|Catherine Y. Hsieh: Gender, relationships, and identity are recurring themes in your work. A lot of times, your work deals with men’s conventional image coined by
social standards. What was it that spurred this overthrow of stereotypes in your work?
Jesper Just: For a long time my work did revolve around stereotypical images of men and the transgression of these images within specific social spaces. Lately I’ve become interested in other stereotypes too, though, such as the middle-aged woman (A Vicious Undertow), the hermaphrodite/the transsexual (Romantic Delusions) and the African-American woman (Sirens of Chrome).
Jesper Just, interviewed by Catherine Y. Hsieh
Catherine Y. Hsieh: Gender, relationships, and identity are recurring themes in your work. A lot of times, your work deals with men’s conventional image coined by social standards. What was it that spurred this overthrow of stereotypes in your work?
Jesper Just: For a long time my work did revolve around stereotypical images of men and the transgression of these images within specific social spaces. Lately I’ve become interested in other stereotypes too, though, such as the middle-aged woman (A Vicious Undertow), the hermaphrodite/the transsexual (Romantic Delusions) and the African-American woman (Sirens of Chrome). Just like my early work has revolved around a disruption of socially constructed images of men, I’ve used these “other” stereotypes or identities to create and contradict our expectations toward them and the situations I place them within.
So what spurs that “overthrowing,” you ask. I suppose you could say that once you start looking into how specific stereotypes are constructed, you also get a clue as to what is not part of that very stereotype: What you don’t see, how this stereotype is not typically represented in culture at large. In that sense, stereotypes become so loaded with meaning, and even more so when you start placing them within spaces and situations where it becomes so evident that what is happening or what you see is not what you’d typically expect.
So in answer to your question, I guess I would say that the process of “overthrowing” stereotypes, situations, or images, is essentially a crucial part of my artistic process. It’s where my work begins and takes shape.
CH: Your work is noted for its lack of dialogue. What is your reason not to have dialogues? Do you think it’d be distracting? Would you consider adding dialogues in future works?
JJ: “Speech is silver, and silence is gold,” as the saying goes, and I think there’s some truth to that, at least when, as in my case, you work with something that doesn’t have a linear or logical narrative such as in mainstream film.
I strive to create something ambiguous, something enigmatic, and in that regard I think it’s crucial to give space to your audience’s own thoughts, to let their minds wander, and rather give them cues by and way of music, images, and atmospheres. I don’t want the spectator to leave thinking they got “what it was all about.” That’s not my ambition. Instead, I would like to activate some subtle flow of thought on what they’ve seen, a feeling or an emotion, bewilderment. That, to me, is plentiful.
CH: People have compared your work to that of director Ingmar Bergman. What is your response to that?
JJ: Well, I find it a very flattering comparison, but I don’t know how righteous it is. I don’t see myself as a film director. Bergman was so industrious and tirelessly pensive, and whereas I’m only ten years into my career, he has left behind a lifetime of an oeuvre that is so heavy and complex, and yet so complete and articulate.
That’s not to say I don’t understand what certain critics are referring to when they single out reverberations of Bergman’s work in my films: there’s the comedic aspects and the absurdity located in moments of bleakness. The attempts to capture certain moments, atmospheres, or emotions pertaining to the human condition. A fair share of melancholy too, perhaps.
CH: What is performance art to you? Do you consider it to be a vehicle for your art?
JJ: Absolutely. Or rather, I should say that “performance” as such is a vehicle for my art—“performance art” being a subcategory to this much more comprehensive discipline, mode of thought or philosophy, if you will.
I guess what I extract from it is the idea that everything performs, not just people, but also places, objects, narratives, or mediums. Everything and everyone awakens expectations by their mere presence; everything has a meaning, or meanings, I should probably say. And I would probably go as far as to say that my work revolves around creating montages of performances, not in a haphazard manner, but in a way that activates as many of these meanings as possible.
So, as for your question what performance art is to me, I would say that it’s a medium that exists by and means the meeting with the audience. And in that regard it becomes engaging, a process, something that comes into being depending on the extent to which the performer or performance is able to excite expectations in the audience and allow them to gather meaning from what they see.
CH: Your work is very zeitgeisty, fashionable, and to the art world, commercial. Are you aware of this? Because this ambiguity and rebellion that is so important to you, is opposed to the actual end product. It seems like you’re not making an art that is inaccessible at all. Are you trying to make work that is not obvious?
JJ: I’m curious, what makes you say that the ambiguity and rebellion I strive to (re)present is opposed to the actual end product?
CH: As I mentioned, your work captures the current aesthetic zeitgeist really well—it fits into a film noir visual that is edgy and commercial at once. Polished and cinematic, it finds its self to be stylish and fashionable to both the art-loving public and collectors, galleries alike. This, all tends to be opposed to the idea and notion of “rebellion.” I was wondering if you are aware, that despite the fact you, as an artist, are genuinely striving to achieve something ambiguous, outside the norm, or convention or what is “marketable and popular” in the art world, you are nonetheless creating an art that’s fashionable. My question was basically, just about whether or not you are purposefully intending to make something outside of the commercial and accessible.
JJ: That my work at first glance appears to posses a zeitgeist, be fashionable, even in concurrence with a resurrection of a film noir aesthetic, as you suggest, is something that I will wholeheartedly embrace.
While this is the form that I use, it’s the content that I try to infuse with ambiguities. “Rebellion” is, in all honesty, perhaps a bit “big” for what I wish to create in my film. It’s more a question of doing the unexpected by defying what would be a conventional/mainstream choice to do after the young and the older man meet in a dark alley. Rather than letting them have some sort of macho duel, I’ll let them have a rendezvous that is ambiguous, leaving you wonder if they’re lovers or if they have some entirely different relation we’re not used to seeing in the movies. Rather than presenting the African-American female as an over-sexed jezebel stereotype, I toy with the idea that she possesses and radiates a plethora of emotions and feelings within a physical environment that’s usually not hers.