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A little girl with glitter and rhinestones on the back pockets of her jeans repeatedly taps a rock against a glass window of One World Trade Center in Jesper Just’s film Servitude (2015). The film plays in the very back gallery at Various Small Fires, where New York-based Just has his first solo show. The girl—whose decorated, awkwardly cute jeans are slightly too short and matched with a cropped jean jacket—is the only aspect of Servitude that isn’t smooth. Minimal architecture looms against blue skies, looking regally austere. That resonate tap, tap, tap the girl makes mingles with the sound of rushing water coming from the larger, adjacent room. There, Just’s film Llano (2012) screens on a loop, projected against the back wall.
Shot at the site of the 1910s socialist-feminist commune Llano del Rio, the film features a golden-brown landscape, low, shimmery sun, stream, and stone ruins. An androgynous figure in tie-dye, meant as the embodiment of the commune’s architect, Alice Constance Austin, tries to reconstruct her settlement. Like Servitude, Llano has a seamlessly produced visual appeal. You wouldn’t necessarily know it mined a history of female empowerment just from looking.
According to the press release, Just’s films make “physical space, femininity, and nostalgia collide.” But it might be hard to read this into them if visitors didn’t first have to pass April Street’s installation, Lay Down Your Arms, in the gallery’s backyard and project space. Street has built a façade of an Appalachian barn like those she recalls seeing as a child. Its shadow is made of stretched, stained nylon that, as usual, Street has wrapped her body in before pressing herself into wet acrylic. A twisted rope of nylon that also once covered her body hangs from the ceiling inside. Her rawer approach to nostalgia and femininity sets the stage for Just’s films, contrasting his aesthetic control and making it possible to read more bodily softness into his work. He’s lucky to have her.
Jesper Just and April Street: Lay Down Your Arms run October 30-December 12, 2015 at Various Small Fires (812 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038)