The Production of Organic Awareness (Unconscious Symbols and Images); the Project of Life-At The Highest Place in Asia – On JaeWook Lee’s Work

By Jeong Yong-do, Art Critic


While society demands we live without our own specific symbols, art marks out the distinct qualities of social existence through symbols to present man as an aesthetic being. Many such symbols in the outside of the art scene can be compare with one-dimensional situations, where an act responds directly to an entity, in relations and mechanical self-sameness revealing attempts that define situations.
Lee aims to define technology through beauty and crisis, which for him are synonymous. But wherever the two concepts share meaning, beauty remains aloof from it. In a similar dialectic, the visible in reconstructed images of a city in his work The Highest Place in Asia, is the idea that evolution is equivalent to the qualitative conditions of existence. The reconstructed images arouse illusions in this work.
But these too are dissimilar for Lee, who states, “The appearance of a city is the world we are conscious of.” Through conscious awareness, will to attain structure, and behavior generating meaning, the reality of mind stands out. We feel completely restless, when faced with nature, destroyed by urban development and construction.
The true nature of a city appears fictitious, to which Lee’s urban images are photographic reconstructions and re-compositions. He also uses stickers to present urban images that reveal objective attributes of objects, seen in the skyscrapers in a city. It is like an act of viewing a city and its modified images, through stickers with site-specific attributes. However, this concept of place is not enough to explain Lee’s work, since a sticker or photograph is not a record of work, but a work of art itself.
Lee’s work is, basically, site-specific but virtually site-generated, which for him is an artistic condition rather than a change to the site. It refuses the logical absoluteness of a situation, in that it presupposes the existence of nature beneath an urban site, like the abyss of our unconsciousness.
The process of developing artistic concepts depends on one’s response to ontological conditions. An act of exploring concepts through visual thought can be justified in works of art. To do this, sameness between physical ways and artistic intent is fundamentally significant, but in terms of interpretation it relates to the domain of truth.
If Lee’s work considers nothing but a super-high-speed development in Asian society through the depiction of high-rising buildings being constructed in a city here and there, it is a mere one-dimensional illusion relying on visual simplicity. Although Lee’s conceptualization of this subject matter is not clear yet, his work involves an ontological sphere, space for thought secure by his work’s relativity. Lee’s work mainly addresses such concepts as the limit of the conscious, unconscious enlightenment, destruction of nature due to the expansion of cities, extinction of an organic world caused by urban waste, and importance of a non-material world responding to a physical world.
In consequence, for Lee, social symbols equate to the truth that we reflect on and concretize in works of art. Uncertainty, both spiritually and physically, exists in every field of human existence. Art raises our awareness, defined by such uncertainty, to the level of unconscious, organic truth. The truth itself is, of course, not absolute, but we have to consider seriously the appearance of social symbols, whether we are attracted to them or feel indifferent.
We have to organize projects of life to consider what we have been unable to perceive or at least forgotten organic awareness due to modernist rationality, or recover aesthetic dimensions hidden by physical logic, asserted by a modern, consumerist world. In this sense, the recordings of artistic activities in JaeWook Lee’s work are significant.

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