You have to enter a crudely created airlock – open one door, close it, then open the next – to make sure Ann Veronica Janssens’ installation doesn’t escape. It is a mist. Passing through that second door, you are enveloped. Steamy vapour fills the air and is impregnated with colour.
Look down and you can barely see your feet. Look ahead and it is impossible to work out where the wall is until you touch it or (as I did) bang into it. The only problem comes when you look up. Coloured lights in the ceiling sully the mystery somewhat, making the luminous mist easy to understand.
But as you move about, the colours change and merge. Pink to blue and blue to gold. It is like swimming in colour. Space has the weight of liquid in your mind, as the glowing mist gently creates twilit visions that are as much inside the eye as in front of it.
This is like being inside a painting by Monet or Turner. Light is another country and it feels different there. Monet painted Venice and the river Thames as clouds of incandescence. Janssens has created just such a mood in the real world. It is the artistic equivalent of an isolation tank. It definitely does something therapeutic to mind and body.
Unfortunately, the artist does not have much to play with. The room she has been given is a modern clean space in a well-appointed centre for art and science. It all feels a bit rational and confined. I’d love to experience a mist like this in a bigger, stranger space – a Gothic crypt perhaps. It might be more atmospheric.
Then again, other artists have created much more ambitious and disorientating light installations. Compared with the genuinely troubling optical and physical experiences engendered by James Turrell or Olafur Eliasson, this is disorientation lite.
The most damaging comparison, however, is with Monet and Turner. So this room full of mist makes it possible to walk into their light-filled, smoky spaces. The Tomb Raider ride at Legoland puts you inside an Egyptian tomb, but it is very different from actually exploring a pyramid. Monet does far more to the eye, releases much deeper colours, than the ones you can experience here. Looking at colour in a great work of art is emotional and mysterious. This gentle encounter with the mysteries of colour is mere light entertainment – typical of so much art you’ll see in Frieze week.
- States of Mind is at the Wellcome Collection, London from 15 October to 3 January 2016. Box office: (0)20 7611 2222
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