artist / participant

press release

Jesper Just takes inspiration from the aesthetic of great film directors such as Dreyer and Bergman, Melville and Kazan. In his enigmatic films, devoid of dialogue, mastery of cinematic strategy is placed in the service of a narrative based on the panoply of human emotions, amplified by the masterly use of music. The films of this exhibition attest that Jesper Just continues and expands his ongoing examination of stereotypical representations of gender and race, architectural pastiche, cultural appropriation, and dislocation.

The exhibition includes Just’s latest film, “Llano” (2012), which is being shown in France for the first time. It is set in the ghost town of Llano del Rio, founded in 1913 by the socialist Job Harriman. The failure of irrigation and water supply finally caused the project, and the town, to be abandoned, nearly a century ago. We observe this desert and the vestiges of this utopian city in the sheeting rain. Soon, the camera shows us a set of pipes set up above the ruins. It is one of those contraptions typically used to create artificial rain on film sets. At the centre of all this, a woman struggles to prevent the collapse. Like Sisyphus pushing his rock, she replaces the bricks and stones falling from the already disintegrated structure. Several times, throughout the film the camera takes us to a dark and gloomy engine room that seems indefinably connected to the ruin. According to Just, “Llano is a ruin of a place that is no longer, but also a place that really never happened. Here, we have a double meaning—a strange mix of utopia and dystopia, filled with failure as well as potent ideals.”

In the second room is a film shot in Detroit, “Sirens of Chrome” (2010). In total silence, four Afro-American women drive around the deserted streets of the abandoned city. The palpable tension in the Chrysler reflects the disturbing atmosphere outside. When they come onto the roof of an old theatre, now a parking lot, another woman appears in the picture. Here begins a strange and spellbinding confrontation. As curator Jennifer Frias writes, “Just’s works are often emotionally charged with ambiguous narratives that never reach a moment of conclusion. Gender, relationships and identity are recurring themes in his work. (…) “Sirens of Chrome” , similarly takes on the complexity of the human condition, but shifts its focus on the representation and interpretation of African-American women and women in general.”

In the film shot in 16mm, “ A Vicious Undertow” (2007), a strange relationship is articulated in the meeting of gazes and dancing, through the sensuous leitmotif of the whistling that introduces them. “A Vicious Undertow” is built around a woman figure of uncertain age, whistling the tune of “Nights in White Satin” in a bar. The camera glides over her neck, her skin and her lips, and then approaches a second, rather young woman. A man joins them. In a succession of quick shots, the camera focuses on the older and the younger woman dancing a waltz together, then on the man, again with the young woman. Suddenly, the heroine stiffens and makes for the exit. Propelled in the middle of the night onto the steps of an endless staircase, she seems to be trying to escape melancholy or fate by moving through a space that is out of time.

This year Jesper Just will represent Denmark at the 55th Venice Biennale.

Jesper Just was born in Denmark in 1974. He lives and works in New York. He graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Danish Film School.

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Jesper Just