VSF is pleased to present Jesper Just’s first solo exhibition at Various Small Fires. In the Main Gallery is a single-channel video projection of Llano (2012), filmed on location among the dusty Antelope Valley ruins of the failed Socialist-utopian desert city Llano del Rio in north-eastern Los Angeles County. The film seeks to explore this ruin, both as a concept and as an historical and archaeological object, full of inherent dualities: at its origin, the promise of an ideal community; in its present state, an empty, forgotten space. Llano del Rio’s architect, Alice Constance Austin, imagined a proto-feminist gender-neutral design, including communal kitchens located in tunnels between the homes, intended to liberate women from domestic work. The settlement was ultimately abandoned in 1918 after its water rights were lost in a lawsuit. Llano revisits this landscape, observing a woman as she struggles to reconstruct architectural remnants. An apparatus of pipes and tubes, typically used on film sets, floods the ruin with artificial rain, a poetic intervention of cinematic illusion. The ensuing struggle between (wo)man and nature evokes Georg Simmel’s essay “The Ruin” (1911), in which he argued that architecture could be seen as the epitome of this struggle; once architecture begins to disintegrate, the forces of man and nature combine and grow into a different, natural phenomenon.
Screening in the Project Room is a film that first appeared in Just’s most recent solo show Servitudes (2015) at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Servitudes follows a young female character, The Child, marked by a physical disability, and her movements within an urban space, specifically the equally iconic and controversial One World Trade Center in Manhattan. The tower, both the setting and a character itself, appears as an urban appendage, a metal and concrete prosthetic of the city. In the film, The Child faces her reflection in the One World Trade Center building with a mix of playful innocence and assertion. As her visage and body appear on the façade of the building, she imposes herself on the surrounding architecture, making her mark on the urban space with a sense of autonomy and poise – yet for her, it is merely a game. The female body, stereotypically expected to be a docile space, is contrasted against the masculine symbol of the tower, a powerful metaphor and active experiment in reclaiming agency and redefining space.
In both of these works, physical space, femininity, and nostalgia collide and interplay. Historically, the concept of space has been perceived as ‘female’, whereas time (and history) have been perceived as ‘male’. Just explores these contrasting dynamics in relation to physical place and societal history. Llano Del Rio and One World Trade Center appear as prosthetics and vestiges of the idealism and naiveté that precipitated their creation, now obsolete yet memorialized. These two landscapes, vastly contrasting in appearance, each possess a meaning garnered from loss, absence, and memory, whose boundaries are challenged by the female figures that occupy them.
Another channel of Servitudes will be shown in New York City’s Times Square during the run of this exhibition (starting November 1st), as part of the 2015 Performa Biennial’s “Midnight Moments”.
Jesper Just (b. 1974) lives and works in New York City. He graduated from the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Art in 2003. Recent solo exhibitions and presentations include Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the Danish Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale; Galerie Perrotin, Paris; James Cohan Gallery, New York; The Mongin Art Center, Seoul; and the 2015 Performa Biennial, New York. Just is represented in many important private and institutional collections, including: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and The Tate Modern, London. His exhibitions have been reviewed by numerous publications including The New York Times, ArtReview, Frieze and Artforum.