I have an embarrassing confession to make: I wasn’t expecting to like Ann Veronica Janssens exhibition Hot Pink Turquoise at the South London Gallery.
I should have known better. The show had fantastic reviews and South London Gallery don’t put a foot wrong when it comes to curating world-class exhibitions. In fact over the last few years they’ve gone from strength to strength: they opened a new art space across the road from their main site two years ago; they curate brilliant programmes with their local community; and every exhibition they put on is thought provoking and stunning. In short, everything SLG touches turns to gold.
I think it was the glitter that made me nervous. Occupying SLG’s main gallery space, ‘Untitled (Blue Glitter)’ is the centrepiece of the exhibition. It’s made up of a dominating smear of blue glitter that covers a large portion of the gallery floor. I’d read about ‘Untitled (Blue Glitter)’ and seen reproductions of it, but I couldn’t understand the appeal. It sounded aimless and didn’t reproduce well in photos.
But seeing the installation in person was a different matter altogether.
What I’d imagined to be a lifeless mass on the gallery floor, surged with purpose and light when encountered face to face. ‘Untitled (Blue Glitter)’ is bold and fun. It confidently fills the space it occupies, fanning out across the floor with the eloquence of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings (but with much more charm). The piece catches the light as you walk round it. It’s not enclosed by any barrier, so it feels all the more immediate and ephemeral.
In an interview with director Margot Heller, Veronica Janssens talks about the “temporality” of her work, “of things which escape and can’t be made permanent”. This is certainly true of ‘Untitled (Blue Glitter)’ which will be swept up part way through the exhibition and replaced with ‘Bikes’ – a set of custom made chrome bicycles that visitors can ride round the gallery space. But the question of temporality and permanence percolates through the rest of the exhibition too.
Take ‘Le bain de lumière, Prototype’ for instance, a glass sculpture filled with demineralised water that sits by a first floor window in the Fire Station space. The piece acts as a lens that distorts a view of Peckham Road. It re-contextualises the space it sits in, subverting the viewer’s perception of a familiar and mundane scene.
Similarly ‘CL2BK’, ‘Pinky Sunset R’, CL2 Blue Shadow’, three panels of annealed glass with various PVC filters, push the limits of perception. They change colour so completely when you walk past them, that you forget how they looked to begin with. And the spectrum each panel move through when you walk past is so enchanting you want to pace for hours.
I mentioned at the start that ‘Untitled (Blue Glitter)’ doesn’t reproduce well in photos, and this is true of much of the work in the exhibition. And that’s the point. Each piece is a well-curated visual experience that can only be enjoyed in person. Hot Pink Turquoise plays games with the viewer’s eye and examines the fallibility of the experience of seeing. Veronica Janssens teases wit and introspection out of quasi-architectural building blocks.
At a time when we’re experiencing so much on screens at home, Hot Pink Turquoise rewards being in the gallery in person. It’s a glorious show that must be seem to be believed.