UMMA presenting Jesper Just's fascinating, confounding video 'This Nameless Spectacle'
This 13-minute wide-screen Blu-Ray motion picture projected on opposite walls of the UMMA’s New Media Gallery has the technical expertise and sustained logic of a polished commercial film. Yet it doesn’t conform to the internal structure of such a feature.
Just is intent upon bending cinematic narrative in ways standard films do not function. And to this degree, he’s working akin to contemporary filmmakers like David Lynch and David Cronenberg. But Just intends to be even more uncompromising.
“This Nameless Spectacle” follows a well-dressed, wheelchair-bound woman rolling through Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont while a young man follows behind her at a distance.
On reaching her apartment, she gets out of her wheelchair and walks to her living room window, where she sees a bright light shining from a nearby building. It turns out that the man who has been following her is slowly shifting a window at his flat on its hinge. Directing the reflected sunlight at her, she collapses on the floor in what seems a fit of ecstasy until she rises and walks out of range. The man then strikes his window in frustration.
There’s so much story compressed into so little narrative here. For the film’s production elements are superb. The excursion through the park is timed well with plenty of atmosphere shifting from left to right screen in the UMMA New Media Gallery. Yet Just’s compressed vignette also forces his viewer to quickly concentrate on all the information he reveals.
As he told art critic Faye Hirsch in an Art in America interview conducted last month, “When I start, (the film) is all over the place. I have these elements that I feel are interesting and I kind of piece them together. There’s always a text; but in the beginning, it’s just a lot of notes. And then the last week I cut it down to the most simplified form—the essence of what I’m trying to say.”
Just what Just wants to say is debatable. But there’s no question that it’s this paring down of visual cues that gives the film its sense of ambiguous menace. And this in turn makes his actor’s stepping out of the wheelchair that much more peculiar. All of which climaxes in the woman’s apartment leading to a sort of psychologically-charged, abbreviated denouement that does nothing to clear up the film’s opacity.
As he told Hirsch in his Art in America interview, “I come from visual arts and it’s not my ambition to change professions and become a film director...
“If you go into the gallery and it looks like film, maybe it’s very easy to lure people in, and then suddenly they feel very comfortable very fast. I use that to take it somewhere else.”
And somewhere else does Just indeed take “This Nameless Spectacle.” His nameless characters exist in a cinematic reality where behavior doesn’t lend itself to easy explanation. The film then builds to an astonishing crescendo where their psychologies briefly intermingle across an expanse that’s ultimately as frustrating as it is mutually satisfying.
For a brief period we’re thrown into a psychologically charged situation whose conclusion—as stated in William Carlos Williams’ 1923 poem “The Right of Way”—where a narrator stumbles across a random tableau behind the wheel of his car whose uncomprehending “supreme importance/of this nameless spectacle” finds him speeding by “without a word—”
In Just’s marvel of a short film, we witness an equivalent “nameless spectacle” that’s neither explained, nor fully developed. We’re then expelled from the drama as quickly as we were enmeshed. At last sight, and borrowing wordlessly from Williams: The day goes on.
“Jesper Just: This Nameless Spectacle” will continue through Dec. 9 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, 525 S. State St. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. For information, call 734-763-UMMA.