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Light and knowledge

Ann Veronica Janssens works mostly with light, creating stunning, uniquely immersive exhibition experiences which force viewers to question their own perceptions. On March 6 she opens a new exhibition at Esther Schipper Gallery.

Image for Light and knowledge
Blue, Red and Yellow, 2001 / © Ann Veronica Janssens / Photo by Pascual Mercé / Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin

Ann Veronica Janssens creates installations that experiment with time, space and light.

England-born, Brussels-based Janssens is at the forefront of art that uses light as structure. Her immersive site-specific installations play with viewers’ perceptions, working with light and fog to impart a sense of disorientation and loss of control. The works have been shown all over the world, including the Tate Modern and the Lyon, Sydney and Venice Biennales; on Mar 6, she exhibits at Berlin’s Esther Schipper for the fourth time.

Why work with light?

I have found out things that scientists had no prior knowledge of

Well, I have explored the properties of light since forever – for me, it’s very obvious. I question space, which is more important than working with an actual material. I am trying to create multiplicities of time and space – light and disorientation work as the physical evidence for me.

Works like Fantazy (2013) are stunning – but there’s also something subversive about creating art out of coloured mist and light and hues. Would you call your work political?

It’s difficult for an artist to talk about political intent, but in a way the reading is correct because I use materials which are untouchable and explore loss of control and disorientation. Often my works are ephemeral sculptures, dispersions, without the imposition of a fixed form. You can effectively see this as a political gesture, but I try to use political intent as delicately as possible within my work. Let’s say I set up favorable conditions to allow the viewer to perceive and understand what is put in play, without imposing meaning.

Do you use technicians or engineers to create the works?

For some large site-specific works I use engineers, but normally I work alone. At certain times I have had contact with scientists, like the neurophysiologist Alain Bertoz. I have also even found out things that they had no prior knowledge of – for example, when I was in the US creating the work Donut (2003), a light installation that worked with flashing images. Donut acts as a centre of diffraction. After several minutes of exposure, the visitor might mentally move in a virtual space wherein he envisages a system of luminous coloured waves, their movement akin to the ricochet effect of concentric waves on the surface of water. The scientists tell me that they never noticed, in the case of persistence of vision, that the viewer could perceive repetitive coloured light motion as virtual concentric movements.

It’s your fourth exhibition with Esther Schipper. What’s new this time around?

Each time, I want to show a different aspect of my work. Last time it was very immersive, but this time I will work with small-format sculpture. I wish to present the recent works I have been doing in glass using the light properties of refraction and reflection to explore different perspectives of colour. A lot of the works stem from my experiments with aquariums that work with the viewer’s movement to alter their perception of the object.

Ann Veronica Janssens, Mar 6-Apr 18 | Esther Schipper, Schöneberger Ufer 65, Schöneberg, S+U-Bhf Potsdamer Platz, Tue-Sat 11-18

Originally published in issue #136, March 2015