About the work



     Bliss and Heaven, 2004
Variable dimensions
A young man is walking through a ripe, yellow cornfield, a deep blue heaven in the background, with crosscuts to humming high-voltage lines and a large lorry approaching a lone transformer station in the middle of the cornfield.

The lorry driver alights, wearing jeans and a white vest. He looks around, opens the tailboard and disappears into the lorry’s large room. Apprehensively, the young man follows him into the dark room which now is no longer an empty room but a sumptuously constructed theatre.

The lorry driver has donned a blonde wig and is standing alone in a spotlight on the stage, singing. The beautiful hall is completely empty. The young man sits down to listen to the song. Eventually the singer notices his audience and is visibly upset. However, he finishes the song with great gusto, and the young man applauds appreciatively.

About the work
The film plays out in a heavily symbolic universe which may be a recognisable reality but in which atmosphere and plot are so unusual that normality and our expectations nonetheless are turned upside down. Jesper Just's film follows a young man on a wondrous physical and mental journey towards greater knowledge, and thus confidentiality, of an older man's secret life and sexuality. Following the middle-aged man into the lorry, and into a hidden universe, he witnesses the man's transformation in which the masculine driver reveals a feminine – queer – side.

The driver leads a clandestine life in the refuge of his lorry where he acts out his transvestite desires and singing romantic ballads (originally performed by Olivia Newton-John). He is obviously worried about being exposed, but the work portrays more than his anxieties about an abnormal sexuality. The young man is just as important to the film. The exact nature of the relationship between the two men is not revealed but it is hinted at. Jesper Just's videos are like that; they never provide an unequivocal answer. There is no one way of understanding them, and we never learn to fully understand the people involved, what stimulates their actions, their desires and their sexuality.

Central to Just's œuvre is the interaction of men with each other. In ARKEN's work Bliss and Heaven the men are father and son; the son seeking certainty of his father's hidden identity and manifestly attempting to get closer to it; a son who is afraid of losing his father if he finds out about his other side. The work unfolds the relationship between father and son, complicated by the father's sexuality. Issues of family and sexuality are staged in an indirect and histrionic manner. The form notwithstanding, they are universal issues.

The father-son relationship, as we know it from classic films and literature, has been reversed: The stern, censorious father here is more ambiguous since he is the one living a hidden life on the other side. The son, usually hankering for his father's acceptance and recognition, here is the one who must learn to accept his father. Passivity and action have been turned upside down and the result challenges our expectations of the conventional family patterns and power structures.

Jesper Just’s art in general
With very few exceptions, the protagonists of Just's works are men doing unusual acts in unusual surroundings, be it two casually dressed men performing the final part of Verdi's opera 'La Traviata' with great pathos at a dreary concrete underpass in Copenhagen or a group of men visiting a strip club with no women and where the men only have eyes for each other. Bliss and Heaven has allusions to Alfred Hitchcock's 'North by Northwest' and the more obscure cult film 'The Beaver Trilogy' which is also about a kid who dresses up and impersonates Olivia Newton-John.

Music and drama play pivotal parts in Just's videos. He employs extremely staged milieux and plots with striking allusions to Hollywood movies, operas, etc. Both high and popular culture have helped shape male roles as we know them, and therefore Just is interested in a plethora of references. His works convey conspicuous challenges of the stereotypical male role as assertive, insensitive and excessively powerful. Through his references and added discussions of our expectations to how men are or ought to be, Just also points to the fact that our gender is not merely biological, but cultural as well. Over time our culture constructs models for how we as men and women are or – again – ought to be.

With his preoccupation with men, their mutual relations and the fact that the men featured often adopt traditionally feminine "roles" – through dance, song and violent emotional outbursts – Just's videos are frequently termed homoerotic. According to Just they are not deliberately constructed that way but they may be termed queer.

Research in so-called queer theory examines these social and cultural conventions associated with gender and (homo)sexuality and how they are not stable entities. Just's films explore taboo and repressed issues, unfolding feelings and actions that are both humorous and sentimental. Compare with Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset in ARKEN's Collection.

The interest in Just's videos in the culturally determined gender constitutes a parallel to feminist criticism; a school which is greatly concerned with the portrayal of women and how stereotypical images or representations appear. Compare with Sarah Lucas in ARKEN'S Collection.

Thus Just emphasises that his works not only deal with men and their relationships, but rather that these thoughts and ideas are more universally human: What makes a man or a human, and how are we in the company of other people? The subjects of these explorations are men, however, Just wishes his works to be regarded not merely as focusing on the mutual relationships of men, but as universally human.

Just's works are characterised by a high degree of professionalism in all aspects: actors, lights, sound and editing. As other video artists of his generation he has abandoned the previous amateurism in which art videos in their content as well as their form distinguished themselves greatly from big, commercial productions. Back then art video often had aspects of documentarism, and very low budgets. Today artists work in large, spectacular installations too, as seen in Bill Viola and others.

Despite the technical professionalism and the many references to Hollywood movies etc, Just insists that the art video has a different potential, in part because of our expectations to art. Here the audience needs no easy solutions or predigested messages; hints suffice. And indeed the ambiguity, the unfinished and the pent-up characterise all of Just's works.

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