Meet the man who's redefining time
Ever wondered what a 32-hour day Could do FOR your mental well-being? Designer and multimedia artist Johny Dar has found a way
The weather is peculiar the day we set out to meet Johny Dar. One moment, it's as sunny as any regular day in the desert city; the next moment, clouds eclipse the beaming rays, offering hope of a drizzle. As we sit down for a conversation, turns out our subject is pretty much like the weather of the day - unpredictable. If on one hand, there is a nervous grin about the world of possibilities his creation, the Dar Clock, will open up, on the other hand, there is a dash of cynicism about navigating celebrity culture in Hollywood. The only constant - a laughter at the end of each sentence almost mocking the transience of modern life.
This is Johny Dar for you - an LA-based fashion designer who will soon be foraying into the UAE as an artist. In an ideal world, Dar would have been an easy man to understand - an artist of the floating world, a free spirit. But delving into his mind turns out to be an introspection of our own ways of life. Dar is a musician, multimedia artist, an actor, a designer - all and yet none of the above, for if there is one fear the 42-year-old has, it is that of being put in a box. It was this rejection of a formatted life that made him turn to art to create something that could be a substitute for mundanity. That alternative has come in the form of the Dar Clock. On the face of it, it is a work of art, but through it, Dar has been pushing an idea that may seem outlandish but could potentially be the answer to the rough and tumble of modern life.
The Dar Clock makes a case for a 32-hour day, with each hour spanning only 45 minutes. What does cutting a 60-minute hour to 45 minutes achieve? When your perception of time changes, says Dar, you begin to manage that quantum of work in lesser time and have just about enough time to spend on leisurely activities. Dar-Time may as well be Everyman's fantasy, except Dar himself doesn't think so.
For the artist, a 45-minute hour is no luxury; rather, it's the need of the hour. He has his reasons cut out in two words, "Routine kills." It's tough to debate that, but Dar goes on to explain, "When you put your body through routine, by the time you are 35-36, you turn into a computer programme that's repeating itself. I believe that's also a reason why we are ageing much faster. By changing that template, you allow your emotions to take on a different form."
Dar's contention is interesting in that it compels us to look at the 9-5 workday through a whole new prism. As Katherine Goffeney points out in an article in Quartz, the real champions of an eight-hour workday were actually American labour unions of the 19th century. "Back then there was no limit to the hours that employers could demand of their employees, and factory workers especially could be looking at over 100 hours each week. Sixty years and several riots later, as Congress was starting to mandate 8-hour work days for certain sectors, the Ford Motor Company instituted a mandatory five-day workweek with eight-hour work days." Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, did not take this step to make lives comfortable for his employees. His logic? "Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles," he was once quoted as saying.
Today, the nature of work - and work force - has changed considerably, and early burnout is a concern worldwide. In this scenario, Dar-Time is an interesting promise that aims to shrink our 40-hour work week to 30 hours. As the artist rationalises the need for a 45-minute hour, I am nearly tempted to think that as per Dar-Time, I have only three hours left before I call it a day. But reality has a way of hitting you hard, even if Dar is not too enamoured by it. "People on routine are repeating their lives. Whether it's art or fashion, everything is on repetition. We are really missing out on what life is all about. A lot is getting dismissed by this focus on looking the same. If we don't stop that repetition and start afresh, we will enter a stage of boredom." Even as he advocates a 32-hour day, Dar maintains that he doesn't mean that you miss out on your other commitments that go as per standard time. Rather, it's about looking at time differently. "It's a prism through which you achieve in 45 minutes what you would ordinarily achieve in 60," he says.
Dar claims he has enforced Dar-Time at his workplace and seen the productivity of his employees going up considerably. And while well-intentioned friends may suggest that he's being 'easy' on his staff, he jokes that he is actually 'milking them better'. His mode of time measurement has also resonated with a client base in Belgium and Scotland, that is a staunch advocate of a four-day workweek.
The idea may be near-mythical, but it's Dar's background that offers an insight into why he is such an outlier. Born in Ohio, he wanted to become a filmmaker - a dream his father, an economics professor, could never really understand since it did not tick the boxes of a conventional life. If the rebellious son also wanted to pursue art, the best he could do in his formative years was to sketch underneath his bed just so no one could spot him. Between art and filmmaking, however, the latter won, and Dar shifted his base from New York to Los Angeles to study filmmaking before an accident forced him to rethink career choices. It was a suggestion from his psychologist who thought Dar dressed rather well and had a flair for the arts that brought him to the world of fashion. He entered the 'scene' in 1999, and before he knew it, celebrities such as Pink, Shakira and Pamela Anderson were wearing his collections. As a designer, Dar says his aesthetic has been premised on building characters. "I am focused on bringing out a certain emotion. If it doesn't come from inside, I feel it's fake," he says.
Hollywood can be chaotic place, and like any pandemonium, it often leads to soul-searching. "I reached a point where I realised everyone was sucking me dry. I couldn't be 'me' anymore," he says. He not only turned to art to look for answers (Dar Clock has been a result of that soul-searching), but also decided to find a purpose to his fashion. Seeing the gravity of the refugee crisis the world is facing, Dar decided to start the Jeans For Refugees campaign in 2016 that saw him getting celebrities to donate their jeans on which he would paint. These jeans would be auctioned later, and the proceeds would go to organisations working for refugees. Sharon Stone, Cameron Diaz, Emma Watson and hordes of other celebrities lent their denims - and names - to the campaign before it had to be halted for a while. "Many of the celebrities who were taking part in the campaign spoke against Donald Trump due to which some sponsors backed out. It made me wonder if the world was really changing so fast. I stopped the campaign then. Now, I plan to re-start it and get celebrities from all over the world, including Middle East," he says, adding, "You cannot put my fire out."
For now, Dar-Time is available online for everyone to use it as a free tool and soon there will be a version available for smartphones/smartwatches. Come spring, and Dar's gallery will open its doors in Dubai, of which the Dar Clock will be a prominent display. "We want to launch it as an art piece and gradually make it available," he says. If there's one disclaimer he wants to put out, it is this - Dar-Time is a luxury. You're adding more time to your life. You're living longer." If only...