I finally made it into Ann Veronica Janssens Light and Space installation yellowbluepink at the Wellcome Collection. Let’s say third time’s the charm! The first two times I tried to visit, the queue was almost a two hour wait! I tried to wait it out over a prosecco in the cafe, but eventually had to abort the mission. The exhibition closes on January 3rd, so today was my last chance. I’m personally a huge fan of Light and Space art, but to be honest I didn’t have high expectations for this one. On the way over, I was thinking ‘fog and coloured light creating massives queues… what’s not to love, but we are so easy to please.’ As you walk in, you see a glimpse of pink light quickly before you’re inundated with billowing fog in your face. It feels like a lingerie themed night club flashback. As you progress into the space, the seductive subtle colour gradient wash of yellow to pink enfolds you and you feel a sense of limitless space. You can’t see anyone until they are in quite close proximity. The other visitors seem to go through distinct stages of blurriness and visibility as they come into view. For such an indefinite seamless space the phases of physical visibility seem so discreet – invisible yet audible, slightly visible and clearly perceptible (yet still slightly obscured). There’s no in-between of seeing and being seen.
The next point of difference is the truly immersive nature of the work. This is an often over-used and misused term. PR uses ‘immersive installation’ buzz word descriptors for works that exist off the wall, but don’t really enfold you– wherein you are actually existing within the artwork. This work is challenging because at times it feels too immersive. I walked further through the space to find a blue to pink gradient. The feeling of limitless space felt so freeing at first. I thought to myself, this is indicative consciousness- anything is possible! We just add layers of limitations and barriers with our beliefs. After my ‘ah ha’ moment I decided to leave on a high note. I tried to find my way back to the pink area as the fog seemed to thicken. I held my hand out to avoid crashing into someone and I felt a wall. Where is the beginning and the end? The colour gradients started merging together and I couldn’t remember which one was indicative of the entrance or the exit for that matter. Panicked, I thought where is the exit?! I’m turned around and I can’t see anyone to ask. The dizzying vertigo feeling reminded me of surfing in the ocean and getting pulled into a rip tide, urgently needing to come up for air, but being confused about which way was up to the ocean’s surface. All of a sudden, the sense of infinite space became claustrophobic and alarming. I began to realise it’s exactly the way we map space, using markers and physical pathways to make us feel comfortable with the relationship of our body to the greater space. When we have a sense of boundaries we feel in control. When we are unable to ascertain whether we are enclosed or floating within the infinite, we feel absolutely out of control.
A very simple lesson in the power of perception and the way in which we take our faculties of space perception for granted. I wonder if we were always in a sense of not knowing, would we would still crave to have a grip on what is ‘known’?