For this autumn, 2011, while Paris is applauding international artistic creations, the Val-de-Marne contemporary art museum in Vitry-sur-Seine sets the pace with the first monographic exhibition in a French museum of the Danish artist Jesper Just. Frank Lamy, the museum curator invited this young artist to spend four months in the museum’s temporary exhibition halls where around six of his films, including a new production made during his summer in Paris, were commissioned just for this occasion. In this exhibition called « This Unknown Spectacle », Jesper Just proposes MAC/VAL visitors a totally new artistic and cinematic experience. With the lighting, the strange decors, the obvious absence of narration and refusal of any sort of dialogue, his film transforms into captivating visually poetry and astonishing paintings in movement. Through both fascinating and disturbing productions, the display takes on a dream-like character, encouraging introspection. Questions of identity, social transgression, humanity, refined and referential aesthetics are undeniably at the heart of this mysterious work.
Despite Jesper Just’s films resembling pure cinema, spectators must not simply be lured into its pictorial sublimity. Exhilaratingly beautiful images saturate the screens where the smallest detail becomes important, meticulously eliminating any intrusive elements, and creating oftentimes distressing ambiances. To begin, Jesper Just chooses a place, a park, a building, an island …. there is no predefined story-board, and he builds a scenario little by little, playing obstinately with the light. Then he sculpts it to obtain tenuous and ambiguous beauty. Then suddenly, along the same logic lines as his changing decor, he lures the spectator to unexpected “elsewheres”.
In his films, the stories of meeting or guilt are surprisingly melodramatic and continuous despite the changes of decors and action. Why does this person start singing? Why does this person cry? Without a definition for intrigue and figures with no characterisation, the images only deliver the materiality of their feelings. Sometimes the atmosphere becomes so leaden that the spectator feels like an intruder just by watching this scene in which nobody was invited. But please don’t underestimate the artist’s love for black comedy as he takes devilish pleasure at offering an unexpected vision of the world which jostles about stereotypes of desire.
Among the movies presented in the exhibition, It Will All End in Tears depicts feelings of partly mystical love between two men of two different generations. The first of three acts which takes place in New York chooses a hazy oriental garden as its setting where a man wanders about looking for a young man. The latter starts singing Only You whereas his friend plays the drums. A gong goes off. The young man disappears and it starts raining rose petals. The second act refers to a citation by Jean Genet from the Miracle de la Rose. This time the protagonists are in a deserted courtroom. Men who could be confused with the jury start screaming in a rather comical manner the words from Cole Porter’s famous song and I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Finally, the last act takes place on the roof of Silver Cup film studios in Brooklyn where we see the two men before watching some fireworks which illuminate the New York skyline. Despite changes of decors and action which could seem beyond understanding, the story of this meeting presents an astonishing melodramatic continuity.
Other films seem more reflexive like A Vicious Undertow which is built around a middle-aged woman lady whistling Night in White Satin in a bar. The camera slides down her neck, her skin, her lips before focusing on another woman who starts singing the same song. A man joins them and in a series of quick shots, the camera rivets on the woman dancing the waltz, the on the man, then again with the young woman … as if it was a hallucination. All at once, the woman stands still and walks towards the door before contemplating the two other people on the threshold for a last time. Then she looks away and the décor changes. Propelled in the middle of night on the steps of an endless stairway, she seems to want to escape from this melancholy by moving around in space out of time.
Jesper Just happily manipulates cinema clichés to startle spectators, luring them to where they least expect. With “This Unknown Spectacle” he again achieves an exploit by presenting dark and dismaying pictures of Paris. By manipulating both the expected and unexpected, he draws the public into unexplored far-off lands where the beautiful images generate burdensome emotions.