As the phenomena of digitalisation affects all aspects of our life, this is strongly aligned with our Next Generation approach and our digital disruption series. The interactive piece “Cloud Seed”, created by James Clar, allows viewers to get a taste of the locally practised weather modification technique of cloud seeding. Technology influences nature in cloud seeding, as it did the experience of visitors to the Julius Baer Lounge. “People walking through the hallway can look and see themselves immersed in this simulation of rain and wind and fog,” James explains. “It manipulates the live video feed to overlap real space with a virtual space”.

Playing with perception
A Filipino-American who has lived in New York, Dubai and Manila, James takes an experimental and experiential approach to art. Having studied film and interactive telecommunications at NYU, a focus on narration and perception is paramount to his digital works.

As James puts it: “When I went to get my graduate degree, I started thinking about film as a system. And it became interesting to me that film and TV is just a light system. So, I thought instead of using that system, maybe I can create my own systems to control and manipulate light.”

His work now focuses on the impact of media and technology on our perceptions of culture and identity. He plays with the conceptual and narrative potential of light and technology, which he sees as systems of communication integrated into our experience, and shaping our perception of, daily life.

“I think I’m using media and technology like a tool set. It’s like a painter using different types of paints or different types of brushes,” James says. “What’s interesting to me is understanding how the medium of technology works, what its effects are in terms of perception. For instance, we’re here, we’re in a globalised city, and we try to understand who each other is. Where do we get that information from?... What do we see? Why are we seeing it?”

New input equals new output
Many of the 300 plus works James has created offer what he describes as “breadcrumbs” of where he is and what he is thinking. Having based his studio in Dubai from 2006 to 2012, many works comment on the global culture present in the city: “I’m just trying to observe what’s going on, how people behave and how they interact with each other. Or, what they’re seeing, how that affects them… A lot of the work is about this global culture. What does it mean for nationalistic identity, cultural identity, arts and culture?”

He notes that Art Dubai has not only moved quickly to embrace digital art but also gave it a prominent role in the 2022 fair, reflecting the ever-increasing acceptance of the medium and the role Covid-19 played in promoting technology. “I think digitalisation is changing the art world as people are starting to use different materials or use things that are purely digital…I think in the last couple of years with the Pandemic, we shifted things online, and the idea of materiality has become questioned. What is real doesn’t necessarily have to have physical material weight to it. It can just exist, on the screen or digitally.”

This trend toward technology is not only impacting the way art is created, but also how it is consumed and purchased. NFTs have opened-up new markets in the art world and we’re entering an era James describes as the digitalisation of art. “I think NFTs are very useful for artists, even artists not using digital… I like the idea of this kind of ledger that verifies the ownership of art,” he says. “I think the aesthetics are in their infancy, so it’s going to evolve… I think my approach to technological art is a little bit more nuanced, the aesthetic isn’t so much about computers itself, but it’s really more about the people and the human experience.”

In the eye of the beholder
This potential for new possibilities and new experiences is referenced in “Cloud Seed”, where James wanted visitors to the Julius Baer lounge to have open-ended and personalised experiences: “It’s an environmental installation. It puts you into this daydream state where you can imagine things, even though it’s very specific. It’s open ended… It’s been interesting to see people’s reactions to it because they’ve been really varied and very personal…”.

Reflecting on his future as an artist, with upcoming shows in both the Philippines and the US, James sees the red thread uniting his work as the commitment to continual evolvement and learning. “I think when you start to become an artist, that it’s a personal experience and every artist is different in the way that they experience the world, and the way that they output their art is completely unique… If you’re doing something that’s the same as somebody else, then you’re not doing it right and you have to push yourself to analyse things differently and create a different aesthetic, a different conceptual approach to things…”

Having lived in varied cultures, James is aware that not only do artists create different approaches, but everyone approaches art differently, including viewers. When asked how someone new to the arts can enjoy and understand the whole experience, James offers the following advice: “Art to me, it’s like an addiction. To understand different ways of viewing the world is amazing... Every artist is so different that it just opens up these different worlds of possibilities and different ways of seeing things. And I think that’s great. I get inspiration from other artists and how far they push things all the time and it’s motivating.”

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