CORPOREALITÉSOn view through 3 August 2021 enter
Born in 1974 in Copenhagen, Denmark
Lives and works in New York, New York, USA
Jesper Just uses the language of cinema to confront and divert the stereotypical Hollywood constructs of masculinity and femininity, as well as the biased representation of minorities and people with disabilities in mainstream culture. His short films and multi-projection video installations question the mechanisms of cinematic identification and break viewers’ expectations of narrative closure by unfolding surrealist, emotionally ambiguous, open-ended, and often silent situations or encounters. His use of lush, elaborated film scores plays a crucial part in creating an overall deceitful sense of narrative progression, and music rather than speech often serves as the sole means of communication between the protagonists of his unfathomable plots. Interested in how public and private spaces define and shape human interactions, Just further plays with the notion of architecture as performer, to echo and expand his characters’ enigmatic journeys.
- The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Galerie Perrotin, New York, USA
- Servitudes, MAAT - Museum of Art Architecture & Technology, Lisbon, Portugal
- Servitudes, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Circuits (Interpassivities), Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Continuous Monuments, WENTRUP Gallery, Berlin, Germany
- Coordenadas, Anahuaccali Museo, Coyoacán, DF, Mexico
- Jesper Just, Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Jesper Just: Continuous Monuments, Arcade #1, West Den Haag, The Netherlands
- Jesper Just: Continuous Monuments, Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
- Performance - Interpassivities, Corpus, Det Kgl. Teater, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Servitudes, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
- Jesper Just, Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, CA
- In the shadow/ of a spectacle/ is the view of the crowd, (with FOS), PERFORMA 15, New York, NY
- Jesper Just: This Is a Landscape of Desire, De Moines Art Center, De Moines, Iowa, USA
- This Is a Landscape of Desire, MMCA, The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, South Korea
- Jesper Just, ARoS, Aarhus, Denmark
- Jesper Just, Portland Museum, Portland, U.S.A
- Jesper Just, Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Denmark
- The Danish Pavilion, The 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
- This Is A Landscape of Desire, Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning, Denmark
- Jesper Just, Galerie Perrotin, Paris, France
- This Nameless Spectacle, Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Denmark
- This Nameless Spectacle, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
- This Nameless Spectacle, James Cohan Gallery, New York, NY
- This Nameless Spectacle, MAC/VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, France
- A Vicious Undertow, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, USA
- John Curtin Gallery, Perth, Australia
- This Nameless Spectacle, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art,
- Gateshead, United Kingdom
- Photo Spring, Beijing, China
- MAP, Mobile Art Production, Stockholm, Sweden
- Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, Montréal, Canada
- ARTscape: Denmark - Jesper Just, Galerija VARTAI, Vilnius, Lithuania
- Jesper Just: Romantic Delusions, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, USA
- Invitation to Love, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway
-Jesper Just, Centro de Arte Moderna José de Azeredo Perdigao - Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal
- Romantic Delusions Brooklyn Art Museum, New York
- Romantic Delusions, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
- Romantic Delusions, U-turn / Kunsthallen Nikolaj, Copenhagen
- A Voyage in Dwelling, Victoria Miro Gallery, London
- La Casa Encendida, Madrid
- A Vicious Undertow, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York
- La Casa Encendida, Madrid
- S.M.A.K, Ghent, Belgium
- Ursula Blickle videolounge, Kunsthalle Vienna, Vienna
- Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
- Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal, Germany
- No Man is an Island II, Bliss and Heaven, Something to Love, Miami Art Museum, Miami
- Something to Love, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
- It Will All End in Tears, Special viewing during Frieze Art Fair: ArtProjx presentation in Prince Charles Cinema, London
- It Will All End in Tears, Galleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen
- Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York
- Black Box Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California
- The 1st at Moderna: Something to Love, Moderna Museet, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
- True love is yet to come, PERFORMA 05, New York
- Something to Love Herning Art Museum, Denmark
- No Man is an Island, YYZ Gallery, Toronto
- Bliss and Heaven, Gallery Maze, Torino, Italy
- Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York
- A Fine Romance, Galleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen
- A Fine Romance Midway Contemporary Art, St. Paul, USA
- The Man Who Strayed, artnode.dk / Den Anden Opera, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Nordic Impressions. Contemporary Art From Åland, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, And Sweden, Scandinavia House, New York, USA
- Contemporary Art from Denmark, Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland
- Music for the Eyes, Santa Maria della Scala, Siena, Italy
- Hollywood and other Myths, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
- You Are In My Wave, Lothringer 13 Halle, München, Germany
- The Darkened Mirror: Global Perspectives on Water, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, U.S.A.
- The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, Jewish Museum, New York, U.S.A.
- Cool, calm and collected, ARoS, Aarhus, Denmark
- Generations Loss, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin, Germany
- Habile beaute - L'Art comme processus, FRAC Languedoc-Roussilon, Montpellier, France
- Love, Devotion, and Surrender, 22 London, Asheville, NC
- The People’s Cinema, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg
- In the shadow of a spectacle is the view of the crowd, Performa, New York, USA
- City Walks, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden
- Chercher le Garçon. Curated by Frank Lamy, MAC/VAL - Musée d'art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Vitry sur Seine, France
- Obey!-!Obedece!, M100 - Centro Cultural Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile
- Wilderness, New Shelter Plan, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Turn On - Time-Based Art from the Julia Stoschek Collection, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
- Creating Realities - Begegungen Zwischen Kunst Und Kino, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany
- All About These... Ladies And Gentlemen, National Gallery of Arts - Tirana, Tirana, Albania
- 1 + 1 = 1 : When Collections Collide, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada
- Drommeland, KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, Denmark
- Impact, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
- Hindsight, V1 Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Imaginare Reisen - von hier ab ins Abenteuer!, Galerie im Marstall Ahrensburg, Ahrensburg, Germany
- Bikuben, UMOCA Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Utah, USA
- Knowing Space, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
- FRACTURES,The Jerusalem Show VII, Qalandiya International, Jerusalem, Israel
- INSIDE, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
- #1: Cartagena, International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
- HPB14, Helsinki Photography Biennial, Helsinki, Finland
- Real Emotions: Thinking in Film, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany
- High Performance, The Julia Stoschek Collection as guest at the ZMK. Time-based Media Art since 1996, ZMK, Karlsruhe, Germany
- Performance Now, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware, USA
- Love me Gender, ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark
- The Mystery of Tears, MAC Belfast, Belfast, UK
- A More Perfect Day: Collection of Mudam Luxembourg, Artsonje Center, Seoul, South Korea
- The weak sex, how are pictures the new male, Kunst Museum Bern, Bern, Switzerland
- Jesper Just, Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
- A More Perfect Day: Collection of Mudam Luxembourg, Artsonje Center, Seoul, South Korea
- Nordic Outbreak, touring exhibition, New York City, REykjavik, Stavanger, Copenhagen, Nuuk
- XIII Cordoba Photography Biennale, Cordoba, Spain
- Double Feature, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany
- Happy Birthday Galerie Perrotin / 25ans, TRIPOSTAL, Lille, France
- PINK CAVIAR, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
- TIME AND PLACE Inaugural Exhibition 01, Kunsthalle Detroit, Detroit, USA
- Intermission, James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, China
- A Tell-Tale Heart Part 2, James Cohan Gallery, New York, USA
- El Grito, MUSAC, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Léon, Spain
- Lust and Last, Swedish National Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
- What's He Building in There?, Fuse Gallery, New York, USA
- Body/Space Mechanics, De Hallen, Haarlem, The Netherlands
- Emporte-moi / Sweep me off my feet, MAC/Val, Vitry-sur-Seine, France
- I love you, AROS, Aarhus, Denmark
- Detroit, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria
- National Gallery of Art Lithuanian Art Museum, Vilnius, Lithuania
- Searching Songs, Yebisu International Festival, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo,
- Fast Forward 2. The Power of Motion, group show, Media Art Sammlung Goetz, Karlsruhe, Germany
- ARTscape: Denmark - Jesper Just, Galerija VARTAI, Vilnius, Lithuania
- Jesper Just: Romantic Delusions, Tampa Museum of Art, USA
- Code share, Contemporary Art Center (CAC) Viltinius, Lithuania
- Angli-Heart, Herming Kunstmuseum, Herming, Danemark
- Mia Vida, From Heaven to Hell, Mucsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest
- Damaged Romanticism: A Mirror of Modern Emotion, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY
- Play-Film and Video, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
- It's Raining Men...!, Gallery Christina Wilson, Copenhagen
- Damaged Romanticism, Grey Art Gallery, New York City, NY
- Swing Time Free Style, Charlotte Fogh Contemporary, Aarhus
- Romantic Delusions, Liverpool Biennial
- Locked-in The Image of Humantiy in the Age of Intrusion, Casino Luxembourg
- Glasgow International - Festival of Contemporary Art, Glasgow
- UNCLASSIFIABLE, Overgaden. Institut for Samtids Kunst, Copenhagen
- Damaged Romanticism, Blaffer Gallery, Houston
- Ciclo Video, CGAC (Galician Centre of Contemporary Art), Santiago de Compostela, Spain
- Dansk Djävlar – en svensk kanon, Charlottenborg Udstillingsbygning, Copenhagen
- MoA (Museum of Art), Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
- Beijing Center for Creativity, Millennium Art Museum, Beijing, China
- MediaArsLab Museum, Moscow
- CRACK THE SKY, Biennale de Montréal, Montreal, Canada
- gaze.space.desire, Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Copenhagen
- The Moore Space/moca, Miami
- Eternal Beautiful Now, Sherman Galleries, Sydney
- The Drake, Toronto, Canada
- Timer 01, intimità/intimacy, Triennale Bovisa, Milan, Italy
- Stejdelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Amsterdam
- Argos, Brussels
- KölnShow 2, European Kunsthalle, Cologne, Germany
- 5 Years Anniversary Show, Galleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen
- I'M ONLY HUMAN, Contemporary Video Art, The Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki, Greece
- EXPORTABLE GOODS - Danish art now, Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna
- Empathetic, Temple Gallery, Old City, Pennsylvania
- Die grosse Geste/The Big Scene - Emotionality in Recent Video Art, Bregenzer Kunstverein
- COPENHAGEN - SAN FRANCISCO, Scandinavian Short Film Festival, ATA, San Francisco
- Busan Biennale, Busan, Korea
- Hot/Cold? Summerloving, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
- Die grosse Geste / The big scene - Emotionality in Recent Video Art, Toronto film festivaI, Canada
- LIAF 06, June 17th - July 13th, Lofoten International Art Festival, Lofoten, Norway
- Another Worlds, Arario Gallery, Seoul, Korea
- Bühne des Lebens - Rhetorik des Gefühls, Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
- Don Quijote, Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
- Ars 06 Sense of the Real, Kiasma Museum, Helsinki, Finland
- Trial Balloons, MUSACMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain
- Biennale du Havre, June, Le Havre, France
- BENT: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Scandinavian Art, Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco
- Dreamlands Burn – Nordic Art Show 2006, Mücsarnok, Budapest, Hungary,
- Artprojx, Prince Charles Cinema, Frieze Art Fair Event, London
- Gender Bender, Galleria D´Arte Moderna Bologna, Bologna, Italy
- Matisse &, August - December, Royal Museum of Fine Art, Copenhagen
- Collection Lambert, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Avignon, France
- Do Not Interrupt Your Activities, Royal College of Art Galleries, London
- Grønningen, Charlottenborg Udstillingsbygning, Denmark
- Something to Love Herning Art Museum, Denmark
- The Final Floor Show, Objectif_exhibitions, Antwerpen
- No one else can make me feel the colours that you bring, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin
- I feel mysterious today, Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
- Video Killed the Radio Star, Migros Museum für Gegenwarts Kunst, Zürich, Switzerland
- Altered Spaces, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis
- Fabulation, VOX, Montreal, Canada
- MALM I, Malmö Konsthall, Sweden
- 3rd Momentum 2004, the nordic festival of contemporary art, Moss, Norway
- Survival Strategies for Untrained Ones, Kunst und Medienzentrum Adlershof, Berlin
- Something about Love, Casino Luxem bourg, Luxembourg
- The man who strayed, Den anden opera & Artnode, Copenhagen
- Exit, Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen
- Rosebud, Galleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen
- The Island And The Aeroplane, SparwasserHQ, Berlin
- ALIBI, Den Frie, Copenhagen
- Brøl, Copenhagen Zoo, Copenhagen
- BIG Social Game, GAM - Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Torino, Italy
- Bits and pieces,, Royal Museum of Fine Art, Copenhagen
- Kunstformkunst, Danmarks Tekniske Museum, Helsingør, Denmark
- copkop, Gallery Asbæk, Copenhagen
- The harder they come, SparwasserHQ, Berlin
- Henne hos slagteren nede i kælderen, Copenhagen
- Efterårsudstillingen, Charlottenborg, Copenhagen
- Love, OTTO, Århus, Denmark
- Multiple, Kopenhagen at Overgaden, Copenhagen
- Farmands trøst, cultur.com.
- Agitpop, Massproduced posters distributed in 7 Danish harbour and coastal towns.
- Ornament and Finery, Ruhwald Ruhwald, Copenhagen
- The Advent Calender, OTTO Artnode.org.
- Open Picture Central, Charlottenborgs Efterårsudstilling, ved S. Thorsen og E. -Jørgensen, Denmark
- Upside Down, Main Library of Copenhagen, Copenhagen
- Out There, Kunstkredsen, Flensborg
- Nightclubbing, FRAME, Copenhagen
- The Advent Calendar, OTTO Artnode.org.
- Openingshow, Nam Nam Beauty, Copenhagen
- Hard on Storm, exhibition at The Museum of Storm Petersen, Copenhagen
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
- The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea
- Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark
- AROS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
- Busan Museum of Art, Busan, South Korea
- Carnegie Museum, Pittsburg, USA
- Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy
- Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Detroit, USA
- EMMA, Helsinki, Finland
- ESSL Museum - Kunst der Gregenwart, Klosterneuburg, Austria
- FRAC, Fonds Regional D Art Contemporain Champagne-Ardenne, France
- Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
- Herbert F. Johnson Museum, New York, USA
- HEART Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning, Denmark
- Honart Museum, Teheran, Iran
- Israel Museum, Israel
- Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki
- Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark
- Malmö Konstmuseum, Malmö ,Sweden
- Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
- MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
- MUSAC - Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, Leon, Spain
- Musee d'Art Moderne, Luxembourg
- Statens Museum, Danish National Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Statens Kunstfond, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Tate Modern, London, UK
- Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA
Man Stripped Bare by Stories of Love, Loss and Loneliness
by Jacob Lillemose
Stripping fully clothed
A young man, eyes moistened with tears, croons Roy Orbison’s love song Crying to the accompaniment of backing vocals provided by four elderly men. Two men locked in an embrace roll around on the floor between chairs and tables to the sound of an ever increasing heartbeat and the angelic vocal of a choirboy. A woman, seated on the very edge of a sofa, memorises passages from a fairy-tale while a man dances before her stripped to the waist. All these situations are taken from Jesper Just’s three latest videos – No Man is an Island II (2004), The Sweetest Embrace of All (2004) and A Fine Romance (2004), all produced for the exhibition A Fine Romance - and which are all set in strip clubs. These scenarios are not, perhaps, in any way typical of the strip club milieu. Strippers in provocative postures are only present on posters and paintings hanging on the walls of the club. And only one item of clothing – a t-shirt – is removed in any of the three films.
In replacing the strip-show with these three scenarios, Jesper Just transforms the character of the strip-club, complete with its socio-cultural connotations and the relations obtaining between performers and clientele. He makes it a space – or a stage – in or on which another “show” can take place; a show which is less about strippers or the relationship between stripper and audience, and more about the audience and the relationship between its individual members. Just fixes our gaze on the strip-club audience – not their appearance as such – but on their gaze and the inner-lives of these spectators. The act of stripping thus becomes symbolic. In the place of the traditional physical strip-tease - the logic of which leads to a revelation of the naked body - Just’s videos speak of a psychological strip-tease driven by an alternative and far more complex and less predictable alternative logic of revelation; a complexity and unpredictability that, incidentally, also characterise the roles and internal reciprocal relations of those implicated in the show itself. In other words, Just is less interested in any superficial corporeal nudity than he is in a deeper, subcutaneous nakedness of heart and mind. A formless nudity more difficult to define than the kind strip-clubs seek to entertain their audiences with. Rather than providing plain enjoyment of physical beauty, the nudity that interests Just demands empathy and self-recognition on the part of his audience. In this sense, the strip-clubs in the three videos provide not only a concrete physical environment for the situations he depicts, but also an abstract psychological space, which, in turn, serves to create a general tenor, a certain mood or emotional ambience.
Unlike the traditional strip-club audience, the characters in Just’s videos have not sought out the strip-club as a place for the visual gratification of their erotic desires. They are people who, on entering the context of the club, have invested something of themselves and their personal histories. These investments consist in a reaching out; the hopeful invitation to others that also entails a self-exposure and the intimation of doubt and insecurity to the audience and to us, the viewers. The strip-club thus becomes an ambivalent space in which presence and absence, intimacy and estrangement are spontaneously interwoven, and where hope, a sense of security and fascination are followed by sorrow, vulnerability, misunderstanding and insecurity.
The three videos all trade on the notion of the strip-club as a magical space, liberated from the realities of the world outside; a theatre of illusions, a make-believe world in which everything is possible, where dreams can be realised, if only momentarily. The main characters in the videos often seek out the club as this magical free space, characterised by the dreamlike glow created by the songs, music and fairy-tales. They do not, however, wish to buy a pre-packaged, uniform form of fiction. They wish to play out their own private fictions, their unique versions of reality, and by so doing, influence unhappy states of affairs in the world outside through the power of imagination.. That the conflation of fiction and reality can, however, lead to problems, pain and even death seems to be the common experience of the characters depicted in the videos.
Affairs without kisses
No Man is an Island II starts with a view through the camera from the stage as it pans the interior of the club. We see five men spread throughout the room, two of them a couple. They sit stiffly, staring into space. The lighting is suggestive of a still-life, making us believe, for a moment, that they are wax models. Then they begin to move, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes. The camera zooms in on their faces. A young man who breaks out into sentimental song and a pony-tailed man at the bar with sceptical expression and uncertain gaze are particularly noticeable. We instinctively feel that there is a closer bond between these two men, a suspicion that increases when the young man begins to weep as the man at the bar stands, assuming the pose of a Christ, his deep voice providing a resonant background bass tone.
The fact that the younger man begins to weep at this gesture - an action echoing Orbison’s song - suggests to us that he has come to the club to seek a liaison with another man rather than a woman. In this reversal of the strip-club’s role as a club for the entertainment of lonely male hearts and its transformation into a male club of another kind, Just delves below the surface of the strip-club patron in order to characterise him not as a masturbatory egoist, but as someone seeking emotional contact of an asexual and intimate kind with the world around him. With the situation’s oblique references to the chorus of the Greek tragedy, musical performances and kitsch painting, Just provides us with images that refract and refine traditional ideas about male sorrow, sentimentality and social intercourse.
No Man is an Island II also broaches the problem of the generation gap. Of the five men in the club it is the youngest who weeps, and he alone wears a tracksuit rather than a three-piece suit. Does his casual dress indicate an emotional openness that the others do not possess? Is it the younger generation of males alone who are able to show their feelings in the presence of other men? Moreover, is he appealing to the other men in the strip-club to be more expressive of their feelings?
The generation theme is prevalent, too, in The Sweetest Embrace of All. Here, a young man winds his way through a labyrinth of strip-clubs to the accompaniment of dream-like music until he finally reaches a club where a middle-aged man sits alone after closing time, doing the paperwork, surrounded by images of naked women. Or is he writing a letter? Perhaps. His actions remain ambiguous. Is he the young man’s father? Again, perhaps. Nothing is unequivocal. There does, however, seem to be a business relationship of some kind between the two men. On the entry of the younger man, the older man feels prompted to rise from his seat. Clearly affected emotionally by the presence of the young man, he seems suddenly vulnerable and insecure. It is as if the hour of reckoning has arrived. “You shouldn’t have come,” he insists in a broken, trembling voice, to which the young man replies with an admixture of the psychopathic and the affectionate: “I’m leaving now anyway.” The ambiguity of the situation is further stressed when the young man fails to move. Wearing a pair of white cotton gloves that intimate sensitivity but which, at the same and in the context could also suggest the hands of a strangler, the young man approaches the middle-aged man. He then kneels before him, clutching him with a beatific expression on his face. A light illuminates his features, making him reminiscent of a saviour in the House of Sin. The middle-aged man seems clearly uncomfortable in this situation, and after efforts to loosen himself from the young-man’s grip, the situation changes character. The two men roll around on the floor to the tones of a castrato-choirboy and a rhythmic pulse, which we intuitively feel represent the inner-voices of the two men. The mounted camera gives way to a hand-held camera, and there are fleeting glimpses of the images of naked women that may represent the images in the middle-aged man’s mind. The embrace evolves into a chaotic ballet; a duet between the innocent song of the young man and the heart-beat and scream of his older counterpart – between pure love and ailing (mental) health. The dance and duet finish first when the older man lies motionless. The young man looks up, surprised and alarmed at what he has done, and flees from the scene of the crime. Did he intend to kill the older man? Again, we do not know. His love, however, seems to be of the ultimate kind, a punishment and liberation that can only be expressed in something as final as death.
Dance, too, is a central theme in A Fine Romance, the work that lends the exhibition its name. While there is no dance of death in this film, it nevertheless reaches a tragic conclusion. A young woman sits in a cubicle in a strip-club. She is obviously afraid, and in an inner monologue sits memorising passages from the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Just like the princesses in the fairy-tale, she has eloped in order to dance her secret dance. This time, however, her prince is no prince in a shining castle. Rather, he is a bloke at a strip-club. As he enters her cubicle and sits beside her, she is overwhelmed with passion. Whimpering and aroused she proceeds to grope his body. In spite of the fact that this is an infringement of club rules, the man lets her continue in silence, without reciprocating. Why? Does he desire her too? Do they know one another? When she finally tries to kiss him, he thrusts her aside, and just as in The Sweetest Embrace of All the situation suddenly changes character. The man stands up in order to free himself of her caresses and begins to dance to the tones of A Fine Romance, a song which, ironically, is about an affair without kisses, or rather, to continue within the metaphorical frame of reference of the strip-club, a song that laments a “look but don’t touch” relationship; a point that seems to be underscored by the spotlight on the woman’s face, particularly on her eyes. She sits contemplating the man like a little girl with her hands in her lap. Her adoring gaze is not, however, reciprocated by the man, who stands bathing narcissistically in the light she reflects. She tries unsuccessfully to hold on to his fleeting caresses, only to lose control over the situation and her desire once more. Her naked feet knock a pair of unused dancing shoes onto the floor, and the images of the man’s body are transformed into abstract fragments and glimpses of light.
When the dance is over, the man looks down condescendingly at the woman, he then draws the curtains to her cubicle, leaving her alone with the impression that the entire spectacle was a mere figment of her imagination. Her loneliness in this situation seems even more tragic than her loneliness in the “dance”.
Thus the video not only dialectically inverts the power struggle in the gaze, but also the power struggle at work in the strip-show. Who has the whip-hand in this situation? The man remains clothed, symptomatically, perhaps, while the woman sits awkwardly with her naked feet among the dance shoes that were never really danced in.
Cinematographic constructs and falling veils
The selection of a strip-club as a setting for these scenes seems to contain a meta-reflexive point. It seems pertinent to compare the ambiguous space of reality and fiction and experience and dream that the strip-club represents with the film media that Just is clearly influenced by, and whose formal language and methods he uses in dramaturgy and narrative as well as for aesthetic purposes. He differs in this respect from the trend in contemporary art that makes use of the video media in a bid to document reality “close up” in ‘amateur’ style, without special technological tools or aestheticising effects, often with the hidden agenda of clearly marking a categorical difference between the video and film media, contemporary art and the film industry. On the contrary, Just consciously plays on the idea of video art as a construct that can verge on the real through the invention of fictions and the picturing of other worlds.
Jesper Just’s integration of the film media into video art is not just present in his pregnant ability to play with convention and reference, but also in his ‘professionalism’. As well as conceiving of his works as collective productions in which he works with trained actors, singers, photographers, composers and sound engineers, as well as functioning as director and editor, he seeks a concentrated formal expression in which nothing seems left to chance. The result is clear when watching his videos. Insignificant as well as striking details, for example the young man’s position in front of the painting in No Man is an Island II, the white gloves and stroboscopic light in The Sweetest Embrace of All, the silver shoes, the woman’s white dress and bare feet in A Fine Romance appear laden with an often (consciously over overt) symbolism so that a visual complexity is created on the visual level that corresponds to the psychological and narrative complexity of his works. At the same time, Just consciously leaves his narratives with open endings, avoiding self-clarification and thus inviting his audience to engage in the act of interpretation. The past and future of the situations he depicts remain unclear. There is no omniscience. In this way, he manages to balance a spatially focussed and temporally protracted (almost timeless) form.
The parallel between the visual and the psychological is characteristic not only of the works that comprise A Fine Romance, but of Just’s work in general. As recent, especially feminist, film theory has pointed out, classical Hollywood productions influence, if not to say control, our collective consciousness, the psychology of the public and the public imagination, and not least, our understanding of power relations, the relations between people and between the sexes. The images and narratives in these mainstream productions represent a standardised capitalist, sexist and racist ideology that helps reproduce existing relations through the use off over simplified, clichéd and stereotyped structures. Through his images and stories of men and women Just cleverly deconstructs the hegemony of this ideology, partly creating a foundation for an alternative understanding of these relations, and partly creating a basis for new types of relation. They show us that men and women are first and foremost human beings with all the similarities and differences this implies, while giving collective consciousness more freedom of place and providing it with fresh challenges. In this sense there is a (gender)political perspective to Just’s works, in which image and narrative, indeed in which fiction is the starting point, not just for critical reflection, but also for personal interpretation and attitude.
Once again, the strip-club provides us with an adequate metaphor. Instead of obscuring the relation between the sexes behind an illusory veil, Just’s films let the veil fall, revealing them in the nakedness and the complexity they entail, making them into the condition for a more varied and sensitive self understanding and understanding of human relationships in general.
1. The three videos are not a trilogy as such, nor do they comprise a single narrative. Much like Just’s other works, however, the three films are closely related thematically. They are also related in terms of their common setting.
2. All three videos contain references, direct and indirect, to specific film scenes, such as Cabaret by Bob Lafosse(1972), La Samurai by Jean-Pierre Melville and Romance X by Catherine Breillat (1999). In addition to this, directors like Wong Kai Wai, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan provide clear sources of inspiration with their depictions of love and masculinity.
3. Other contemporary artists such as Pierre Huyghe, Stan Douglas and Douglas Gordon work with direct inspiration from film, using existing films as “ready mades”. Just’s interest in film is similar to Huyghe’s and Gordon’s , but thematically and aesthetically resembles more the work of Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman and Eija-Liisa Ahtila.
4. This is the potential of the situation - of the short narrative – and the reason that Just has no intention of casting himself into the film genre, which to a greater extent depends on the closure of the narrative.
Jesper Just by Svala Vagnsdatter
Fireworks rise glittering over the city like a heavenly, hyper-empathic reflection of his Svala Vagnsdatter: Reality's states of exception (2008)
Film is about focus. Technical focus, in the picture; but also focus in the sense of a horizon of understanding, elements of recognisability and a pathway for the observer to follow. In Jesper Just's films, we are taken by the hand and led – only to suddenly find ourselves alone and abandoned in a lift, a Chinese garden or a bar. The films' technical finesse cheats the observer into thinking that she has been in this universe before, and can easily find her way home. There is no disorder here, no hand-held cameras to shake the picture. But the apparent beautiful simplicity of the stream of images, free of dialogue, both disappoints and enriches in the same way as a verse that does not quite rhyme. Because it is not familiar after all – and the way home is further than you might think.
So how can we focus on these films? Is it even possible? One answer is that it is impossible for the human being not to do so; our individual experiences and our common cultural inheritance cause us to recognise certain elements and pursue them. In Jesper Just's films, these mechanisms are exploited to stimulate processes of interpretation which draw upon our familiarity with mainstream film and music production. When a Cole Porter number is turned into something exotically different through an arrangement for a Finnish shouting choir, we suddenly hear the words from an entirely new angle; the same words in a new disguise. But everything we take for granted places the knife once again at our throats: think again!
Our customary ideas are not turned on their heads, but we are allowed to gingerly observe them. Precisely because the film is grounded in a fascination with classic film production, it borrows not just a form language, but also a reaction pattern. The associations with music videos and Hollywood films become an art that seduces while at the same time revealing the seducer's techniques. Why do we react as we do to these beautiful images? May we, as observers, show our feelings in an art gallery as readily as in a cinema auditorium? These are some of the questions asked by these works. When we add to this the fact that the films’ content deals with the theme of revealing vulnerability in the public arena, both towards ourselves and others, the emotional, interactive interplay between art and the observer becomes an unavoidable point: the observer reflects the form of the work through known reaction patterns, and receives thereby the meaning into the bargain.
Such meaning is naturally not singular; like the displacing focus, the works point in several ambiguous directions at once. But, just as in reality, no direction is the final one. The same goes for the questions that the works apply to mankind's existence and identity. The films take a very cautious approach to the central themes of gender, glance and sexuality, and their mutual relations. Our assimilated ideas and expectations towards masculinity and femininity, the division of power between the subject and object of the glance, and towards sexuality as a giver of meaning in a heterosexual-dominated society, become, in these works, challenged by other possible combinations and mixed relationships. The middle-aged man and woman are placed in schizophrenic positions between the heavy combination of experience and responsibility and the bittersweet longing to be able to reach a younger generation – or for the young people they once were. The works frequently-thematised relationships between men, both young and old, create disturbing and ambivalent conflicts. These conflicts, which are often dramatically downplayed in relation to inter-masculine relations in mainstream film, touch on the horizon of understanding of our culture with regard to gender relations: what do these men have to do with each other? Is their physical contact expressive of violence, devotion, sexual desire, friendship or parental love? Are the glances exchanged threatening or redeeming? The observer should ask herself why she understands as she does.
These wordless films are naturally – or paradoxically enough – very much concerned with communication and understanding. For the missing words imbue body, song and glance with a more precise alternation between losing and winning than is possible in the cacophonic sign system of the spoken language. Dialogue does indeed exist and function in the film, in the form of silent longing between the characters: I wish, I knew, what it was, I would like to say. I wish, I knew, what it is, I am dreaming of. The communication is placed on stand by, and that is where it works, with all the tools of exceptionality: paradox and coincidence. A man expresses nothing, yet says everything with a regurgitated rose petal. The lack of dialogue is once again a refined means of opening up the space between work, observer and the cultural horizon of understanding. The film and I are silent together. We listen.
Another mechanism of exception which the film sets in motion is that of dreams and fiction. As with the communicative stand-by, the filmic works give the impression that it is only possible to assert reality through dreaming and fictitious detours. The films build upon the tension between these two qualitatively different spheres, but also on the tension that is transmitted to the observer in the desire to decipher what is what. Is it the dream that shatters the reality, or vice versa? And which state is then the exception? The answer is probably that they call forth each other, and actually overlap each other. "You’re my dream come true," as the song says in A Little Fall Of Rain. That could be one answer.
On a more concrete level, there is also something to find for the one who watches and listens. As mentioned, the works make use of classic film and music production, and it is exciting to try to remember where you have seen that drum, heard that music or been thrilled by that atmosphere before. And since you are now in the process of drawing threads of meaning from the works, you might suitably ask yourself how far what we call our own reality and our own experience consists of other stories? I know when something is creepy. But where have I learned this? Is it something that Hitchcock taught me? Or did he get it from someone who really was afraid? So whose feeling is this? Mine, or everyone's? The questions tangle into each other, spiralling higher and higher.
In this way a narrative network is constructed which, with complexly interwoven stories, stands in glaring contrast to the wordless films and their communicative exceptionality. Human beings consist of many narratives, many stories. And they are not always our own. Sometimes we may be other people's stories. We cannot know.
Something to Love (2005) opens in a bleak location, an underground car park. To the sound of glass-like music a large Volvo glides around, then stops, and an elderly man opens the door for a young man in the back seat. The older man remains standing in an ambivalent position, with tears in his eyes and an expression that suggests he has something he would like to say. It is a typical "line" for Just's actors: to wish to say something, but never really get it said. As the young man begins to walk towards the lift, the 'action film' begins, and the elderly man runs up the staircase, opens the lift door – and finds the young man in a tight embrace with a beautiful girl. The couple slowly turn around, like plastic figures in a young girl's jewellery box, to the accompaniment of a music-box melody.
In contrast to the classic film plot, which often progresses on the basis of a gender dynamic which dictates that the male character must stimulate the plot action in parallel with his passion for a feminine figure, the opening of a jewellery box provokes only a dispassionate 'stand by' state. The stylised heterosexual pact represents the predictable and the expressible in general, but also the exclusive and normative, which the young man – since he turns around and leaves the girl for the older man – allows to remain in a cautiously undefining manoeuvre of masculinity as heterorelative. The conclusion, however, is ambiguous; perhaps we have witnessed an unsuccessful bid for liberation? If this is a happy ending, who is now happy?
But then we are allowed to see a remake with a different ending. The film A Vicious Undertow (2007) deals with the same kind of diffuse triangular drama between two young people and a older person that we saw in Something to Love. Here the main character is a middle-aged woman, and the wordless dialogue consists in this instance of the two women whistling a duet, accompanied by lingering, longing gazes. The perspective and fate are those of a woman, and it is she who becomes the starting-point for the work's interplay between desire and identification.
In a heteronormative cultural system, as expressed in such a system's cultural products, desire and identification are usually mutually exclusive. Try to recall how you have seen the characters in a mainstream film: Who did you identify with? Who was hot? These are often different characters. But in A Vicious Undertow, these two conceptual functions glide towards each other and swap places in a close courtship dance. Normally we identify with the perspective-bearing character, and visually desire what she desires; but here, the classic triangular drama is played out at the same time as it is dissolved. As in a flirt, the persons move from exchanging intense looks to the physical contact of the dance, in which all combinations are tried out: the older woman dances with the younger woman, and with the younger man, and the two young people dance with each other. And as in Something to Love, we hear the crisp chords of a music-box as the couples revolve; though in this case, with the addition of a disturbing drum rhythm. Something is different. There is a spanner in the works.
Perhaps the main character desires the young woman, or perhaps she is envious of her, or identifies herself with her. The outcome is that she abandons the circling, dancing scene and leaves the two young people in each other's arms. In contrast to Something to Love, in which the young man left his girl and went with the older man, the middle-aged woman here seems to approve of and sacrifice herself for the status quo. But she takes the circling movements with her out into the night and the snow, and up the dizzying spiral staircase of the church spire, which produces associations with Hitchcock's Vertigo and its suicidal game of misapprehension and death. Even the music has a dizzying sound.
However, she is not a loser on that account. As mentioned, the wordless signs alternate almost imperceptibly between losing and winning, and it is by no means certain that her rise will lead to a fall. The sharp distinction between heroes and anti-heroes, to which we are otherwise accustomed, is lacking here.
This is also communicated in the film Bliss and Heaven (2005). Here, masculinity and the part played by role models, father figures and heroes in the formation of masculine identity are caught in the act. And completely on the wrong foot.
Traditionally, the drag show plays on the oblique connections between the biological body, social gender and the obvious gender performance. In Bliss and Heaven, doubt is cast on the identity of these parts and their mutual relations in a grandiose anti-show.
A truck pulls up at a power station; the drivers climbs out, opens a door and disappears into the trailer. When a young man, unseen, follows after, he witnesses the truck driver in a wig and silk scarf putting on a drag show, in which the feminine elements combine beautifully with the man's sweaty trucker t-shirt via the seriousness he displays in his show, helped along by the absurd dream universe that opens up in the truck trailer, with a stage, red velvet seating and chandelier.
But is it really a show? When the driver discovers that he is being observed, he falls drastically out of character and tries desperately to get out of the spotlight. The young man, too, seems uncertain about what he has witnessed, not to mention his own participation and position as an observer. He shares his own insecurity through powerful, almost evil applause.
The trilogy It Will All End In Tears (2006) displays an even more intense focus on the works' common, diffuse relationship between dream, fiction and reality. In these three films, we become spectators to an ever more desperate state of exception, and an emancipation process that receives a grandiose release.
Once again, the characters are a young man and an older man. It is the older man who sings, witnesses, runs and cries. It is he that is oppressed and - perhaps - released.
The first part of the trilogy takes place in a Chinese garden, of the kind that is woven into the woman's clothes in A Vicious Undertow. Here the exotic garden has taken form in reality, and the man enters it. He sees, as though in a mirror, a young man, and we watch their shapes approach each other in the reflection of the water. The young man reaches out his hand and touches the older man on the forehead. Light spreads as though on the first day of creation; the man falls back in ecstasy, and the fog turns into rose petals which fall like red rain. Whereupon the man sings "Only You".
Are the characters father and son, different masculine roles, or the man and his inner sweetheart? We see at any rate an intense interpretation of the inner communication between the parties, and while the man sings his way to the one and only, we once again encounter the drums that produced such an ominous effect in A Vicious Undertow. It is the young man who is playing the drums, with a smiling and listening face, calling forth memories of the ever-young observer, Oskar, in Grass and Fassbinder's "The Tin Drum".
Reality impinges on the scene, as it always does in dreams; here in the form of a group of men who gather at the entrance to the garden and stare in. The light fades, and the older man grasps desperately at the rose petals to stuff them into his pocket before they are transformed into rain. But all hope is not lost; there is a varying cloud cover, and once again we find ambivalence raising its head. The rose petals can after all represent not just the classic love symbol, but also blood, wounds and suffering; just as the dream is not only joyful, but also to an equal degree disturbing. And dreams must be allowed to go their own way.
The second part of the trilogy takes place in a courtroom. In this oppressive atmosphere, with the older man in the witness box and the young man in the gallery, a solid reality check is introduced in the form of the darkly-dressed group of men we saw earlier. They occupy the jury box, and this time they have something to say: "I've Got You Under My Skin" they shout, their faces contorted in aggressive grimaces. In the trilogy, they comprise the "warning voice that comes in the night" and shout "use your mentality, wake up to reality", in the words of the song. To this direct challenge, the young man responds by standing up and spitting out rose petals as a clarifying expression of what he would like to have said.
In the third part of the trilogy, the man sits up with a start, as though waking from a dream. His panic-filled, clumsy running and hiding contrasts with the young man's superior, calm walking and smiling. The young man stops at the bottom of the ladder that leads to the hiding-place. He seems to weigh up the situation, then turns around and leaves. Only the older man and his 'warning voice' are left. After violent Finnish exclamations, the male group throw themselves into the deep. Only the older man remains, sitting hunched, stripped of both dreams and the inner need for reality, crying in relief and dejection.
The films move from the exotic garden of dreams to the separating cross-roads of the courtroom, and finally to the city scene in a grim industrial area. On the basis of the various locations, the films also valorise their elements differently, and we thereby receive an insight into the development of the main characters. The rose petals, which in the first instance indicated the joyful state of the dream, are regurgitated in the second part of the trilogy, to return again and pursue the man in his nightmare-like flight. We can see from the upward-striving light of the rockets that the downward-weighing movement of the petals has been countered. What does this say about the relationship between dream and reality, and the film's presentation of their mutual relationship?
It Will All End In Tears seems to put its finger on the exception mechanisms of fiction and dream, as they function and communicate in reality. The divine intervention of the dream receives strong competition from the reality which intrudes and gives meaning in the scenario. We hardly need the cyber-phenomenon "Second Life" - we already have it in our ambivalent and diffuse relationship with pop culture, the good story, the happy ending, coaching and lifestyle trends, and other kinds of daydreams and fantasies.
Only the main character remains, rawly triumphant in all his horror: "Only you".
We encounter another lonely rider in Some Draughty Window (2007). Here, other kinds of exceptional states are at work besides the communicative, and gender and identity dare to exceed the boundaries of their fixed forms.
The laws of nature have taken over the men's room, where the law of gravity has sentenced the man to the ground. We encounter him where he breaks down: the crack of the eyes and the leak of the mouth. When he confronts himself in the mirror, he also places the long arm of the law on pause; instead, it is he who impacts on the natural forces. His breath fogs the mirror, which leaks visions from the forest: quiet tree trunks and foliage. And whereas the atmosphere previously held the man to the ground, the space now suddenly seems airless. He floats. But in contrast to other astronauts, his breath is expelled; it mists the entire room and causes the leaves to rustle ever more loudly, while sunbeams play across the toilet cubicles. A leakage has occurred between the inside and the outside, and while the astronaut floats around in the spiritual music, he/she gradually alters form from a man to a woman. Tiny signs are displaced and bud as exceptions and transmissions from a different identity form, which, in a less concrete way than in the drag show in Bliss And Heaven, insinuates itself instead of posing. The gender and identity codes of the men's room have been dissolved and replaced by a breathing wonder that transports us further than to the curtain fall.
Just's filmic works channel and release a storm-force sense of wonder. In attempting to place her finger on the meaning of the works, the observer is left with a mouthful of dreams and a handful of pieces that almost fit together. At the mercy of the vacuum of art, which paradoxically sends and receives impulses from the surrounding world, we must recognise that a dialogue has been set in motion. One which cannot be halted.
Interpassivities: Jesper Just
Jesper Just and Noam Segal in conversation
A small crowd of people is entering a freight elevator, the backstage entrance to an empty, gray, linoleum-coated floored space. The performance begins to unfold through the movements of some dancers interspersed in the crowd, who become identifiable by their subtle motions. The complex show functions almost as an ongoing workshop. It consists of classical ballet dancers, pedestrian migrant workers, a modular floor, a self-playing piano, three new video works, and a composition made by Kim Gordon and the audience—all roaming the room during the eighty-minute duration of the show.
Touching on two main conceptual anchors—Jorge Luis Borges’s fable “On Exactitude in Science,” involving a map so detailed it is as large as territory itself, and the notion of interpassivities, as coined by Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek, which refers to a human action and is based on outsourcing emotions and feelings—this layered project slowly unraveled in the theater of the Royal Danish Ballet, the commissioning institution.
NOAM SEGAL: You introduced your first multichannel work in 2008. This shift entailed a change in your perception of gender-body-spatial-corporeal investigation. From examining masculinity, you started to look at female body representations, which then led you to delineate structures surrounding challenged and disabled bodies. This investigation of physicality correlates to the architecture that facilitated the works, namely the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013 and the lower level of Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2015. Can you speak to this development
JESPER JUST: When I created Intercourses for the Danish Pavilion, the space within the films and the exhibition space played equally important roles. I wanted the exhibition experience to start when you approached the pavilion, so you would experience it before you even entered. Using concrete blocks, I built fragments of wall completely encircling the pavilion as a third architectural element, both guiding the viewer and also suggesting that behind these walls something was taking place. In this sense the walls, however incomplete, had a semantic value, or a type of codified meaning. The original entrance to the pavilion was turned into the exit when the modernist addition was built (the pavilion was built over two periods, neoclassical and modernist). I wanted to push that even further, and sideways, so that viewers enter through a window and exit from the tool shed. I think it’s important to note that the representations and societal structures I address involve not only the female body, but even more so intersexual relations and transgendered bodies, often mirrored in the city and landscape.
This Nameless Spectacle (2011) features a transgender actress in a wheelchair navigating Buttes Chaumont, an iconic park in Paris. It might seem to be a rather peaceful image, but there is a conflict and also a parallel between her body and the physical terrain she navigates, or into which she inserts herself, depending on how you see it. Aside from the fact (though not apparent) that she is transgender, she is also, the film eventually reveals, not disabled; similarly, the park appears to be a haven of boundless nature but is actually entirely fabricated and human-made. Both are navigating realms of authenticity but also testing boundaries of space—and when you address space, the question naturally arises: Are you addressing space or are you addressing territory? And with territory comes the complicated issue of ownership, belonging, and otherness.
Servitudes (exhibited at One World Trade Center in 2015) built on this idea of obstruction and integration, specifically creating a sense of fragmentation and yet a cohesiveness between what you watch and what you must navigate. The films in Servitudes feature two female bodies, one a child, who is disabled, and the other a woman who appears to be the epitome of the American ideal: tall, blond, thin, conventionally attractive. The inherent dialogue emerges on the issue of ableism: perhaps the least-discussed form of discrimination, but omnipresent in any urban landscape. Within the films, One World Trade serves as a mediating character, bringing together both characters’ bodies within the space of the films, and also standing like a phantom limb in the skyline, a reminder of what stood before and is no longer—of another wound, or injury, or impairment. In response to this, the installation needed to reflect these negotiations and mediations of space and also demand that the viewer be an active spectator. This cumulated in an installation that was both a physical and an auditory experience so grounded in the perception of physical space that on some level it serves as an architectural structure in itself.
In its original installment, the exhibition Servitudes at Palais de Tokyo occupied the basement floor, and this lower-level setting inspired the idea of the spectator as a spelunker, physically descending and then ascending again in order to observe all of the multiple film channels. The installation itself used wheelchair ramps and scaffolding to intersect and fragment the preexisting architecture. The ramps forced the able-bodied spectators to use a means of access typically intended for the disabled spectator—making their bodies ill-suited and in a way disabled for the physical setting.
So actually, the physical installation is an intervention that divides and restructures the exhibition space. As an architectural intervention, it echoes themes of ableism and fragmented feminized space—forging a connection with the content of films, manifested in physical space—while this same use of space obscures and confronts the viewer’s access and ability to view the films. Bridging a link to the disabled character of the Child, the installation forces visitors to confront their own bodies and physical abilities to illuminate ableism. Contemporary society is overwhelmingly designed for the able-bodied, to the extent that able bodies are taken for granted and those deemed disabled are rendered somewhat invisible. This focus on increasing the visibility of the disabled body was in turn extended to an exploration of gender and wholeness in physical space. As the female body is traditionally viewed as the place from which everything derives historically, space has been perceived as female, whereas time, and relatedly history, have been viewed as more male concepts. Henri Lefebvre has described neocapitalist/postmodern space as fractured—the “docility” of a space “cut into pieces.”
NS: All of these ideas are very present in Interpassivities, where the performance becomes porous by way of its own forms and actions. To start to untangle this work, can you elaborate on the ideas of the post-simulacrum condition, physicality, and the mechanic body, and how they are expanded in this show?
JJ: Interpassivities explores changes in space, and communication, within the context of contemporary society and technology. There is this prevailing sensation that time and space are being compressed—an issue addressed years ago, somewhat prophetically, by the philosopher Paul Virilio, who wrote about it at great length. Interpassivities engages with a different aspect of the post-simulacrum condition, that of hypernormalization. The ballet draws on an analogy that Jean Baudrillard cited, the fable derived from “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges. The floor of the performance space forms a movable map and terrain. The ballet approaches this fable from a contemporary perspective, one in which the origin is removed from Baudrillard’s idea of simulacra—replaced with a universe of endless, source-less replicas—which renders Borges’s map merely an echo of an idea. The performance and all its elements navigate a topographic landscape relating to both the realms of the performance space and the virtual space within the films, compressing time and space to switch the inherent boundaries and hierarchies of reality and virtual reality.
NS: August Bournonville was a leading figure in shaping the Danish ballet tradition. Coming from classicistic and expressive French and Russian methodology, he took a more realistic approach. Under his management the Danish Academy became a prominent school that provided fully a sponsored education system, welfare, and health care to its students from early childhood until eighteen years of age. It was a labor-minded practice that was focused on the inclusion of the lower working class. The core structure of Interpassivities is based on three cycles, each containing a different perception of the body: the body as a subject for aesthetic investigation and experience, the body as an object that you perceive as a still, passive entity, and the practical body which is the daily functioning, laboring body. These conceptions are also realized through the framing of the video works, and moreover by different choreographic registers. What made you concentrate on these three paradigms, taking into consideration August Bournonville?
JJ: I was partly interested in the overlap of different body paradigms within the same space. Putting the aesthetic body on display was almost like having the dancers dance in quotation marks—extracting the aestheticized body by adding a sort of double exposure to it. For example, injecting a sequence in which bodies slide into becoming other bodies: pedestrian bodies through support movements that seem untrained and un-choreographed; sexual bodies through movements that emphasize relationships between bodies; or isolating parts of the bodies within the films, decontextualizing the body from the performance space. It was interesting to see how in filmic space the performative body can quickly take on a fetishized or sexualized tone. Once removed from any context and from the same space occupied by the audience, suddenly the body is not something experienced but merely observable and prone to our projections of desire or sexuality. I did turn to Bournonville technique for influences, as he is noted for what seem like isolated, purer, simpler movements: the port de bras or carriage of the arms is simplified, the wrists and lower arms maintain the same line. The footwork is speedy and precise, while the upper body remains more static or upright than in other techniques. So, I wanted to cut into the classical movements that are the basis for all ballet genres. Instead I used repetitive, simple steps which then could be interrupted. When traditional ballet vocabulary is present, for instance when the dancers execute a series of syncopated tendues, the movements are so simple and straightforward they would rarely appear in traditional classical ballet performance; it’s the basic vocabulary of ballet class, of the body in training, rather than the seasoned performer. In this sense, I wanted to expose the dancers falling in and out of “aesthetics.” Additionally, there were inserts of sequences in which the dancers did something practical—a practical body that performs practical actions mechanically. Machines are practical and they are objects that do something actively. This questions then the relationship of the body to the machine—what the difference is between an object doing actions and a body that is commanded to do the same actions.
As you described, especially in contemporary society, the different roles or registers of the body are markedly pronounced. How we use bodies has shifted. There is frequent discussion of bodies and the workforce being replaced by machines, leading to debates on the phenomenon of universal income. Also when we consider this time-space compression brought about by advancing technology, I was interested in how that manifests in physical form, how it changes the way our bodies move, operate, and interact. Within the performance space this manifests within the shifting physical boundaries of the moving, topographic floor. Integrated into the space you have the bodies of the dancers and those of the laborers moving the floor pieces, as well as the bodies of the audience members. The presence of the migrant workers contrasting with the bodies of the performers experiments with the idea of delegated performance. This contrasts with the idea of performance as it relates to delegated consumption or enjoyment. Within this context, the roles of agency, authenticity, and participation are questioned—who has the right to create or observe, or who has the right to be relieved of having to do one or either. Bodies bring into question the ideas of inter-passivity but also alienation.
NS: There is a strong correlation between the modular fragmented flooring and the bodily concepts represented throughout the show. Architecture responds to the three registers of human physicality, and forms of labor are in action with the shifting flooring. The dancers are changing their register according to the specific arrangement of the architecture, while the architecture is changing in reaction to the pedestrians who are constantly working throughout the show.
Within this symbiosis, the topographic landscape is also a response to the “virtual space within the films,” as you pointed out. In the three films, we see electrical cords applying strokes on the dancer’s muscles, which passively respond in motion, we become witness to the camera’s exploration of a CPM machine, and we see Kim Gordon in a tutu playing on the Mexican-US border fence with a small wooden stick. Can you talk about how the differing architectural structures are responding to the physical registers in the work as well as in the films?
JJ: The content of the films as well as the sonic/auditory structure of the piece create another dimension, in a sense replacing the fourth wall with a continuum in which the architectural structures within the physical space and within the films (landscapes or locations) have a meeting point within the performance space that exists only in that present moment. At the same time, as the performance and the films occur at two different points in time and space, this meeting point does not occur at all. This slippage or rupture forms its own architecture, which also comments on themes of passivity, ableism, and labor—like the way in which the Mexican-American border is emblematic in discussions surrounding labor, migration, alienation, and the right of bodies to be mobile and autonomous. Yet here, as Kim Gordon plays the border fence, it simultaneously becomes a structural tool, the sound providing the music for the dancers in the performance space to perform in real time. Landmarks and monuments, architecture that exists outside the walls of the temporary performance, shift in their symbolic and functional hierarchies once they enter or occupy a space in the films. It is a constant negotiation and renegotiation.
NS: Let’s talk a bit about the musical component, which was made in collaboration with Kim Gordon and August Rosenbaum. The performance has several auditory components: in addition to the single-channel sound in the films, the movable floor also functions as a spatial musical object, and in the middle of the show the audience becomes acquainted with a self-playing piano. Can you say something about this process and how it evolved in response to other ideas resonating the show?
JJ: Kim’s involvement added much to the ballet, both musically and in the sense of her presence in the film. She composed four loops of music, which August then arranged over different parts of the work in various segments and temporalities, helping to form four movements of the ballet. The loops served as this linking thread repeated, much like the movements of the choreography, but sometimes the loops were distorted or building or abstracted. Each movement of the ballet linked to these loops had specific choreography for the dancers and signaled a change for the laborers moving the floor panels. The floor panels themselves contained speakers, so that when they were moved, the soundscape shifted as well, not just the physical topography.
August made the composition for the self-playing piano. I used to work with August’s father, a chemistry teacher and a singer with a very deep bass voice. He played a transvestite in my film Bliss and Heaven (2005). I used to come to their house for dinners starting when August was a young boy. One day the father suggested that August and I should work together, and we collaborated for the first time in 2008 and several times since.
This is my first collaboration with Kim; it is partly seen in the film but it spills over into the performance space, again breaking this boundary between what is happening live in one space versus in the projected filmic space. In the film in which she appears, she interacts with the dividing structure at the US-Mexico border, and the sound that came out through this playful interaction was transferred to the floor units, which then move around. We used wireless speakers that were attached underneath some floor units, so the fence between the two states was rearranged and translated vocally into the performance space.The sound came both from her whispers and from her performance in the film with the wooden stick. Her clankings and knockings on the physical border created a sound that was physical and played directly from the floor, creating vibrations. This concept is tied to the idea of virtual reality and the endless reproductions of a thing in different manifestations. Some elements were activated elsewhere, yet had an active presence in the space, like the way sound was created from the border, from deploying it as an instrument, and then it turned into floor vibrations.
Another example would be the piano. When you enter the space, the first thing you hear is a piano playing, kind of like a soundtrack of the space. Then later it is revealed to be a self-playing piano, performing on its own. Once the floor is lifted suddenly the piano is revealed, lying underneath. At this moment, the films screening show the dancers’ muscles contracting rhythmically, and we become aware that the piano is in fact the same instrument causing the dancers’ muscle contractions seen in the film: the vibrations/resonances from the self-playing piano are controlling the dancers with the help of electronic simulation devices, so the dancers are in total sync with the independent instrument. It creates this echo of an object or presence—sound heard in the space, then seen in the film, and made tangible when encountering the instrument. It’s like a chain reproducing its own links, all of which lack any original source.
January 14 - February 15, 2020
130 Orchard Street
September 1 - November 11, 2017
50 CONNAUGHT ROAD CENTRAL, 17TH FLOOR - HONG KONG
Continuous Monuments (Interpassivities)
April 20 - June 15, 2013
10 IMPASSE SAINT CLAUDE 75003 PARIS
September 6 - October 14, 2008
76 RUE DE TURENNE 75003 PARIS