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Ann Veronica Janssens | Online Viewing Room

19 February – 23 March 2021

Since the late 1970s Ann Veronica Janssens develops experimental work that emphasises in situ installations and the use of very simple or intangible materials,
such as light, sound or artificial fog. The observer is confronted with the perception of the “elusive”. The immersive nature of her work is an invitation to ephemeral experiences,
which are at times delirious or vertiginous, and lead to the loss of control or landmarks, generating a sentiment of visual, physical, temporal or psychological fragility.

This Online Viewing Room offers a closer look at more than 30 years of collaboration between Ann Veronica Janssens and Micheline Szwajcer.





Making the Invisible Visible

Fragments from a conversation between Ann Veronica Janssens and Margot Heller of South London Gallery

MH: You have used light in your work in all sorts of ways over the years, to wonderful poetic effect, but exploring the ways in which we perceive things is an even stronger thread throughout your practice. Is it fair to say that perception is the single most important subject of your work?

AVJ: That’s correct because my work is about perception, and light is just one of several media through which I explore that process.  Light is amongst my most useful tools but not the only component of my work, and this links to my investigation into perception which, in turn, relates to another reality – my reality. This questioning of the act of perception connects back to one’s own condition, to movement and the transitory nature of any given set of conditions and phenomena.

MH: It’s true that more or less all your works heighten self-awareness in the viewer, prompting an exaggerated consciousness of their own position in relation to the works and of the experience of viewing them, of being an active observer.

AVJ: Exactly, and an awareness not only of their position but of its temporary nature, or in other words, of movement.

MH: Colour is so important in the Gaufrettes, but also in the Glittersseries and many other of your works.  Can you say something about the role of colour in your work?

AVJ: I started working with colour in earnest in the mid-1990s, when I first used stage lights and began to programme light projections, experimenting with the effects of combining multiple colours. Prior to that, I tended to focus on the hue of the materials that I happened to be using. I’m very concerned with how we perceive things and with how viewers can see colour, space and movement.

MH: Your use of lenses is linked to your interest in perception, of course, but also relates to the repeated use of transparency in your practice.   Your coloured mists are hazy but translucent, and the transparency of the Gaufrettes, 2015, is interrupted by their colour and texture, whereas in a work like Hot Pink Turquoise the overlapping of coloured patches of light play on different types of transparency.

AVJ: It’s true that I’ve worked with the effects of transparency since the beginning, and with moments when the interface with light can make slight but important shifts in appearance by infiltrating the material. Again it’s about perception. I have even made exhibitions that are almost completely lacking in colour so as to focus on transparency and the effects of light, movement and duration.Most of these works are made of glass but not exclusively: in essence, I’m trying to reveal the limits of perception, I am trying to make a form that is at the limits of being almost nothing. In certain works, I’ve tried to push this limit to the maximum by using less and less colour and in the course of that process discovered that if you repeat the same material, or engrave it, or combine it with another transparent material, you can create other forms or shapes. In a way, I am trying to make the invisible visible, to give form to something that is barely perceptible.

MH: Blue Roll is an example of that, where you’ve worked with the density of glass to create a sculpture that comes across as being light and airy but is actually extremely heavy. This is because you’ve exploited the point at which glass appears to be blue rather than transparent.  It is also very beautiful, as is much of your work: it has a clear sensuality to it and can be very seductive. Can you say something about your approach to beauty?

AVJ: I don’t want my work to be seductive and some of it is very rough. I start with complex things and try to take a simple approach: perhaps this simplicity gives a sensation of beauty and calm. I don’t think about beauty when I work. You are right to suggest that it is present, at times, but it’s not something I really consider. Sometimes, my work can even be aggressive or violent, which can make it difficult and uncomfortable to endure. I don’t set out to create psychological situations but they can arise, depending on the ability of the visitor to sense such things. I try to make visible the invisible, so perhaps an effect of this is beauty.

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Casa Frollo, Venise, 1988
(25 x) 19 x 19 cm
25 glass sheet placed on the sill of the open window of the Casa Frollo 

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In 1988, in her work Casa Frollo, été 88, she piled up eighteen panes of glass on a windowsill of Casa Frollo. The old stone of the sill belongs to that Venice the world must preserve. Old stone, cracked and uneven, with a colour only Venetian sunlight can paint. The pile of glass panes contrasted with its smooth, shiny surface. Totally flat, crack-free.

It is well known that glass, supposedly colourless, gains colour with thickness: green, blue, purple, visible only on the side where it has been cut. Invisible colour, transparent. Transparency belongs to the illusionary realm: of realism, illusionism, the window-on-the-world of Renaissance art theory, which we never quite got rid of. Glass reminds us of the presence of transparency in our ideological world of ideas.  Piling up thirty sheets of transparency brings the invisible colour back to sight. The sides of the panes were not polished, so that the rough edges sculpted the blue into a variability that echoed the waves of the water beyond it. Meanwhile, the sun intensified the blue, while casting a shadow that began to draw a magic carpet. The material of this flat painting/drawing: light, shadow and the underlying old stone. The rough side of the pile announced the waves beyond it. Which was repeating which? The water, now, appeared as a product of Janssens’ pile of glass. For it was its rough side that first drew attention to the nuances of colour produced by irregularity, so that the waves could only repeat the glass’ work.

Text Mieke Bal – excerpt from catalogue A Different Image in Each Eye

Installation view: Ann Veronica Janssens at Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp, 1990

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Circular mirrors placed on the ground at the Capella Sansevero, Napels, 2014
Photos: Marco Ghidelli

The installation at the Sansevero Chapel Museum in the heart of Napels is a collaboration of Ann Veronica Janssens and NordProject & co.
Eight Mirrors with a diameter of one meter are scattered on the chapel floor.  Their luminous reflection reverses and fragments the perception of space.  The reflected details seem to spring from the surface with a supplement of reality and light.  The intervention offers a perceptual experience of all the splendor of the site.  A variation of this proposal in circular mirrors had been created at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice in 1999.

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Untitled (25 Mirrors), 1990 – 2006
15 x 100 x 100 cm
25 mirrors
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

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Yellow Rose, 2007
Ø 360-400 cm 
7 spotlights, artificial haze
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Photo: Ruth Clark, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

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Light yellow, green, 2005-2019
dimensions variable
240/400 watt
halogen lamp, dichroic colour filter
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

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Yellow Yellow, 2010-2018
55 x 55 x 55 cm (glass), 55 x 55 x 55 (wooden base), 110 x 55 x 55 (total sculpture)
glass, paraffin oil, silkscreen, wooden base
Edition of 1 + 2 AP

Photo: F.Frenandez, Espace d’art concret, Mouans-Sartoux

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Installation view exhibition Hot Pink Turquoise at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

Photo: Poul Buchard, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

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Glass Roll 812/4, 2017-2019
Ø 41 x 18 cm (glass) / Ø 22,5 cm (inner diameter)
slightly fluorescent glass
Edition of 1 + 2 AP

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Bright Pink, 2019
200 x 100 x 1,2 cm
annealed glass with vertical ribs, pvc filter
Edition of 1 + 1 AP

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Ann Veronica Janssens
°1956, Folkestone, living and working in Brussels

The work of Ann Veronica Janssens has been the subject of numerous institutional solo exhibitions such as « Hot Pink Turquoise » at South London Gallery, London, UK and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, DK (2020); Museum De Pont, NL (2018); Museum Kiasma, FI; The Baltimore Museum of Art, USA; « mars » at Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes (2017); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas, USA (2016); « yellowbluepink» at the Wellcome Collection, London, UK (2015); S.M.A.K., the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, BE (2015); « Philaetchouri » in collaboration with Michel François at Foundation d’Enterprise Hermès, Brussels, BE (2015); Museo Capella San Severo, with Nord Project, Naples, IT (2014); Eglise Sainte-Honorat des Alyscamps, Arles, FR (2013); FRAC Corse, Corte, FR (2013); The Beppu project, JP (2012); Ausstellungshalle Zeitgenössische Kunst, Münster, DE (2010); « Are you experienced » at the Espai d’art contemporani Castelló, ES (2009); « Serendipity » at WIELS, Brussels, BE (2009); « An den Frühling» at Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, DE (2007); « Aux Origines de l’Abstraction 1800 /1914 – Rouge 106 – Bleu 132 » at Musée d’Orsay, Paris, FR (2003); CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco, USA (2003); the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK (2002); Kunsthalle Bern, CH (2002); « Works for Space» at Kunstverein München, Munich, DE (2001); « Light Games »at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, DE (2001) and « In the absence of light it is possible to create the brightest images within oneself » at Salzburger Kunstverein, AT (2000).

Since 1985, she has participated in important group exhibitions like « Convex Concave: Belgian Contemporary Art » at TANK, Shanghai, CN (2019); « Highlights for a Future » at S.M.A.K., Ghent, BE; « Shifting Spaces » at Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2018); « Le musée absent » at Wiels, Brussels, B (2017); « Illumination » at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, DK (2016); « Another Minimalism » at Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, GB (2015); « Zehn Räume Drei Loggien und Ein Saal » at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, DE (2015); « Formes simples » at Centre Pompidou Metz, FR and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, JP, (2014); « Light Show » at Hayward Gallery, London, UK, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Sydney, AU and the Sharjah Art Foundation UAE (2013); « Dynamo A century of light in art, 1913 – 2013 » at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, FR (2013); « Fruits de la Passion » at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR (2012); « unExhibit » at the Generali Foundation, Vienna, AT (2011); « Universal Code » at The Power Plant – Contemporary Art Gallery, Ontario, CA (2009); « Ecstasy, In And About Altered States » at the MOCA, Los Angeles, USA (2005); « Natuurlijk » at the Kröller- Müller Museum, Otterlo NL (2002); « Stimuli » at Witte de With and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, NL (1999); the Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK (1993).

In 1999 she represented Belgium at the 45th Venice Biennale with Michel François and her work was part of many other international biennials like The Sharjah Biennial 14 (2019); Manifesta 10, St-Petersburg, RU (2014); 18th biennale of Sydney, AUS (2012); Manifesta 8, Murcia (2011); 5th International Media Art Biennale Seoul, KR (2006); 11th biennale of Sydney, AUS (1998); 5th International biennale of Istanbul, TR (1997) and the 22nd International Biennale of São Paulo, BR (1994).

In 2000, Janssens was awarded a one-year German Academic exchange Service (DAAD), which supported her solo exhibition « Light Games » at the Neue Nationalegalerie Berlin in 2001. She collaborates with choreographers like Pierre Droulers and on several shows of Rosas with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Since 2009, she has also initiated with Nathalie Ergino the « Laboratoire Espace Cerveau » at Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône Alpes; an interdisciplinary project which brings together the reflections and experiments of artists and scientists.

Ann Veronica Janssens is the author of the public commission for Place des Plainpalais as part of the public art project «Neons Parallax» in Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. The opening of the public commission for the 12th Century chapel of St. Vincent of Grignan in France, in which she created a play of light and colours, was celebrated in May 2013. In September 2017 a 19 meter high steel beam, with one polished side reflecting the sky, was installed at the Korenmarkt, Ghent, commissioned by the City of Ghent.

Upcoming is a public intervention at Panthéon, Paris, FR in spring 2021 and a solo at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, Milan, IT in 2022.