Nomad in One’s Own Mind, a Jesper Just exhibition at Concordia’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, is a thought-provoking and evocative display in which the artist explores the varying ideas and meanings surrounding the word “nomad.” Curated by Anne-Marie Ninacs, the show presents the viewer with five short films, four of which are provided with headphones so the viewer can listen to them. The headphones create an introspective and personal relationship between the artwork and the viewer, which allows for an intimate feeling within the gallery.
This is the first solo exhibition Just has presented in Canada, and is a part of the 12th edition of Le Mois de la Photo a Montréal, a series of exhibitions throughout the month of September.
Just plays on different interpretations of the word “nomad” throughout the show, and allows the viewer to create their own meaning of the word. However, the primary theme running throughout his films can be found within the title of the exhibition itself: Nomad in One’s Own Mind. Just questions the labyrinth of the human mind in his short films, and examines how we become lone travellers in our own consciousness when we struggle through important issues within our lives. Concepts such as sexuality (another strong theme within his works), loneliness, and the human condition are particularly emphasized.
Upon entering the exhibit, viewers are confronted with Romantic Delusions (2008), which is projected onto three-screens. It’s the largest film in the show, and the only one in which the sound is projected into the gallery. The viewer follows the protagonist through endless confusions. First through a city, then through an opulent palace; the main character is ignored by those surrounding them. As they struggle with their identity, the protagonist’s inner journey is signified by their attempt to navigate the outward commotion of the city and the maze of destroyed rooms within the palace.
Just also explores the idea of the “nomad” through a portrayal of sexuality and gender roles. The artist plays most prominently with the latter in his works, Bliss and Heaven (2004) and Some Draughty Window (2007), questioning the traditional roles for men and women that are ingrained within our society. Just also asks the viewer to contemplate the struggle of a person coming to terms with their sexuality, and the vulnerability they experience when presenting themselves in a new light to society and to those whom they love. The idea of the “nomad” becomes someone who traverses their own path to remain true to their inner being – despite potential isolation – to explore the possibility of happiness.
In Just’s final work for the exhibition, entitled No Man is an Island (2002), the artist contemplates the “nomad” concept in a more public setting. The other films in the exhibition explore the concept through an interior focused examination, using labyrinthine spaces, or the transformation of interiors. However, in No Man is an Island (2002), the work is performed and filmed in an uncontrolled, public setting. A man dances enthusiastically to uplifting music; leaping, twirling, and spinning. Another man sits watching him, and begins crying from happiness at the first man’s uninhibited dancing. This work suggests the idea of a “nomad” as someone free from the constraints and inhibitions of the mind, a carefree person enjoying life without any public embarrassment or restraint.
Just’s exhibition is a haunting but optimistic exploration of the “nomadic” journey through the fabric of our lives – through our pain, loneliness, sexuality, and humanity. These films resonate with the viewer, causing recognition within oneself of the inner struggles we all face. The intimate setting of the gallery, the melancholy soundtrack, and the evocative films create an exhibition not to be missed.