<Cars, Civilized Men's Desires and Fetish>

-Paintings created by Jae-rok Jang 


Kho, Chung-Hwan, art critic


Capitalism is none other than the ideology (or epistēmē) which decides on or, at least, has a decisive effect on the existence of modern people. And car is a typical icon which overall applies to the ideology of capitalism. Cars do not imply simply transportation vehicles. Nowadays, cars have become an icon which carries both men and the desires of capitalism. As for an icon of desires, cars primarily reflect the desires of men, while fur reflects those of women. The artist had adopted as subject matters chandeliers and various ornaments to represent the capacity of an icon of desires in the age of capitalism before he adopted cars). The people, whom cars carry along with such desires, are usually not natural men but city dwellers. Cars are deeply connected with, so to speak, the formation of the self-identity (which is closely associated with desires) of modern people or city dwellers in the age of capitalism. In this sense, it is doubted that there are natural men even in modern days. Roughly speaking, all the modern people may be called city dwellers. Although they are leading a pastoral life, their consciousness is practically that of city dwellers since they always use mobile phones and/or internet in order to communicate with others in any place.

Jae-rok Jang describes cars with the scenes of a city in the background. This way, he responds to the ideologies (values) of the age of capitalism and to the mechanism of desires (fetishism), which is a way the ideologies operate. Since cars or cities are typical icons in the age of capitalism, the pictures created by the artist derive modern and contemporary realities from the icons.


The pictures created by Jae-rok Jang may be categorized as the portraits of objects because the pictures uses cars as a subject matter. The concept of object portraits is deeply related with a changed concept of objects which appeared along with age consciousness after the age of capitalism when consumption was considered a good trait; the changed concept covers fetishism, mammon and mammon-ism. The fetishism is willing to understand and accept, as if they were materials, not only materials but also non-materials, invisible and metal things. In the pictures created by the artist, cars imply not only cars themselves but the desires of capitalism projected onto cars. For example, a Mercedes Benz car is a symbol of richness, a jeep a symbol of masculinity, and a slim-shaped sport car a symbol of femineity.

Since the pictures created by the artist follow the form of (object) portraits, the pictures are characterized by the law of frontality, which may be called a typical grammar of portraits. Here, the law does not mean the fixed visual point of the front. It means a visual and perceptive method for grasping the optimum visual point from which the form of objects, the matter of objects or, if possible, the nature of objects is highlighted. As far as the law of frontality finds such an optimum visual point, production is involved in the process so as to portray the present itself or, more strictly, the produced or dramatized present.

Such a fact suggests a unique point about reality consciousness or reality. The pictures created by the artist borrow cars and their background or city images from the reality and are based on the reality, but, at the same time, the images are practically reproduced and converted into optimum images and so miss the reality and reality consciousness. Exaggeratively speaking, it is considered that the pictures created by the artist are led not by reality consciousness but by a kind of idealism. Since the desire and ideal of capitalism are to maintain the optimum state of commodities, the attitude of the artist (attested in the production) about the reality serves to realize the ideal (or, to commercialize the reality). Hence, cars in the pictures created by the artist pictures are fabrics woven by using the realism and idealism as warp and weft. The cars incite a unique sense of tension caused by the artist's consciousness about their interrelated and interferential boundaries.

There is another reality which is converted or produced in such a manner. It is the landscape reflected on the body of the cars, which mainly includes nature images such as trees and the sky. Cities do have the nature images (like street trees), but cars are artificially combined with nature images in the pictures created by the artist. In fact, the nature images are imaginary and unrealistic ones. Nevertheless, there are few traces of artificial intervention and fancies in the pictures created by the artist, because the artist has such a sense or ability as to mix fancy images with real ones in a very tactful manner. Maybe the artist wanted to use the said synthetic images to depict modern people's longing for nature (representing an archtype of the existence of modern people which they have practically lost).

In this sense, the pictures created by the artist are characterized by the sensory pleasure derived from the complete reproduction in which the reality is depicted as really as it is. What is known in the reality is reconfirmed in the said pictures. However, apart from their external and sensory similarity, the pictures created by the artist are never the reproduction of the reality. The finished pictures are traditional (or typical) Indian ink drawings but, in reality, the pictures are evidently media-friendly from the viewpoint of their production or creation process. And, in the process, the reality is reinterpreted and dramatized through the intereference of the media.

The artist takes photos of cars in the streets and changes the pictures by using photo-shop and, in the process, manipulates and/or maintains the images so that they may be maintained in the optimum state. Then, the information on the images is enlarged and developed from computers; as you know, the images enlarged from computers result in a combination or collection of tiny pixels. After transmitting the images as they are, whose unit structures of pixels are prominent, each of the pixels is filled up with Indian ink in order to complete pictures. In such a process, the artist more actively adopts the unit structures of pixels, since he has unique understanding and consciousness of how images exist in the age of digital media (they existed with net points in the age of printing media, with light points in the age of electronic media, and with the unit structures of pixels in the age of digital media). In the end, the pictures of cars drawn by the artist are in fact a collection of the unit structures of pixels, which are more positively connected with such various media as photo, photo shop, computer and digital process.

That is to say, the pictures created by the artist are modern not simply because their subject matter is cars which are a modern product. In other words, the artist does not simply stick to the properties of materials but adopts modern methods to express the materials. Yet, the finished pictures themselves are no more than Indian ink drawings which are completed through thoroughgoing manual work. So, the pictures created by the artist have opened a new horizon for Korean paintings and given an opportunity for analogue processes and digital processes to converge together.


At the first glance, cars consistently appear to be a subject matter in the pictures created by Jae-rok Jang but, in practicality, the pictures are divided into three kinds: the pictures focusing on cars themselves, those focusing on the landscape reflected on cars, and those concentrating on the background scenes of a city where cars are parked. The former two cases describe the cars in a short-range view while the last one takes an extending point in a distant view. In those pictures in which landscape is reflected on the body of cars or the scenes of a city are depicted along with cars, the artist's concern (reflected from cars themselves as objects) to a kind of aesthetics (derived from relationship between civilization and nature or between civilization and daily life). The artist's concern is extended from cars to their background and from object-hood to relationship since he does not simply take aim at cars. In other words, he does not only use cars themselves as a property of matters but also takes them in a metaphor in which cars clearly stand for modern people's self-identity.

His pictures start with his simple concern about cars but the concern is later extended and reproduced so as to cover the aesthetics of relationship or a modern and civilized metaphor. It seems that such a trend of his will be more extended and enlarged in the future.