Jesper Just

The film Servitudes (2015) has a single location shot, but a complex theme: it explores the tension between identity, femininity, sensuality and eroticism, as well as the delusion of youth and beauty that is prevailing in our society.

Servitudes is an eight-channel video installation by Danish artist Jesper Just. The entire piece, which consists of a series of short films (9min each), has been shot in the One World Trade Center in New York City.

The work exploits the obsession of society for beauty and femininity and reveals an inherent destructive impulse for voyeurism.

The film’s setting – the One World Trade Center, – historic document and meaning-charged – itself becomes an acting figure, indicating loss through absence and attesting resilience at its best.

The silent building becomes an empty shell for a mystical dark parallel world. As a compensation for the two Twin Towers, which were destroyed on September 11 in 2001, the new skyscraper apparently cannot avoid both its origins and its ghosts. The former gap, now replenished with architectural elements, but constantly permeated by history and current events, connects the film’s entire plot. The total translucent architecture with its luxurious and linear environment, which a priori merely seeks to be an anonymous sheath, quietly influences the characters permanently.

The protagonists, a young woman and a girl, seem fragile, lonely and mysterious. The woman (Dee Hemingway) sits silent in front of a table and eats a corncob. The ordinary procedure becomes a tough one to maintain, due to the fact that both her hands and arms are equipped with CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) devices.

The medical devices, which are used for muscle stimulation in the aftercare of injuries, have been torn out of their rehabilitative context and transformed into instruments allowing pointed attention. The beauty is exposed directly to the apparent flaw and its effect. Again and again the corncob falls, she picks it up and tries again. In its repetition, the plot becomes a multi-layered statement of the portrayed, the scene and the observer itself. Passive disgraceful voyeurism, social convention and values become an available farce and a critical point of the portrayed sisyphos reminiscence.

The characters reflect, resist, and interact, to explore themes of rejection and action, as well as the boundaries of body and self. The character becomes a phantom sketch; a projection screen for the socially conveyed ideals of youth and femininity. Simultaneously, its action embodies an immanent burden, and a handicap, thus giving even more facets to its exterior view. The occasional flirtatious sensation, a shy gaze and the visual presence in front of the camera at one, the impossibility of the act, the stigma and the energy of the action at the other, refer to a mistaken conception of aspired attributes.

In another scenario, the camera’s attention follows a child (Rylee Sweeney) who is affected by the rare hereditary disease Charcot-Marie-Tooth. The syndrome, classified as neuromuscular disease, is also called neutral muscular atrophy. The disease is characterized by a disturbance in the conduction of neural impulses to peripheral nerves, causing the brain failing to transmit signals to the muscles. The child is restricted in the functionality of its limbs and hands. Silently the girl plays with her own reflection in the glass façade of the building, just a few moments later we see her inside sitting on a grand piano and thinking of an unknown melody.

In Servitudes, the protagonists follow an inner journey starting in an ordered space and a defined situation, bounding to a changed reality via diffuse states of consciousness as time progresses and extending up to the limit of transcendence. The human mind possesses the fascinating ability to think the impossible; to dissolve the barrier between dream and reality and to let the inwardly experienced exist in reality. The physically experienced becomes blurred with the psychologically constructed. These spiritual and emotional adventures are able to leave their imprint in the human memory and affect it instantly.

With Servitudes, Jesper Just visualizes the mental states between reality and fiction, dreams and desires and leaves the viewer with his own doubts and emotions, in order to finally expose him to a self-referential process.