States of Mind Exhibition

Ann Veronica Janssens review – the artistic equivalent of an isolation tank

Jonathan Jones 

Wednesday 14 October 2015 18.18 BST

Wellcome Collection, London

States of Mind is a fun installation of coloured mist that feels like swimming through a painting by Monet – but it is light entertainment, nothing more.

You have to enter a crudely created airlock – open one door, close it, then open the next – to make sure Ann Veronica Janssens’ installation doesn’t escape. It is a mist. Passing through that second door, you are enveloped. Steamy vapour fills the air and is impregnated with colour.

Look down and you can barely see your feet. Look ahead and it is impossible to work out where the wall is until you touch it or (as I did) bang into it. The only problem comes when you look up. Coloured lights in the ceiling sully the mystery somewhat, making the luminous mist easy to understand.

But as you move about, the colours change and merge. Pink to blue and blue to gold. It is like swimming in colour. Space has the weight of liquid in your mind, as the glowing mist gently creates twilit visions that are as much inside the eye as in front of it.

This is like being inside a painting by Monet or Turner. Light is another country and it feels different there. Monet painted Venice and the river Thames as clouds of incandescence. Janssens has created just such a mood in the real world. It is the artistic equivalent of an isolation tank. It definitely does something therapeutic to mind and body.

Unfortunately, the artist does not have much to play with. The room she has been given is a modern clean space in a well-appointed centre for art and science. It all feels a bit rational and confined. I’d love to experience a mist like this in a bigger, stranger space – a Gothic crypt perhaps. It might be more atmospheric.

Then again, other artists have created much more ambitious and disorientating light installations. Compared with the genuinely troubling optical and physical experiences engendered by James Turrell or Olafur Eliasson, this is disorientation lite.

The most damaging comparison, however, is with Monet and Turner. So this room full of mist makes it possible to walk into their light-filled, smoky spaces. The Tomb Raider ride at Legoland puts you inside an Egyptian tomb, but it is very different from actually exploring a pyramid. Monet does far more to the eye, releases much deeper colours, than the ones you can experience here. Looking at colour in a great work of art is emotional and mysterious. This gentle encounter with the mysteries of colour is mere light entertainment – typical of so much art you’ll see in Frieze week.

States of Mind is at the Wellcome Collection, London from 15 October to 3 January 2016.

Box office: (0)20 7611 2222

My account of experiencing the ‘yellowpinkblue’ exhibition:

I desperately looked down at my iPhone upon exiting Euston station amongst a swarm of people. Following the arrow and blue line of dots stumbling and rushing through streets and crowds with my friend clinging to my side we finally arrived roughly 6 minutes later at a stone coloured building that read The Wellcome Collection.

After entering a tightly spaced revolving door there was a poster displayed signifying the whereabouts of the exhibition within the building. Up one flight of spiralling stairs and straight ahead was neon pink illuminated text reading States of Mind next to a short queue of people in front of glass doors. Observing a constraint in the space that created a line for the people waiting to enter the exhibition we joined in at the back. Whilst waiting we were handed paper leaflets that contained information about the artist, Ann Veronica Janssens and the exhibition. We were then told that past the glass doors was another queue and that the waiting time was roughly an hour long. Upon hearing this a few people murmured under their breath and turned around to leave.

Finally passing the glass doors, we were faced with another queue however long green sofas, instruction sheets for the exhibition and iPads accompanied it. By adding additional elements to the waiting time allowed for an enhancement of experience. By giving us, the viewer a taste of what is to be expected and adding a technological element followed with instructions on how to act in the exhibition it created a mapping effect to let us know how to act in the space. For example the placement of two low, long, wide sofas in lines created a zigzag seating arrangement and the collaboration of various signifiers and mapping allowed a behavioural response. It gave us the ability to respond and use the space efficiently as well as allowing us to begin thinking about the exhibition before entering it.

The space was confined, cramming four people between two sets of white-framed opaque glass doors and a thick plastic curtain. Ensuring no vapour exited the space the second set of doors opened and we were suddenly pushed in to what felt like an enormous space. Surrounded by a deep pink coloured vapour unable to see anything around us except what was directly in front of us our habitual instinct no longer came in to place. As we cautiously stepped forward, arms stretched out in front of us walking in a straight line the mist began to change from a bright pink to a deep coral, edging forward it became peach, slowly changing in to shades of yellow then dwindling into a light green and emerging into a deep blue. After walking into various strangers and the occasional wall after about five minutes of being amongst the densely coloured vapour our awareness was heightened and the space became more familiar. Once adapting to the room the other people in it also quietened and there was a shift in atmosphere, shrills of anxious laughter became less and the experience was being appreciated and analysed more seriously. Colours could be associated to roughly where in the room we were; deep blue was the back off the room, yellow and green were in the middle, pink was the front and the corners of the room were filled with thicker mist and deeper shades of colours. The perception shifted after ten minutes and the level of processing faded from reflective to behavioural as we made our way to the door.

After exiting the coloured vapour it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to a space that was confined by walls and filled with people. Walking away and down the stairs felt extremely disorientating and the area which once required a visceral level of processing became a behavioural one in which signifiers were needed to assess the direction in which we were going. As we exited the building knowledge in the head and knowledge of the world was restored and the ability to assess the space according to context and familiarity returned.


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