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 that heighten 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 explains, 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 offered a series of sculptural proposals that moved the viewer from the entrance of the building to the garden. Projected washes and haloes of light greeted visitors at the Nasher’s entrance, and two types of sculptural objects occupied the Entrance Gallery. A long, steel I-beam lied directly on the floor, its top side ground smooth and polished to a mirror shine, offering dizzying reflections of the architectural surroundings. Sharing the entrance bay with the I-beam was 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 absorbed and reflected light allowed for striking and confounding visual effects.
In the garden, visitors encountered a freestanding pavilion coated with, and named for, the three primary colors, Blue, Red and Yellow. Visitors who entered the pavilion found 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 moved through the pavilion, they experienced the profound disorientation prompted by losing all points of navigational reference; as light passed through the walls and ceilings, the fog became radiantly suffused with their colors, changing with the movement of the viewer and shifting with the light of the sky.
Organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center, Ann Veronica Janssens was the artist’s first solo museum presentation in the United States.