Many of the most intriguing moving-image artworks of the last decade fascinate by exposing the tools, techniques and pleasures of traditional film, at once dismantling and reconfiguring the form to suit a culture interested in seeing how things work. In his trio of short video works screening at the Hammer Museum, the 32-year-old Dutch artist Jesper Just uses recognizable Hollywood visual cues, storytelling tropes and genre conventions, but there’s a twist: Just has eliminated the female, and in her glaring absence erupts another economy of desire. In No Man Is an Island II (2004), the camera tracks gracefully through a somber yet baroquely styled bar, settling momentarily on the bored countenance of one patron, then another and then another. Suddenly, the youngest man begins to sing Roy Orbison’s melancholy “Crying,” first slowly and then with growing fervor. One by one, his colleagues join him in an ad hoc chorus that’s rich and passionate. But there’s no telling who’s crying over whom, as the only women in the video appear as naked figures in drawings on the wall. Yet the world of men seems complete, and the desperate yearning captured in the song doesn’t seek anything beyond this male world. Similarly, Just’s Bliss and Heaven (2004) ignites a sense of longing in the characters, but again, contains it in a carefully circumscribed world. The piece opens on a man dashing through a corn field; he eventually spies a truck, and follows its driver into the back, only to find that the truck’s interior has become a magnificent stage and the sweaty driver now wears a blond wig and wispy scarf. He, too, sings a song, performing passionately for his single viewer, who looks on with increasing appreciation. Just’s talent is in adapting Hollywood codes toward ambiguous ends, leaving viewers in a pleasurable void that reminds us of cinema’s traditions while letting us consider other kinds of attraction. (Hammer Museum; through July 2. 310-443-7000 or www.hammer.ucla.edu)
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.