where my work will be located and decide how to install the work in that place, based on the size and the moving route of the room, entrance and exit, lighting condition, and so forth…

This time when the museum asked me to show the work that I created a long time ago, I thought of creating an entirely new work. But when I visited the space they provided me, I kind of understood why they asked me to show that specific work. Thus, I decided to just recreate it. Based on the very specific spatial condition and the situation of how my work is inter-related with other works, I had to decide the cube size and position of it.

Most of my work, including “The Cubic Sea”, is a video installation using beam projectors. I always think about how many projectors to use and how I can provide them, whether I have to prepare them or the museum/gallery provides them. Budget is always an important issue to consider.

In the 1998 version, I used four projectors and could not make a projection on the top of the cube. For “The Cubic Sea” this time, I used a projection mapping technique with two projectors, to cover all five sides of the cube. The entire cube became bigger in size. I wanted to make the viewers feel as if they were in front of the sea at the seashore. To provide such a feeling, a certain amount of size is important. But at the same time, I wanted to make the cube to look like an object when it was viewed from a certain distance, for example, from the entrance of the room. I needed to finalize the exact dimensions of the cube to support these two conditions. This process was fun and personally meaningful for me.

HJLee The Cubic Sea 2013 2 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
The Cubic Sea (2013)

In many of your works, the natural scene made with video projection seems to offer a soothing experience to the viewers. It reminds me of the effect of natural phenomena described by Alain de Botton. Is there a reason why you often work with the landscape/natural imagery?

“Vast landscapes can have much the same anxiety-reducing effect on us as ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time. Against them, or within them, our weak, short-lived bodies must seem of no greater consequence than those of moths or spiders. Then, too, whatever differences exist among people, they are as nothing next to the differences between the most powerful humans and the great deserts, high mountains, glaciers and oceans of the world. There are natural phenomena so enormous as to make the variations between any two people seem mockingly tiny. By seeking these out, and experiencing a compelling sense of the insignificance of all humans within the cosmos, we may mitigate whatever discomfort we feel over our inferior position in the social hierarchy.”
– Alain de Botton, on the effect of natural phenomena, “Status Anxiety”

HJLEE encountering two times 03 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee

Encountering Two Times (2012)

I know most of my artworks are using natural scenes. Probably it is due to my sensibility and personal preference. I like to use natural scenes to provide calm and meditative experiences for viewers. Such experiences could be called soothing experiences, as you pointed out. Also, I think it is somewhat related to the soothing effect of natural phenomena as Alain de Botton said. But the difference is that I don’t care too much about the insignificance that a human being feels in front of nature. What I want to borrow, simulate or represent from nature is that we are also a part of nature. I also want to express the beloved feeling that nature gives us.

I was born and raised in cities. I am not a person who has grown up in nature. But my sensibilities are strongly attached and refreshed in nature whenever I experience it. I think most people also share this kind of experience and I want to share this with them. I want to create a work to transport the viewers to their own old memories of nature.

In the summer forest you created in “Light Green Leaves with Light”, you hear the sound of the bugs, see the images of the sunbeam and can walk between trees full of leaves. With the projection light, is it also warm like the real summer?

HJLEE LightG 01 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee

HJLEE LightG 03 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee

Light Green Leaves with Light (2012-2013)

Yes, it is! At least, I think so. No, I think it is really warm at the center of the work.

In “Light Green Leaves with Light”(created in 2012 and 2013), I used three 6500 ANSI lumens projectors. Since the projection screen material is a fabric that is used for a silkscreen print, the projection light penetrates into the screen a lot, so there is lots of loss. Therefore, I had to use very strong and bright projectors. Also, I had to create a certain feeling of surroundedness in the space. Three projectors were the minimum number of projectors for this purpose.

In this work, I intended to use the projection light as one source of light. Projection light is an artificial light. But I always think that the projection light or RGB lights in it provides a very similar feeling as the natural light. Another source of light that I wanted to present was the sunlight in nature that I captured in the video. Thus, in the work, the videotaped sunlight and the projection light are inter-mixing and provide the feeling of surroundedness. Because of the multiple sources of light with the actual heat generated by three 6500 ANSI lumens projectors, I felt really warm surrounded by the lights in the middle, when I walked around the work.

You made several iterations of the interactive project “Ripplecast” over the years. I believe you do this in order to provide the viewers an ideal sensory experience. How has the process been? Is there a next step for this piece?

RippleCast 2008 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
Ripplecast (2008)

RippleCast 2009 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
Ripplecast 2009

Ripplecast 2012 Kimhae Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
Ripplecast 2012

“Ripplecast” was an ongoing project for me over the past five years.

The first “Ripplecast” used a still picture as its background image underneath the ripples layer, but gradually I switched it to moving images with sound. And I have kept changing the moving images of water. In the most recent version “Ripplecast 2012”, I scaled it up to be supported by two channel video projections. The reason I changed the water images is because I wanted to provide the viewers with the feeling of standing in front of the water.

The most ideal scene would be where viewers feel as if like they are standing in front of the water, forgetting the gallery and museum context. By expanding the screen, I thought it could approach the ideal scene one step further. I wanted to create the meditative feeling, as if we felt we were within nature. Thus I changed the video image of water several times. Also, since I had many chances to show this work at galleries and museums in Korea, as well as other countries, I wanted to show the beautiful scenery of Korea. I wanted to present the four seasons of a river depending on the actual season of the individual exhibition. Thus, I prepared different video images of water and changed it depending on the context.

What does audience participation and interaction mean to you and your work?

Well, I often create interactive works but I do not want to use interaction or participation just for the purpose of it. Interaction for interaction is not something that I want to create. Because I was a painter, I always think that there is an interactive experience when people look at paintings, between the viewer and the painting. Although it is more like an interactive experience happening in the mind and heart, I thought it could be said as an interactive experience as well as it is an experience with the work of art. I try to involve the audience’s interaction more actively when I want to create bodily and engaging experience for the audience. The experience that a viewer has during the time he or she spends with the work is an important element of my work. I would like to invite the viewer to experience my work and extend their engagement with it.

It is somewhat related to the phenomenological experience that the viewers can perceive while experiencing the artwork. I like to convey this phenomenological experience in order to provide the viewer chances to meet themselves, while they experience the work. Meeting themselves would be like meeting their old memories. To create this kind of experience, I used to make big size works where an audience can walk into and walk around.

For me, audience participation and interaction involved in the artwork become the very means of leading the audience to experience his/her individual self.

Most of your works are not about personal issues, but in your recent work (Playground series), you talk about your experience as a mother (the boredom of watching kids in the playground). Is motherhood affecting your work? If so, how?

HJLee Playground Slide and Stairs 1 Interview with Hyun Jean LeePlayground – Slide and Stairs (2011)

Surely, motherhood has affected me and my work. But mostly it is because it takes up considerable amount of time for me. … Yes, I am somewhat agreeing with you that my works may seem as if they are not related to my personal issues. When I was an undergraduate student in the painting department, I was deeply concerned how to find my style in my work, thus I had to know myself. I thought when the work dealt with a personal issue in its theme or subject matter, it seemed authentic as an artwork. But I gradually found that I was more comfortable bringing my personal issues indirectly into my work. My works may not seem to deal with my personal issues, but I still think that my sensibilities and memories are deeply affecting my work. I never start with a very abstract idea or a general perception. My own sensibilities and memories motivate me to start a project.

HJLee drawing for playground slide 1 Interview with Hyun Jean Lee
HJLee drawing for playground slide 3 Interview with Hyun Jean LeeDrawing for Playground – Slide (2011)

Many media artists collaborate with other artists or engineers. Some of your works are also collaborative. Do you work with others at the moment? How important is it that you understand recent technology?

Yes, currently I am working with others. As I said above, I began to learn how to use media technologies at ITP. But when I graduated from ITP, I felt it was not enough for me. I felt that I needed to learn more about technology in order to achieve more hands-on skills and technological knowledge. Since I created my artwork individually before entering ITP, honestly I was not familiar with working with others. I continued my studies at Georgia Tech (GT) to get more proficiency and ability. But at GT, I gradually realized that maybe I would not achieve the level of skill and knowledge that I wanted in the end. Instead, I learned how important it is to work with other collaborators. I realized that the skill of communicating with other collaborators, in order to figure out the common problems as the work progressed, is far more important and difficult. In this process, I got to know that the most difficult part is finding a proper collaborator to work with, rather than deciding how to work.

After moving back to Korea, and working at Yonsei University (teaching media art), it was not always easy to find collaborators for my art projects. Since I am in a school now, most of my collaborators become my students or other professors. Sometimes I work with my old school and lab colleagues that I met at GT. Since I cannot learn and follow every rapidly developing media technology, learning from collaborators becomes more valuable. Recently I have worked with engineers, computer scientists, and HCI experts for diverse projects. I also work with my husband, Jeong Han Kim, who is a media artist and art school professor.

As you mentioned, both you and your husband (Jeong Han Kim) are media artists and work in academia. Though you two are not an artist collective, you do collaborate with each other. How do you decide when to work together and when just to stay supportive? Do you discuss work at home?

We have helped each other often, but for a while we did not collaborate for an art project. I think there is no specific reason for it, but when we got married, one of our professors said that we shouldn’t work together naively just because we were a couple. Actually, in some ways, our working styles are very different. Most of time I work with a single initial idea, and develop it until it is actually implemented. On the other hand, Jeong Han keeps changing his ideas while working; maybe his idea keeps evolving during the working period. Therefore, his initial idea is completed with a very different result. But for the last more than ten years, as closest collaborators, life partners and colleagues, we have discussed our ideas a lot, whether it is for a theoretical work or artwork. As we discussed a lot, we also fought a lot. We try to be very honest when we criticize each other’s work. Hearing harsh critiques from each other is always very painful, but since we can agree with the critique from the other, it soon becomes very helpful in developing our work. In fact, after graduating from an art school, it was very hard to hear really helpful critiques from outside.

Last year, Jeong Han and I started to work together as a team in order to create a project that was entitled Emergent Mind of City (EMC). Jeong Han currently leads this project along with another designer, Jeong Do Kim. Our team is called AM (Art of Mind group). For this project, AM is collaboratively working together with the BiKE lab (Biomedical Knowledge Engineering lab) of Seoul National University (The director of this lab is Professor Hong Gee Kim). The EMC project is still a work in progress, but we have presented it in several media art and technology venues already.

What is the “screen” to you now?

Since I started working with video in 1997, the screen has replaced my canvas. Like the canvas, the screen is the realm for my artwork imagination. My Ph.D. thesis is about the screen as a boundary object between the real world and the virtual world. The screen, as a boundary object, is a conceptual realm. It simultaneously contains diverse times and spaces in it. Therefore, the screen becomes a psychological and philosophical domain. I think that the screen is the realm of imagination where artists can create the imaginative experience through it.

My dissertation begins with a sentence “Screen becomes everywhere”. Now we are really in an era where screens are everywhere, and screen experience will expand more and more into our daily life. I attempted to create a malleable screen display when I was at Georgia Tech, at the beginning of my studies, but I realized that it would not be possible due to my small budget and the limitation of technical knowledge. But nowadays the flexible screen becomes an actual product. Screens still continue to evolve along with other emerging technologies, creating new kinds of experiences. It is still a means of communication and expression. The question of what contents to show on the screen, and how to create the screen experience as a perceptual and interactive experience is still wide open to be explored for me as well as other media artists and designers.

Any artists that you admire, feel influenced by and want to introduce to the readers?

In recent years, I felt I needed to know more about Ólafur Elíasson’s work. I visited his solo show at MoMA PS1 in 2008. Before visiting the exhibition, I didn’t know about him and his work. But one of my friends who I met in an artist residency program told me to check out his work. So, on my way home after the residency, I dropped by his show in New York. The show was titled “Take your time” and it was fascinating. It was an unforgettable experience for me. I liked how he used the materials and created the naturally engaging experience by using media technologies. He often uses analog and mechanical technologies, but they create a very attractive and interactive experience for the viewers. After I saw several other projects of his on YouTube, and also at his solo exhibition in Seoul, I thought that I needed to research him and his work. I wanted to understand more of his sensibilities and methodologies that he incorporated in his work.

How do you want to define yourself as an artist?

Hm… this question is the hardest one to answer in this interview so far. I have thought for a very long time about how to answer this. But I still cannot define myself either as an artist or a theorist. Maybe I can, but at the same time, it may not be correct or appropriate. Or maybe I don’t want to define myself at all.

It is easier to define myself as a mom and a teacher. Being a mom and a teacher is a given fact for me, although I have tried hard to achieve those titles in my life. But being an artist and a theorist is not the same as being a mom and teacher. I write articles and papers, and create artworks with ideas I want to express. But how these creations would be read, perceived, and received as artwork and theoretical work is beyond my personal intention.

So, I just keep exploring and creating what I am interested in showing and sharing. Maybe I am an artist who hopes to create art that can generate substantial value and meaning for the viewers. Do you think this answer is too general? Hm, yes, this is surely a very difficult question.

Please share with us if you are working on any new project at the moment.

Jeong Han and I, with others, are developing the EMC project now. The EMC project has been presented at the Seoul Media Art Biennale 2012 (Media City Seoul 2012), Re-new Art Festival (2013, Denmark, Coppenhegen), IEEE Viz conferences (2013, Atlanta, U.S.A.). It will be presented at the Siggraph Asia, Art Gallery in November 2013 in HongKong.  In addition, I am further developing “Encountering Two Times” by collaborating with Jeong Han. We are working on how to connect “Encountering” project with the concept of qualia landscape.

I am also involved in a project experimenting with the next generation of screens such as transparent displays and flexible displays. This project is created for the experience design and interaction design research purpose. I am working with many other scientists and artists on this.

Also during recent years, I have gradually thought of making my personal art projects more in earnest. My last solo show was held in 2009, and I have not found a proper chance to continue it since, so now I am thinking to put more energy to resume it.

More on Hyun Jean Lee:

- Interview by Inhye Lee

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Interview with James Clar

The interview with media artist James Clar took place in his studio located near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, October 2013. In this candid interview, Clar shares his progress as artist over the past eleven years, experience in Dubai, how his life sculpts his art, his take on technology and he discusses copyright issues.
Photos of Clar’s works (except for the one taken in his studio) are courtesy of the artist.

JamesClar Studio Interview with James Clar James Clar’s studio in Brooklyn, New York

We are sitting at your studio now. Can you describe your daily routine here?

It depends on what I’m working on, large scale installations or smaller self-contained works. Things can be pretty fluid. I’m usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at once. I have to order a lot of materials, so depending on when they come in I’m allowed to work on a particular piece.

For larger scale works or installations, they tend to take a long time and have a lot of coordination. So they can take half a year or a year to materialize.

I’m here 6 days a week, from around 10am to 5pm.

So you try to keep the regular hours like in a day job.

Yes, absolutely. I think it’s important to keep things structured, especially when you are on your own schedule.

Is there any project that you are working on right now?

At the end of this week I go to Dallas to recreate an installation there (“Turbulence”).
James Clar Turbulence Interview with James ClarTurbulence (2011)

And then in a couple weeks I’ll show at Istanbul Contemporary Art Fair, then my solo exhibition in Barcelona at the end of November. December is Miami. February is Arco Madrid. March is Armory New York and Art Dubai.

Wow, how do you manage?! I know you are very prolific. Just by looking at your site, it’s amazing how much work you are doing. But really, how do you do it?

Well, I got into a high output mentality while at ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University). I’d use the assignments that were given and try to approach them to create final pieces. I’d just work within the confines the teacher gave us and see if I could make a finished piece with it.

I try not to pause too much when making work, or maybe I get anxious if I’m not creating.. The work I do is really a timeline of what I’m interested in or exploring at the time.

When I graduated from school my budget for creating works was really, really minimal.. After having graduated from ITP I didn’t even have an apartment, I was just staying at a friend’s place.

In New York?

Yes, it was Bushwick at the time. But not how Bushwick is now, there was nobody there. I’d literally eat one meal a day and save the money to busy acrylic, resin, or other materials. Then at the end of the week I might have enough to produce a small, raw concept.

So you had a starving artist period!

Yes, absolutely!  I don’t even think things got stable until 2 – 3 years ago. It took a long time to narrow in on a path and get stable. In fact, I wouldn’t even have called myself an artist until a few years ago, because even though I was impulsively making a lot of pieces, I didn’t understand how it could become a profession.

Did you do something else besides?

I had two jobs in the last 11 years (since graduating from ITP). One was working at digital advertising agency, R/GA, for 3 months, and the other was working in architectural lighting. I did this in Dubai for 1 year and that’s what brought me there originally. This architectural lighting firm knew about the work I was doing from my website and invited me to come out to propose ideas for the hotels and public spaces they were working on.

We (Clar and his wife) had been moving around a bit (New York, Tokyo, Memphis, and back to New York) when this job presented itself, so I figured why not? This was back in 2006. We had heard a lot about Dubai so we thought we’d see what it was about.

How was it?

Working in architecture lighting was interesting. It was definitely a learning experience. All my work colleagues really went to school for architecture lighting… and you know we went to school at ITP, which is like a…


Yeah, it was completely an experimental lab.

Red Burns visited Dubai once and I was telling her about the experience working at the architectural lighting design firm. I said, “You know, at ITP we are taught to think differently. To use materials, but not necessarily in the ways they were meant to. And that’s great for developing new concepts or new systems, but it put me at opposite ends with my colleagues at the firm. They would say ‘No you’re supposed to use this light this way’ or ‘This lamp must be used this way’, etc.”

But actually it was a learning experience for me, because I started learning about lux levels, how to read architectural diagrams, and how to put together proposals correctly for architects and clients. So even though it was a tough situation in that none of my experimental works got approved by the clients, I learned a lot of foundational knowledge and procedure.

I think these commercial experiences.. including R/GA, I learned a lot from them, even though they could be difficult. Some people are great at work politics. I’m not especially.

At architectural lighting firm, was it common to find someone like you, who designs lights but who also has knowledge in engineering?

It’s not too common. Generally speaking, architecture lighting is about providing an environment with the proper light levels for what its use is. In fact, a lot of times the lights should be hidden in the architecture and not distract from it. This is what I learned. However, there were moments when we were given options to explore, and that’s when my colleagues would ask me a lot of questions. And I’d be like “Yeah sure, you can use the temperature data to control the colors for the façade of the building.” Things like that. It was definitely a different approach than what they thought.

The way I remember you is through 3D LED Cube from ITP. Now I see your work here and it is completely different from that. At one of your previous interview, you also mentioned that you transitioned from micro-controller based LED light design to more florescent light for a aesthetic reason, right?

James Clar 3D Display Cube Interview with James Clar
3D Display Cube v.3 (2002-2009)

Yes, it’s for aesthetic reasons. LED lights still have this dotting effect that is really distracting to me. Fluorescents have a clean, linear light that I can control.

I try to keep things really minimal and purely visual. I can’t erase the dotting of LED stripes, but if I wanted to, I could make a fluorescent have a dotting effect. So at the moment I just have more control over it.  I’m happy to upgrade though as soon as that changes.

You used to do more of interactive designs. Are you planning to do interactive works with florescent light?

Not really. When I was at ITP I had just come from Film/Animation in undergrad. So I was trying to create animations that were controlled by different data sets, such as sound and video tracking, then just let that control the frames of animation. This was definitely an approach to developing a visual system.

However, later on in Dubai, I understood that what I’m moving towards is art and it’s close to sculpture because it’s material based. So I started moving into this idea of objects that exist and encompass the idea itself. It doesn’t require active interaction with it. The artwork is already finished as it is. The idea is solid and it exists on it’s own.

It’s really interesting to hear that from you because I remember you and your work from ITP. So, you don’t miss the interactive element in work?

Hmm, not really. Although, who knows, I might add an interactive element to a work in the future. I just think it’s not important to make that the focus.

Actually, moving back to New York I’ve started to experiment with video, and I haven’t really been doing that since undergrad. Although, I think it’s all related, light works and film/video.

In your recent work “Turbulence” though, you used micro-controller and a motor. Is that another direction you’re looking at, though it’s not interactive?

It’s not interactive. It’s definitely dynamic though.

I think thematically I’m often concerned with the shifting notions of identity and nationalism, through globalism and technology. This definitely came about while in Dubai. Things there change so quickly, it’s like concentrated globalism. I often thought that Dubai, how it is now, could not exist without the internet. But also, I felt like the issues they were dealing with were what other people were dealing with globally. It was just exaggerated there. So I’d observe these effects and make work from it.

It really sounds like you got a lot of influence and met with big turning points in Dubai.

Yes. Although I hated it there at first.. The first year was really tough. I just thought the city wasn’t right for me. People don’t like me because of how I look, they don’t like my work, they’re just not used to it. So we were definitely planning on moving back to New York after the first year, end of 2007.

But then, about a month before we were going to move, Kanae (Clar’s wife) said “I heard they started Pecha Kucha here. You should try and present your work.” So I did. The art scene was really just starting at that time, and the core group of people were at that Pecha Kucha (Traffic, Rami Farook, The Third Line, 9714). Afterwards they said, “James, don’t leave. We’ll help you out and start exposing your works.”

After that it was a complete shift in involvement. A city’s experience is largely based on the friends that surround you, and I’m lucky to have met them there.

But you didn’t directly work with a media art gallery after that, did you?

No, no. There is no media art gallery there. At the time there were only around 3 galleries, now there’s a couple dozen. And those early galleries were really starting to develop a ‘Middle Eastern’ contemporary art scene at that time. So they wouldn’t represent an Asian American who happened to be in Dubai. They wanted to build the local scene, so that meant Middle Eastern or of Middle Eastern descent.

I was with Rami Farook and Traffic. He gave me studio space and I’d make works. At first it was more about limited edition design, but as his interest in art developed so did mine. We went from doing contract work for Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi art fair one year, and then the next year to actually being an exhibitor. I did a solo at Art Dubai 2010 and then a split show with Abdulnasser Gharem that fall in Abu Dhabi.

You mentioned that your work is not necessarily about technology now, but you are a very technical person, and you definitely play with technology.

I mean, I’m into technology and how it affects people on a personal and cultural level. But I don’t think I concentrate on technology like an engineer or a strict ‘new media arts’ person.

I’m trying to push things more conceptually.

In your work “The Rat Race”, I thought you kind of expressed your sentiment as a media artist that it is always a rat race. But in “Little. Yellow. Different”, you talk about finding happiness through technology. So, is this your approach to technology?

James Clar The Rat Race Interview with James Clar
The Rat Race (2008)

James Clar Little Yellow Different Interview with James Clar
Little. Yellow. Different. (2010)

I love technology but I’m skeptical of it at the same time. It’s like you accept the change but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. That’s an underlying theme to a lot of works. My work is very visual and colorful, but it’s offset by themes that are a bit dark. It’s a bit like the newest technology itself, all shiny and new, but what is it doing to us?

Some of your works are about love or relationship. Can you talk about those projects?

James Clar Lovers Quarrel Interview with James Clar
Lover’s Quarrel (2011)

Definitely. I’m just trying to make works that are personal. This is something that I try to do, and relates to my high output of work. The works that I create are a reflection of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences at the time. I think authorship is very important in fine arts. The works that are created should say something about the artist.

I think this is what sets me apart from other people who use light, such as UVA or Random International. Those are companies with many people involved so their work is often detached from any personal emotions because they come from a group.

My work is a timeline of experiences, my emotions, and where I’ve been. I think in the long run this is what sets my body of work apart from anyone else’s.

People still talk about how difficult it is to collect media arts, how it might be difficult to maintain the work after the collection. How do you deal with this kind of technical issues?

Yeah it’s hard. I think that might be part of the reason I moved away from interactive work. It breaks!

However, collectors are more and more open to media art or technology-based art. You definitely see artworks that use some form of technology in galleries nowadays. It just needs to be utilized in the right way and not just because it’s the latest technology.

Any comments on Rihanna’s music video “Rock Star”?

James Clar Rhihanna vs James Clar Interview with James Clar

Yeah it’s crazy!  My friend showed it to me and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. It also made me a bit angry. I mean, she’s rolling around with millions of dollars and her creative team just rips off ideas from artists. She actually ripped off David LaChapelle in another video of hers.  I actually spoke with some lawyers about it. The problem is the copyright and the fact that I didn’t know about it until now because I was in Dubai when it happened… Anyways, it’s a learning experience. All my work is filed copyright now.

My stuff’s been ripped off before, 3D Cube was ripped off by Random International.. I mean fine, if you are a student and an artist influenced you, maybe you make a work that is similar. But at the stage where we’re at, you shouldn’t do that.

3D Cube was a really good learning experience. I was really young at the time and got a ton of attention for it. Pretty soon I started seeing all these copycats on the internet and it was really frustrating. I spent all this money on patenting it, but after that you have to pay for lawyers, you have to chase down people, and then get into litigation. It just became this whole negative path I didn’t want eating up all my time with.  You have to ask yourself, is that what you really want to spend all your time doing?

So I decided the most important thing is to just keep making things. You have to keep evolving and staying ahead. I told myself “Don’t fall into this trap. Don’t let it suck you in.”

It’s interesting when you created 3D LED Cube it was very unique (I had never seen anything like that..) and now you kind of see it everywhere. There is a DIY kit on the web, let alone how to tutorials.

If Kickstarter were around when we were at ITP, I think things would be different. That would definitely have been a tool I could have used.

So, it was a different period of time when you created it.

Definitely. The online community and tools for producing unique projects is way more developed now.

I think the experiences with developing the 3D Cube actually pushed me further into the arts. I’m just not set up like a design firm. I don’t want to deal with clients who tell me “make it do this” or “change this color to that.” I’d prefer to spend my time exploring concepts and researching things. At least now, with the position I’m at, I can make whatever I want and it’s accepted how it is. That’s how art functions. Maybe I’m really stubborn! (laughs)  But I guess we fall into what our natural inclinations are. The path that lead me to art was a long and winding one..

Is there any artists you are inspired by and want to share?

There’s a lot. What I love about the arts is how massive a spectrum it covers, literally anything goes. So depending on what you’re into, you’ll find someone covering it. It’s a continuous journey.

The artists that pushed me into light sculpture after film school; Jim Campbell, Dan Flavin, James Turrell, and Ingo Maurer. Plus reading a lot of Marshal McLuhan.

Some more contemporary artists I’m into lately; Christopher Wool, Carsten Holler, and Matthew Day Jackson.

Please share your upcoming solo show info.

<Data Packets> exhibition will be at Galeria Senda in Barcelona, opening Nov 21st, 2013.

- Interview by Inhye Lee

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Interview with Antonin Fourneau

The interview with artist Antonin Fourneau, creator of Water Light Graffiti, was conducted via email in April 2013. Photos and video of Water Light Graffiti were taken at Grohe Live Center, NYC Design Week, May 13, 2013. Other photos and videos are provided by the artist.

WLG designWeek0 Interview with Antonin Fourneau

Water Light Graffiti

Generactive : Your project, Water Light Graffiti (WLG) looks like water gun play meeting graffiti art in a very beautifully executed way.

WLG designWeek1 Interview with Antonin Fourneau
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WLG designWeek2 Interview with Antonin Fourneau
You spray water at the wall, touch the wall with a wet finger, or paint brush it with water, and the wall brightens up. When the water evaporates, the light gradually dims. You can see the gradation of the brightness depending on the amount of the water on the wall’s surface. Would you like to describe this project in more proper detail and tell us what was the motivation behind this project?

Fourneau : I often used water as base of interaction in my project :
in this installation wet sponge allow to connect people together to trigger an action in the Tetris game exactly like a MaKey MaKey, in fact in you disassemble a Nintendo Game controller you have already inside a pull up resistor and if you put your finger on the pad directly on the PCB you triggering the actions.
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in this dinner with my research team in design school I’ve used the chopstick and contact with the wet sushi to creat a sort of musical environment.

and in the “Jawey” pieces in my portfolio
The led dim in the contact of the tongue. A sort of prothesis for a new kind of communication.

but also in workshop with students
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and in this workshop at CAFA design School in Beijing about Natarual Device Controller
This is during this workshop than the idea of WLG grow up. I was in a park for the lunch and an old guy drew with water on the ground.

My motivation is always to find new canal of interaction with the public. And the street fascinate me more and more currently. Create gameplay in streets is a interesting challenge.
Also the ephemeral in the asian culture intrigue me a lot.

Generactive : You said (at the Digitalarti interview) that this project can be autonomous, responsive to the falling rain, for instance. Is there a future plan for this piece, such as making it a weather responsive architectural project?

Fourneau : Yes during the first part of my residencies my interest was to develop a new kind of materials for architecture. In fact the time process to produce a sustainable material needs more time than the prototype. But I’m in contact with some architect interested by the project. I find interesting to produce a material in reaction with the human and  also with natural phenomena.

Generactive : Could you tell us a little bit about how the technology in WLG works? There is no danger to get electrocuted, right? : )

Fourneau : No I use just 5 volts. It’s quite simple I use water as a bridge to conduct electricity around each Led.
A larger part of my job after find this simple idea was to optimize the fabrication and the design of the WLG tiles.

Practice as Artist

Generactive : (In your portfolio) Douglas Edric Stanley at Aix-en-Provence School of Art describes the secret ingredient in your art, where you go beyond your many inspirations and define yourself with an integrated artistic identity (Hope it’s not too far from what he meant), is a sophisticated form of amateurism. What do you think about his interpretation?

Fourneau : He was my teacher for 5 years and we are still working today often on one of my projects: a contemporary fun fair revisited. And Douglas is certainly one of those most able to analyze the way I work. And its interpretation is very fair. I really like the hack, I’m not a great engineer but I like all the time discover new things and experimenting with. born in the era of the video game I’m always questioning me about how people are going to play with what I do. And if that is not playable my other influence comes from the popculture. And also a part of my own culture comes from Movies, comics, manga,… So I think that the supernatural have a part of influence on me.

Generactive : Speaking of inspirations, I want to know how you transfer them to your work. I guess my question is about your general work process. Does a certain technology or a platform give you an idea that you’d like to work on? Or do you have an idea and then seek for tools to execute it? Or is it all combined process?

Fourneau : Most of the time it’s a combined process. I need to touch material or code to think. The Idea of WLG emerges may be 8 years after the first time when I used water in an electronic project. I have many ideas in my mind and not enough time to try everything. So I wait to have all the right ingredient in hand to launch me. In the case of WLG I also need funding to make a bigger wall and not only a small prototype.

Generactive : There is a strong sense of playfulness in your work and your art is often in the form of a game. Where does this come from?

Fourneau : Born in the eighties, play to board game and video games. But mainly born in era where the code was teach in school. I touch a first time a code in the primary school. And I always remember the feeling to give a life in a digital turtle.After my french high-school diploma when the question of what I want to do in the futur came. I was terrified, I’ve chosen an informatic school without real idea. after a month of learning the language ADA and count words in database. I felt that this area of programming interested me but I was not in the right place for creativity. With a stroke of luck, an artist  talked to me about an art school where there were  different fields : 3D, sound, robotic, programming in addition to  traditional creative fields. It  was the Aix-en-Provence art school. I integrated this school and I think it was the right place at the right moment to help me. I think the practice that I developed there would be never support in another school. I could have fired me the 1st year in other context.

Generactive : I recently met one artist who said that she was going through what might be a midlife crisis. She said she was working on her art, but doing so without SOUL! For someone like you, whose work shows a strong sense of love and joy in it (Not just that your project instills joy into the audience, but I can see that you must have had a lot of fun conceptualizing and creating the piece), do you ever run into “artist’s block” like this? If so, how do you tackle these moments?

Fourneau : the question of soul in my creation come every times. And even more when a creation is played with the public. if someone makes a beautiful sketch on the WLG. is it still my creation? My part of job is to cause excitement in the public mind. for me it is very important to meet people opinions and discuss this strange practice that I develop. I think that part of my creative approaches increasingly now to a designer practice.

On Interactive Media and Technology

Generactive : Interactive media seems like an everyday term these days. Now that more, and even most, people in the world are using interactive media in some way, the question for artists has become “how”, “why” and for “what” do we use it. What does it mean to you to work with interactive media and technology?  Is it just a small part of your bigger creative practice? Why are you in this field?

Fourneau : I’ve always lived with media that move and live.It is therefore a sort of clay for me too as painting for a painter. Today is a material like any other and that leads to a way of thinking. we do not think in the same way  with paint on hand or with a tablet or with a keyboard. But we stay same person with the same influences.

Generactive : Is there a routine for you that you do to push yourself forward as an artist in the field?  Do you try to learn new skills every now and then? Or is “working with technology” natural for you (embedded in your DNA)?

Fourneau : I’m a fairly lazy actually. When I have an idea that comes to me but asked me to learn too many new things. I find it too complicated at once. And I’d rather get an easier way to achieve it.
I wish it was in my DNA. But at the same time I feel that for some people the technology is time consuming. I often spent a lot of time on a technical problem. And the mere fact of trying to solve this problem suffiser me mentally. But I actually lost a lot of time. If you do not want to be an engineer but a designer or artist in this field. I think it takes a minimum know what will be the job of the engineer who will help you.


Generactive : Is there a new project that you are working on right now? If so, would you like to tell us a little bit about it?

Fourneau : I work on friendly versions of WLG. Play duck hunt with a water gun icon smile Interview with Antonin Fourneau
I’m working on a book about my project Eniarof the fun fair (
And I’l try to finish my game Oterp on iPhone.
Certainly the project who asked me the most time. Precisely because the code is not enough in my DNA. But at the same time it has some interesting maturation in a project that you carry for so long.

Generactive : Is there any project, artist or idea you recently found, or have always admired, that you would like to share with us?

Fourneau : Certainly the mine Kafon project
be inspired by a ball game to solve real problems. Ohh ! it’s another level than my board…respect

- Interview by Inhye Lee

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