Over the past three decades, Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens (born 1956) has become best known as a light artist, working with spotlights, projections, fog, and other materials to create experiences heightening viewers’ perceptions of themselves and their surroundings.
Drawing on scientific research, Janssens aims to create situations that can resemble laboratory experiments as much as works of art. “It’s a question of provoking an experience of excess, of the surpassing of limits,” she has explained, including “situations of dazzlement,” vertigo, speed, and even exhaustion among feelings that can bring us to threshold states of altered consciousness. Her use of light to create these sensations is contingent on architecture, and she often creates environments in which she can test the science of the eye with the manipulation of light within the space.
Janssens’s work exhibits formal affinities with minimalism and the California Light and Space movements of the 1960s and 70s, yet eschews their penchant for monumentality in favor of the intimate, subjective experience of the individual. Her exhibition for the Nasher offers a series of sculptural proposals that move the viewer from the entrance of the building to the garden. Projected washes and haloes of light greet visitors at the Nasher’s entrance, and two types of sculptural objects occupy the Entrance Gallery. Lying directly on the floor, a steel I-beam more than twenty feet long, its top side ground smooth and polished to a mirror shine, offers dizzying reflections of the architectural surroundings. Sharing the entrance bay with the I-beam is a group of five glass cubes, Janssens’s distinctive Aquariums, filled with a blend of liquids, including water and paraffin oil; the interactions between the liquids and the different ways they absorb and reflect light allow for striking and confounding visual effects.
In the garden, visitors encounter a freestanding pavilion coated with, and named for, the three primary colors, Blue, Red and Yellow. Visitors who enter the pavilion will find it filled with artificial fog, a substance that interests Janssens as a way of giving sculptural form to light: “Gazing at mist is an experience with contrasting effects. It appears to abolish all obstacles, materiality, the resistances specific to a given context, and at the same time, it seems to impart a materiality and tactility to light.” As visitors move through the pavilion, they experience not only the profound disorientation prompted by losing all points of navigational reference; as light passes through the walls and ceilings, the fog becomes radiantly suffused with their colors, changing with the movement of the viewer and the shifting light of the sky.
Organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center, Ann Veronica Janssens is the artist’s first solo museum presentation in the United States.