I am a little apprehensive about the new ‘yellowbluepink’ exhibition by Ann Veronica Janssens at the Wellcome Collection, it was bad enough last time when they made me talk about sex. This time there is a list of “dos and don’ts” on the wall: do not run; move slowly; all visitors should exercise caution when entering; parents and guardians should hold the hands of small children at all times.
I don’t know about children but now I feel as though I want someone to hold my hand. I will have to pluck up the courage to experience States of Mind – Tracing the edges of consciousness on my own. Janssens has filled a gallery space with an enveloping and brightly coloured mist, I read up on the press release before I go in and it appears the experience is supposed to be disorientating and uplifting. It is perhaps no wonder I am a little unsure.
Numbers are limited within the exhibition, the chap handing me my lanyard for entry helpfully tells me if I get lost just to follow the walls till I come to the exit. There is one way in and one way out, although I did eventually come to the emergency exit which did calm me down slightly (if only I would be able to find it again if I needed to).
There are a double set of doors on entering and you have to wait to close one door before opening another to prevent the mist from escaping. It is a weird experience, like going through an air-lock. I stand enclosed in the compact space with strangers for a few seconds, then we disappear into the mist and I never see them again. Or do I? as strangers waft past and come in and out of focus.
It is weirdly disorientating and genuinely uplifting as I stand in a cloud of pink, I think of my youngest daughter who would be in heaven to float through this candy floss dream world. I shuffle forward, slowly waiting for my eyes to adjust, as they do in the dark but it never quite happens. I hear disembodied voices of other visitors. Are they the same ones who have come in with me or have they been in here for hours?
I eventually make out floor (not too difficult as I am standing on it) and ceiling, I can see the lights that colour the mist. I nearly walk into a wall and reassuringly give it a pat. Working out the boundaries of my experience gives me a renewed confidence. I stand in the middle (at least I think it is the middle) where I can see the different colour definitions more easily. I take a Vine video, strangers loom out of the mist at me, watching it back it seems far busier than it felt.
It was strange how aware I was of other people, yet I couldn’t see them properly, it felt like their voices were coming and going but surely the mist wasn’t altering the sound, just my perception of it. I thought back to my visit to the Sexology exhibition, as I wandered around there were many people near me and yet I took no notice of them, if I had looked at them I would have been able to recall the details, male/female, height, hair colour. Here in States of Mind I struggle to recognise these shapes that drift near me but I am distinctly aware of these strangers and our shared moment.
When I talk about a shared moment or experience, in truth it is nothing of the sort. Janssens is trying to open up the ideas on consciousness and how we perceive, understand and react to situations and sensory stimuli. This is something I think about a lot with my daughter’s autism. We have slowly come to the understanding that she often sees and feels situations in a completely different way. Her brain is wired differently, this neuro-diversity is often hard for us to understand. For her, a ‘normal’ exhibition or museum space could be as disorientating as I find ‘yellowbluepink’ but with none of the uplifting nature. Most importantly for someone with autism there will not be any advice, support or “dos and don’ts” at the start.
Whilst Jansenns work can be seen as a bit of fun, like walking through a rainbow – the perfect antidote to a grey London day, it is also a great opener to the Wellcome’s year-long exploration into the experience of human consciousness. It is important to make time to think about how we experience life, not just seeing and doing and rushing around but standing for a moment in a pink cloud and wondering if we will ever find the exit again.
‘pinkyellowblue’ by Ann Veronica Janssens runs from 15 October 2015 – 3 January 2016, it is free but numbers are restricted so there may be a wait at busy times. To find out more please see the website – http://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/states-mind-ann-veronica-janssens