In a land of drought, video artist creates the illusion of water aplenty

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Despite being visually lovely, with exceedingly high production values, Jesper Just’s videos at Various Small Fires are underwhelming. “Llano,” the more interesting of the two, has a fascinating back story that I wish the video had addressed more directly. Shot in the California desert, it chronicles an isolated rainstorm that is quickly revealed to be the result of rigged pipes and drip lines. The rain falls on the stone ruins of an early 20th century Utopian community, Llano del Rio, which failed for lack of water.

In bringing the rain, Hollywood-style, to Llano del Rio, Just comments on the hubris of the settlement. Scenes of the rainstorm and a woman attempting to rebuild the walls are mixed with shots of underground pipes, presumably channeling water toward Los Angeles, another water-guzzling fabrication and would-be Utopia. The piece has a nice resonance in our drought-stricken time but could have been even more pointed.

The other video, “Servitudes,” depicts a young girl knocking a small rock against a panel at the base of One World Trade Center. It’s a small act of aggression, contrasted with long panning shots of the skyscraper’s exterior and reflections of the city, but the contrast doesn’t go far enough. Part of a multichannel piece shown at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, it seems to miss its companions.

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