Jesper Just: In Conversation
April 6, 2014
The artist discusses his work with Chief Curator Bruce Guenther in a lecture presented by the Museum’s Critical Voices lecture series.
MAR 1 – JUN 1, 2014
Born in Copenhagen in 1974, New York-based Jesper Just emerged on the international art scene in 2004, after graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, where he studied painting and film. As an artist Just uses film technology and installation strategies as vehicles to create work that addresses complex contemporary issues through open-ended visual narratives rich in detail and metaphorical import. With works in over twenty-five museum collections internationally, Just represented Denmark at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Commissioned by the Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne in 2011, This Nameless Spectacle is a film-based work of dramatic anticipation and emotional complexity. Beginning with a specific place, Just constructs his work from a skeletal text that evolves as the place, people, and additional locales present themselves to him and are incorporated into the diverse events that build an often melancholic, dream-like piece. This Nameless Spectacle constructs a powerful montage of image and sequence that harnesses ambiguity, and uses discontinuous narrative structures on two screens to engage the viewer in the fluid nature of observation and cinematic conventions.
Set in the picturesque Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (1867) in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, the work begins with a woman of uncertain age in a wheelchair rolling herself through the park’s lush summer landscape. Just places the viewer physically between two long projections that alternate left or right images from her point of view in the wheelchair, or images that record the woman close-up or from afar—her observing or being observed. A sense of reverie marks the first section of the film as the viewer is wrapped without narration inside the fluctuating sounds of place or action: the crunch of gravel under the wheels, leaves, birds, waterfall.
The mood changes and a feeling of apprehension overtakes the viewer as the woman leaves the bucolic park and apparently finds herself being followed by a young man. Safely reaching her apartment in a high-rise housing block, we see her enter the quiet serenity of home and move to the window to look for her pursuer and then out across to the park with the Temple de la Sibylle at the top of its artificial mountain. An intense shaft of reflected sunlight catches her eyes and the final episode of the work dramatically unfolds as she falls to the floor in an epileptic seizure or ecstatic state, writhing until the sunlight passes and the video ends. Just moves us from a reverie of Nature to the anticipation of danger and through a perhaps transformative physical state—without declaring or defining its meaning—to an open ended, neutral place.
Linking paradoxical imagery, rich with cultural references from Hitchcock to Bernini, Just requires the stationary viewer to navigate competing images of uncertain meaning which continuously shift cinematically between viewer and subject, expectation and event. From the idealized nature of the park, which is itself a fabrication of fashionable tropes assembled over the remnants of a gypsum and limestone quarry and historic abattoir in the nineteenth century, to the wheelchair and stiletto heels of the transgendered actress, the logic of physical appearances and place is a smokescreen for Just to activate psychologically and elicit emotion engagement in the viewer’s imagination.
The Contemporary Art Series is curated by Bruce Guenther, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Contemporary Art Series is sponsored in part by the Miller Meigs Endowment for the Contemporary Arts and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.