Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yellowbluepink by Ann Veronica Janssens

One of the great luxuries of studying at UCL is its proximity to other wonderful institutions. The British Library, with its regular exhibitions and general book-based allure is just down the road; the British Museum is within walking distance; countless independent bookshops and cafes fill the roads of Bloomsbury, not to mention the museums and galleries which are part of the campus itself. Perhaps my favourite local institution, however, is the Wellcome Collection, where I have spent many  happy hours in exhibitions, and where I have just spent my lunch break enjoying the mesmerising work of Ann Veronica Janssens: Yellowbluepink.

It may seem a simple concept: a white room filled with a fine odourless mist lit by 3 different colours of overhead lights. The effect, however, is incredible. The work itself is exploring the topic of consciousness as part of the States of Mind season and does a brilliant job of focussing ones perception of ones surroundings and calling into question how our experience is understood by our minds. 

Allow me to walk you through it. 

You are given a lanyard and told to only open one door at a time to access the room. You assume this is to contain the haze within and happily comply. Stepping out of the vestibule (once the outer door is safely shut) you emerge into pink. Not a pink room, not a pink object, just pink. You become aware of a foggy sensation within the room which prevents you from seeing anything apart from your own feet, hands, arms...and the overhead lights which at this end are the room are pink. 

You make your way around the edges of the room, cautious at the moment not to bump into anyone and unsure if there are any objects at ground level. As you reach the centre of the wall, the colour around you changes to a yellowish green. You smile: the room is beautiful and is making you calm. You venture further along the wall, towards where you assume the corner of the room is. The colour changes again. You are unsure, until you look up to confirm, whether you are actually moving through space or whether the lights are changing above you. As you reach the corner you are enveloped in blue. 

You lean against the back wall to look back the way you have come. You can see the suggestion of other colours somewhere off in the distance but you are not worried about that. Other people are perceptible as shuffling footfalls and whispered exclamations 'this is so cool!'. They are only seen when they are very nearby and even then they appear ephemeral, so absorbed are you and they by your surroundings, or rather the blank canvas that you find yourself in. 

You go exploring. You discover windows on one side of the gallery, which at seven paces away are just noticeable through the mist, and at eight disappear completely. You go nearer, reach out, try to understand something as ordinary as a window within this new context of seeing.

You walk back towards the yellow. Your perception of the yellow has changed because of the comparison to the blue you have just left; you walk into an orange dawn, watching halos around your eyes shift as you comprehend the change. 

You want to stay for longer. You want to remain in this place that has calmed your brain from its worries and given you peace so close to so much busy-ness. You search for the door and resolve to return as soon as you can. 

The exhibition/experience is running until 3rd January 2016. The lighting design is by Jono Kenyon (Studio ZMA Ltd). Other examples of second person story-telling include the brilliant 'How to become a Writer' by Lorrie Moore (in case you were wondering what I was doing there...!). 

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