Immersed Between Surface and Inside
Seung Oh Shin (Director, Perigee Gallery)
Through particular objects found around us, artist Jang Jaerok describes landscapes that contemporary society craves. In his series Another Landscape he displays the desires of contemporary people through images of cars with splendid surfaces reflecting urban landscapes and glamorous chandeliers. His later work Another Place is a series that focuses on the expression of various senses of urban space and the essence of our lives that exist in that space, by describing artificial structures and nature. His recent work Another Act is a series that shows some changes from his past works. We can understand his artistic world by closely examining the flow of change when comparing his past work with his recent work.
Firstly, Jang changed his approach to the surface of his pieces. All his previous works focused upon the description of particular objects. An object dominates a fixed space and the chosen object was perfectly represented on the canvas. For example, in Another Landscape two different surfaces are ironically represented on cars. The glittering surface of cars is a desired object itself and at the same time the bended surface reflects and distorts the urban image. This one surface or these two surfaces are the main objects that the artist focuses on to express the ambivalent meaning of our lives. The surface of an object is an important subject for him. This is also a way in which he captures hidden meanings, ones that he recognizes in his life through the surface of the painting that he has created to represent an object. Through the use of ink to create light and shade without color is an effective way to express glittering, ambivalent surfaces and in the end to relate the surfaces of objects with his own way of thinking. However, in the later work Another Place, he did not use objects with glittering surfaces as his subject, but instead worked with tropical plants or materialistic urban landscapes that are only found in special spaces like a botanical garden or a park and not in our everyday lives. The changes in his way of working started with this series. He marks a canvas with fixed grids before starting drawing. He converts a photo image of a space or an object that he experiences into digital pixels, and then draws the object on the grids. He uses this method because flat surfaces stand out in the pixelated shapes. The method in his recent work Another Act is more remarkable. The grids are used as a frame to include color. In the previous work the grids were temporarily made to express a stable image, but in contrast in his recent work, each of them is an independent room as a rule. Why did he make such a change? To Jang, a painting is a room where rationality and sensibility, objects and representation, materiality and referentiality all exist together. This way of thinking makes him reject painting to merely mimic the reality and at the same time to produce a painting for a painting itself. Here starts his new concern: “How can we capture and visualize both a real world and an immaterial world at the point where the two overlap?” This question moves his interest from the surface of real objects to the surface in painting on which the inner world and the outside world meet. Ever-changing feelings and understanding causes within the painting on canvas a discordance between ideas and actions. The conflict between the craving for free expression and conventional action leads to chaos, not to fresh creation. Thus, Jang builds rules and a frame on the surface of his painting. Since his early work, for stability he has used grids rather than clean white paper to express an object on a surface. He converts the action of painting to a mechanical time where he fills regularly divided empty rooms one by one. Expression and representation are restricted on such a surface unlike the previous surface. Even though he creates a particular object, the object is filled with pixels and black ink. Now let’s examine another recent change to figure out what he is trying to communicate on his framed surfaces.
Secondly, the artist’s performative attitude toward painting has changed. In his previous work, he directly cast his perspective and understanding on an object when describing it. This is a way to express his subjective feelings through a particular object. However, the recent work is based on fragmented, repetitive and even mechanical brush strokes to fill the divided grids as discussed above. In Another Place, he explores the landscape of the pixelated contemporary world arranging geometric shapes including white circles in a familiar scene. This way, he combines the conscious gaze with unconscious actions. Under a vague surface, Another Act goes one step further to hiding the narratives and meanings that the subjects have. Such a change can be understood as a change in attitude to work. It means that he now focuses more on painting as an action itself, than delivering meanings. Here Jang wants to examine the essence that changes when he places himself between a surface and the inside, existence and virtuality, representation and abstraction, mimicry and reality. Whatever a painting starts from, it becomes something very different in the end, so the representation that “I” as a subject made remains as an independent painting by itself. However, Jang intends to carry onto the canvas all meanings revealed on the surface at the moment his eyes capture an event. He does not show the meanings that he earned as an artist in “his own” way any longer, but rather is concerned with how to share meaning with others through the painterly surface. This is a performative approach to visualize the relationship between the surface of an object and mind of the artist at the moment that the two temporarily connect to each other, in the balance. Thus, he uses this way of drawing and filling in the grids to transfer what he captures through his eyes from outside, which is now in his mind, onto the surface of painting. Such a rule works like a rudder to hold the course despite other thoughts and feelings that suddenly come into his mind. In other words, it is also a tool to hold the artist’s initial intention, facing internal and external conflicts and changes. Starting from the top-left corner, he gradually proceeds to the bottom-right corner. When a pixelated image goes onto part of the grid, he leaves the grid empty or fully fills it in. With a clear start and end, the fixed time and space in Another Act maximizes the ability for reflection and immersion. This is a way to hold the senses earned at the moment of impulse, to visualize for a long time and to cross through the senses. When closely looking into the vague, superficial, mechanical surface of Another Act it is no wonder that we do not find any two grids with the same feeling of ink and brush stroke with which the grids were filled in, one by one in a repeated action. His simple surface includes elements of both emotion and reason, and outside and inside at the same time. In short, these discussed changes are ways to keep the balance between ambivalent feelings and recognition. This way, he pursues freedom and is careful about his conscious actions at the same time.
He has made tools and rules to perfectly immerse time and space in painting. Immersion and indifference of contemporary people in one object are ambivalent but rapidly change place with each other. Jang’s new paintings show simple surfaces simultaneously with enthusiasm and fatigue, and do not try to represent anything. This action is closer to erasing something than to revealing a particular being and meaning through a narrative structure. His work is placed somewhere between the surface and the deep inside of the society he or we are living in. The artist merely concentrates on the performative activity. It is not clear if the moment of immersion is for getting out of present “me” or for going under deep into his unconsciousness. However, it is distinctive that the paintings reveal the essence of the surroundings of our lives as they are, countless surfaces that we face while desiring and consuming everything that is rapidly changing. On top of this, the desire and reality of art that the artist as an individual has to appear on the surface of the paintings that he pursues. He now needs an activity that will result in connecting recognition and thinking, so that others can understand the situation, giving visible shapes to phenomena that he sees and recognizes as an individual. Thus the changes shift to using surface as a tool for empathy, one that leads to universality and correlation. This way, Jang starts with “my” things gained in time and space, visible things and invisible things, himself as an artist, the social surroundings we live in, and objects discovered in space, causing them to be recognized in the common world, all through surface. In the time and space of immersion the audience, the artist and the objects are all connected. As a way of discussing the surfaces experienced, he draws and paints the surface where the inside and outside connected to “me”, cross each other. The surface that such immersion creates is flat and simple. However, it is a place full of echoes to read and connect never-definable potentials.