Blinded by the light: Ann Veronica Janssens’ ‘Serendipity’ at Wiels

 Ann Veronica Janssens

Recurring dreams. I have one in which I keep on falling and falling. In a corner of Ann Veronica Janssens‘ Serendipity-exhibition at Wiels (Brussels) I suddenly found myself right in the middle of that nightmare. That’s why I love this Belgian artist: some of her work strongly meddles with your senses.

Isn’t it strange? Of some pieces of work you know exactly when and where you’ve seen them, and what impression they made on you. Why do they stand out? And why do you forget so many other paintings or exhibitions, even though they were truly great? On my list, for instance, are Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram in Brussels (’81), Willem de Kooning’s late paintings in New York (’97) and Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is all over-video in NY (2000). And I clearly remember stepping into Ann Veronica Janssens’ Blue, Red and Yellow, in front of S.M.A.K. in Ghent, a couple of years ago. 

For Serendipity, AVJ’s first major Belgian exhibition in ten years, that magical ‘container’ is reconstructed on the roof terrace of the Brussels’ Contemporary Art Centre Wiels. Don’t miss it, because it’s a quintessential piece of work. Inside that coloured box filled with mist, you lose all sense of time and space. And along the way this artist, who’s often been described as a sculptor of light, sound and space, seems to succeed in making colour and light tangible.

It’s what AVJ seems to be after. Interfering with your senses. Making visible/audible what is by definition invisible/inaudible. And be warned: your eyes and your ears will be put to the test, in Brussels, with stroboscopic lights and quite disturbing sounds. Sometimes the effects are even rather violent. Apart from Blue, Red and Yellow, there’s no mist. AVJ has used that element rather often, so she and the curator of this exhibition absolutely didn’t want there to be any in Wiels. Don’t expect a big retrospective too. There aren’t thát many works on display, and most of the work in Serendipity is new.

Ann Veronica Janssens

And not all of that is AVJ at her best. Frankly, Untitled (Golden section) is not really a piece of work to be put in a museum. This ‘shimmering curtain’ works much better in the environment for which it was created: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s recent performance The Song (read review here). Some of AVJ’s video’s and prototypes look rather bland too, in comparison with her other work.

There’s one room in which she lets you ‘bathe’ in red and blue (Rouge 106, Bleu 132), another one in which she attempts to create an absolute silence (Chambre Anéchoïque), but I was really taken by surprise by her Son infini. Just a speaker and one sound coming from it: an auditory illusion of infinite descent.  By means of almost nothing – that one sound, seeming to get lower and lower and lower – she succeeded in having a really powerful effect on my body, my senses and my thoughts. By that, she just might have pulled it off: putting a second work on my ‘list’.

Oh, and do go and by yourself a beer or a coffee afterwards. Because there’s a possibility that you end up with a real Ann Veronica Janssens in your hands: for 9000 euros (Conversions), the artist put 9000 stickers on 1 euro-coins, thereby translating the monetary value of 1 euro into 9 other values, such as chance, ecstasy, oxygen, light and… stardust.

(photo credits:  ‘Installation view’ © Pascual Mercé – Courtesy EACC;  Side (video still), Courtesy Galerie Micheline Szwajcer)



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