Overwhelmingly received by both gallery goers and critics alike, Anne Veronica Janssens’ yellowbluepink has been all over social media and people’s minds since the exhibition opened at the Wellcome Collection. Felicity Pepper reviews the hugely successful exhibition.
“A few rules. If you lose anything in there, it belongs to the museum. If you get lost in there, so do you,” the imposing Wellcome Gallery employee tells us. We stand outside the double doors to Ann Veronica Janssens’ light installation at midday on a quiet Tuesday. The computer monitor just past him shows a black and white thermal video from inside the room, where the faceless visitors cautiously move around as though they have only one brain cell between them.
Entering the room is kind of like entering heaven if you expect to enter heaven by passing through double doors and an unromantic PVC strip door curtain. My friends fall away from me as I walk forward into the dirty white fog. My first impulse is to run about yelling “CATHY!” at the top of my voice (– I do not do this). I expect to feel claustrophobic, but despite being in a clouded room with hidden strangers and my own anxiety, I’m strangely peaceful. The fog is mostly opaque and while it’s oppressive it’s also comforting, because as your sight becomes an unreliable guide the other senses take hold. You stand still and you can detect the other visitors; you can hear their soft voices through the fog. After a while, you’re able to judge where you are by the movement of the mist, the colour of which changes as you pass through the room under the brightly coloured green, yellow and pink strip lighting.
The room is deliberately disorientating, the whole experience designed to strip away outside interruptions so that visitors can enjoy “the sheer wonder of being conscious”. I found it quite a meditative experience (disclaimer: I’m an unspiritual heathen) and it’s exciting to feel yourself adapting so quickly to such a change in surroundings. There’s a high that you get from the experience of having one sense repressed and the others heightened. A playful silliness eventually takes over. You start noticing how the floor is slippy – not so slippy that you’ll fall over, but slippy enough to pretend you’re in the misty scene from Swan Lake. A few careful pirouettes should be fine. Your boyfriend is busy pretending to swim through the fog. Your friend suggests playing tag (ground rules: no running) and it’s disorientating and hilarious as you hide and hunt through the fog with your heart in your mouth.
It’s sometimes hard to say if an installation of this kind will be gimmicky, but it really seems that Ann Veronica Janssens has created something special here. yellowbluepink is part of the States of Mind season, which is aimed at enabling greater understanding of what human consciousness is and how it does. Science isn’t something I have a particularly good grasp of so all I can judge this installation on is how unexpectedly safe and connected it made me feel – to both my surroundings and myself. It was a bit like being inside a big cloudy womb.
Go to yellowbluepink. Walk around in the fog with your phone on airplane. Stand still. Take it all in. Listen. Breathe. Then maybe find your friends and play tag for a bit. It’s your new happy place.
Anne Veronica Janssen’s yellowbluepink runs at the Wellcome Collection (NW1) until January 3rd.