A Vicious Undertow shows a dimly lit bar with oriental furnishings occupied by three people, an older woman and a young couple. Shot on 16 mm film in black and white, the video uses the intriguing interplay of light and shadow caused by the movements of the camera and the actors to take the spectator into a dreamlike world. As in all of Jesper Just’s films, the essential means of communication are movement, especially dance, and sound, a whistled tune in this case. The rich texture of the film hinges on the themes of youth, beauty and sexuality. A story steeped in melancholy with disquieting psychological overtones unfolds between the characters but does not reveal the nature of their relationship. Are the couple just memories of the older woman or do all the characters really exist in the same space? Like all of the artist’s other films, A Vicious Undertow leaves this question hanging between the impassioned succession of dance sequences and the middle-aged woman’s disturbing exit from the setting.
Jesper Just makes use of precise cinematographic devices in the his works, as shown by the positioning of light and shadow, the control over perspective and the arrangement of the actors in striking tableaux vivants that give the spectator the feeling of being within a clearly circumscribed cinematic narrative. The author thus accentuates certain stereotyped patterns of male behaviour taken from films and TV, embeds them in new plots that take unexpected turns, and unmasks present-day forms of narration as cinematic artifice. While his early films focused almost exclusively on male relationships, A Vicious Undertow investigates the psychology of an older woman and creates a dialogue between youth and age. Moving the camera with great sensitivity, Just captures the moments of pain and melancholy, reduces the images to essential moments without ever getting too close to his characters, and thus tells the true stories hidden behind the great tales of cinema.
Jesper Just (Copenhagen, 1974) has held solo shows at numerous venues, including the Kunsthalle in Vienna, the S.M.A.K. in Ghent, the Witte de With in Rotterdam, the Ursula Blickle Stiftung in Kraichtal (Germany) and the Miami Art Museum. The numerous public collections holding items of his work include the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, the FRAC in Champagne-Ardennes (France), the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk (Denmark), the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the MUSAC in Leon (Spain) and the Tate Modern in London.