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Ann Veronica Janssens

AX, 2006

Object | Light-emitting diode
50 cm ø.



Ann Veronica Janssens uses light to create environments that reach out to the viewer, with powerful sensory and psychological implications. This is the case with Ax, an arrangement of light emitting diodes, half a metre in diameter, from 2006.

Like other Janssens works where artificial light sources are employed, Ax is a symmetrical form in a single tone or hue, in this case white. Here the overall shape is circular, with individual diodes set out in rows that irradiate away from a dark centre. We are immediately reminded of naive or non-technical representations of stars or a sun, or of a halo or illuminated crown.

Yet Ax is more than the sum of its parts, inasmuch as the piece includes its own dark contrasts, including the round interior or the spaces between the rows of diodes. To achieve the intended impact of the work, it would be shown in a dark room where it is the only source of light, showing off itself while submerging the immediate ambience in its singular intensity. By illuminating any person or thing found in the space, it provides the viewer with his or her only source of visual orientation. This also means, as happens with other Janssens light pieces, that the brightness, symmetry and monochrome hue combine to numb other sensory realities, taking a psychological hold on whoever happens to be in its presence.

Artificial light has been a feature of visual art since László Moholy-Nagy used it in the late 1920s to create abstract effects in Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1928–30). Starting in the 1960s, with the simple fluorescent bulbs of Dan Flavin or the total environments of James Turrell, light has been used as both minimalist sculpture and a vehicle for conceptual and even spiritual contemplation. For their part, light-emitting diodes have been used by visual artists like Jenny Holzer to create messages in public space.

Janssens picks up on all these precedents while at the same time emphasizing new dimensions of the use of light in visual art. One of the key elements here is the symmetrical order of her light sources, which gives many of her pieces an almost mandalic effect. Mandalas are geometrical designs originally used as aids in Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Drawing on this potential, Janssens uses balance and geometry to seduce us into visual dialogue with her works, inviting us to reflect upon the limits of the artwork itself and the space outside of it, the ostensibly public reserve beyond the artwork, reserved for its contemplation.

We are part of the work and the work becomes part of us. By infiltrating space rather than merely imposing on it, Ann Veronica Janssens explores the permeability of the multiple contexts at hand—architectural, cultural, even political. Ax is a work that encourages us to deal with the full complexity of this reality: its status as an object, the site it is shown in, its collectability and the overall significance of its exhibition.


Jeffrey Swartz



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