Jesper Just / Catharsis

Digital bodies and fetishization of sexuality. Danish artist Jesper Just in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

Digital bodies and fetishization of sexuality. Danish artist Jesper Just in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

It seems that your installations are very complex, how do you build them?

Each installation has an approach unique to the space and often the space itself is my impetus for research before I even conceive of what the video or film or installation will contain. I typically collaborate with architects but also with various kinds of people: composers, programmers, metalworkers, textile designers. For instance for the LED panels in Coorporealities we had to devise how to hack the technology to make it function in a way contrary to its design For the floor installation and self-playing piano in Interpassivities, it involved set designers and also someone with a knowledge of sound programming. With everyone with whom I collaborate, we are all somewhat bending the rules of the mediums as well as their official job titles: an architect might be required to build scaffolding that obstructs or deviates the course of the spectator contrary to their typical goal of designing something that facilitates efficient motion within a space.
In my most recent works, I’m designing an affective: a place that provokes or produces emotions. I rely on the auditory element. In Coorporealities it was an iconic piece of Romantic music that sought to evoke a certain feeling while also contrasting with the controlled nature of the bodies on the screens. A large portion of my works are based on the principle that emotions are constructs, developed and emerging from previous personal experience, in an interaction between the brain, the body and culture. Therefore the environments I create and construct favor a sort of catharsis. It’s an experience that derives from a relationship between the individual and emotion and I use various technical elements to evoke this. Often, these elements within the installation defy traditional hierarchies in order to achieve or access this emotion within the viewer, sometimes through disorientation, other times in laying the framework for expectation and then defying it. And in order for the experience of the installations to truly be fulfilled, it relies on the spectator to take a very active, rather than passive role, sometimes taking on the role of an editor as they decide how to absorb several films or fragmented visuals and how to sequence them.
Each installation has an approach unique to the space and often the space itself is my impetus for research before I even conceive of what the video or film or installation will contain. I typically collaborate with architects but also with various kinds of people: composers, programmers, metalworkers, textile designers. For instance for the LED panels in Coorporealities we had to devise how to hack the technology to make it function in a way contrary to its design For the floor installation and self-playing piano in Interpassivities, it involved set designers and also someone with a knowledge of sound programming. With everyone with whom I collaborate, we are all somewhat bending the rules of the mediums as well as their official job titles: an architect might be required to build scaffolding that obstructs or deviates the course of the spectator contrary to their typical goal of designing something that facilitates efficient motion within a space.

I’ve read somewhere that your work is about complex inter-relations between sexuality can you confirm and explain?

My earlier work frequently addressed stereotypes of sexuality and sexualization. For instance, I was curious to explore what happens when you display intimacy between two or more males ambiguously. When the potential for sexual desire or intimacy is left open on screen between two males, audiences generally struggle with not being able to identify if these figures are queer or heterosexual. In this case, it was less about the manifestation of any sexual relationship and more about the viewer’s projections, expectations and bias. Lately I am increasingly interested in the sensuality of bodies but beyond a sexual sense. Experiences of intimacy and tactility in the wake of technology that increasingly replaces or in the very least enhances and obscures the human body. I’m particularly interested in the idea of the hyper-capable body, one that is closer to a machine than human. These futuristic, cyborg bodies emulate a fetishzed idea of ability, perfection and efficiency. The fetisihzation isn’t so much sexual as it is tied to notions of capitalism and ableism. Nonetheless, these qualities are very tangible, very desired, and very valuable, much along the lines of sexual attractiveness.

You are recording your videos mainly analogue, on film, any particular reason for that?

While it is true that my earlier works were filmed exclusively on film/16mm/35mm, I manly film in video usually working with the Alexa camera. In more recent years I began to experiment with LED panels and how this could be hacked and manipulated to become more sculptural and performative. This necessitated working in a digital medium. The choice of film or digital is not purely aesthetic, but more tied to how the filmed work will function within an installation. I don’t approach film as a medium as something to be statically viewed, the same as one does in a cinema. Instead, in my work, I consider the role of the viewer as an active participant in its editing, its narrative structure, all based on the viewer’s movement and position within an installation. I suppose it is tied to rearranging hierarchies of power within the act of viewing rather than focusing on the aesthetic medium of a static projection. I have also been very interested in the concept of the circuit and how creating such a system within a work shifts the intentionality and passivity between the elements: music, movie screens, bodies, etc. This relationship between technology and hierarchy has certainly shifted which mediums I currently prefer and how I execute concepts.

My I ask who are the directors you are inspired by? 


I’ve always been influenced, like so many others, by Tarkovsky’s notion of sculpting in time. I often looked to mainstream Hollywood early on in my career, not to a particular director, but to how such feels portray archetypes, male sexuality, older women, abled bodied people etc. But lately more so than directors, I’ve been inspired by thinkers and writers mainly Giuliana Bruno and her writings in Atlas of Emotions as well as Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto.

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