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The Light Fantastic



There are a lot of reasons why Memphis is a good fit for James Clar, the first Lantana Artist-in-Residence at the FedEx Institute of Technology. Since arriving in the Bluff City two months ago, he has discovered a love of barbecue and adapted quickly to the pace of Memphis.

More than anything else, though, Clar is an artist who works with light, which means he's right at home in the neon-saturated environs of Memphis.

"I like that one on Poplar," he says of the Joe's Liquor sign at Belvedere. "It looks like the Sputnik."

Lantana Projects is a nonprofit residency program that brings international artists to Memphis and encourages a relationship between the city and these artists.

Clar began college as a business major at New York University but quickly realized that wasn't the right path for him. He switched to film studies yet soon became dissatisfied with that as well.

"From there, I went into animation because film had too many variables. In animation, everything is on the screen because I put it there. A lot of it was about control -- I needed the output of my idea to be as close as possible to what I imagined," he says.

Clar's desire for complete control forced him to think about every inch of his work. "I delved into lighting because I was doing all screen-based work. The monitor itself is a light-emitting device ... I began to think, can't I just develop my own visual system?"

Clar's attempt to design his own system for displaying visual information resulted in his thesis project at NYU, a system he dubbed the 3D Display Cube, which won him the 2004 Design Distinction award from I.D. magazine.

Since then Clar has continued to work with light in various installations. 3D Cube has been shown in New York art galleries, Japanese festivals, and at the Wired Next technology expo, where Clar met his current sponsors, Lantana and FedEx. (To see the cube:

As part of the artist-in-residency program, Clar's upcoming show at the Broad Avenue Material gallery -- opening March 17th -- displays his tenet that all his work be grounded in his own abilities.

"I don't run something from a TV or VCR," he says. "I make my own circuit boards, solder my own wires, and program my own code."

Clar's second exhibit will open downtown April 27th at a location yet to be announced. But he's not stopping there.

"I'm going to build an installation that will run along the trolley line. It will sample the activity inside buildings and translate that to light shown on rooftop monitors."

Which means that when downtowners ride the South Main trolley at the end of April, they'll see the work of James Clar, turning Memphis inside out.

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