When we’re allowed through the door – hung with plastic strips like an industrial freezer, closing tight behind us – I remember, with all the poignancy of a childhood memory, how truly disorienting it is to see no walls, no floor or ceiling. Because we’ve come so late, there are no people either. The first impulse, born out of a twinge of fear no adult would like to admit to, is to find the wall and orientate oneself. As comforting as this is for a moment, one miniscule point on a map is not much help by itself, and so we give ourselves up to the colour.
Ann Veronica Janssens
We arrive at the Wellcome Collection just before ten on a Friday night, a little out of breath from the brisk walk we set into hoping to catch the last admission into Janssen’s yellowbluepink. We make it – just – and are cautioned that the exhibition might be disorientating. We’re advised to leave if we feel unwell, but I’m already raring to go - I’ve been a fan of Janssens’ work ever since I was little and ran around her coloured greenhouse, also filled with smoke, outside Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery.
The first impulse, born out of a twinge of fear no adult would like to admit to, is to find the wall and orientate oneself.
Resigned now to discombobulation, there is time to bask in the weirdness and the magic of seeing only colour. Starting from the back wall and walking across the span of the space is, we discover, the way to experience yellowbluepink: yellow, blue, pink. Much like the exhibitions title, though, the colours blur into one another. The smoke itself is white, and the colour comes from lamps on the ceiling of the room. The nature of the exhibition – the way it deprives the viewer of even the most basic coordinates – demands that the pace of walking be slow, and in this way the medium itself dictates the way it is experienced.
The smoke itself is white, and the colour comes from lamps on the ceiling of the room.
Yellowbluepink launches ‘States of Mind’, a year long project into the investigation of human consciousness. Like the exhibition, the research will question and explore the subjective experience of an ‘objective’ world via an ‘objective’ brain. Yellowbluepink forces you to confront colour as something material and stand-alone, rather than as a quality in a physical object, and it’s perfect fuel for thinking about our experience of consciousness.
There’s a beautiful word – qualia – which is used to describe the ‘what it is like’ of something: the taste of pineapple, falling in love, the smell of coffee. Qualia are those uniquely sensual experiences which cannot be related, effectively, through language. This was what I thought of in Ann Veronica Janssen’s show, especially because I knew that I’d want to write about it afterwards. Perhaps the most helpful thing I can say is, go. It’s on until the 3rd of January.