Hans Theys is a twentieth-century philosopher and art historian. He has written and designed dozens of books on the works of contemporary artists and published hundreds of essays, interviews and reviews in books, catalogues and magazines. All his publications are based on actual collaborations and conversations with artists.

This platform was developed by Evi Bert (M HKA / Centrum Kunstarchieven Vlaanderen) in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (Research group Archivolt), M HKA, Antwerp and Koen Van der Auwera. We also thank Idris Sevenans (HOR) and Marc Ruyters (Hart Magazine).


Ann Veronica Janssens - 1997 - En avant la musique ! [NL, interview]
Interview , 6 p.


Hans Theys

Twenty artists about Ann Veronica Janssens’ first mist sculpture

Thursday January 30th 1997. At the invitation of curator Liliane Dewachter, Ann Veronica Janssens created an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, solely by filling two large spaces with artificial fog. She had used the same material the year before in her ‘Presentation of a round body’, a cyberlight projection of a conic body of light, in the Vleeshal in Middelburg, but this time the mist was the only material. On the night of the opening and during the course of the next few days, Hans Theys asked a score of artists what they thought of the exhibition.

Tapta: I was really taken by it. It was like being in a suspension and as if that suspension gradually became denser and denser. The things and the space seemed to become intangible. It was like a white-coloured suspension, as if we were inside the colour white, inside thousands of white particles. The space had become poetic. I was also slightly afraid, and so towards the end I went back alone. I was very pleased I did, because then I understood the work better. In fact, I intend to go back again during the daytime, because the work must be very different in daylight… It was a real experience. It is a work that addresses not only the intellect, but all the senses. Her work in Kortrijk – with those sounds of explosions – I also experienced with my whole body. This work made me think of Venice, of the atmosphere of that unique city. And the balustrade made it feel as if I was on a packet boat, or on something that was about to leave. It had associations with a journey. But I wouldn’t want to reduce the work to something anecdotal.

Monica Droste: Quai des brumes…

Guy Rombouts: London! I loved the atmosphere. It immediately conjured up impressions of films. It also reminded me of water, partly because of that balustrade, as if you were standing on a quay.

 Angel Vergara: I saw the work during the daytime, a few days before the preview, but without daylight it must work as well, I think. During the daytime it is a work with an English feel. Everyone enjoys wandering round in the mist, but you never see mist as clear as that…. At the same time, it is not Klein’s empty room, or Arman’s fulness; it is like being inside Duchamp’s little bottle of Air de Paris… You know Ann Veronica’s work. She tries to bring the outside light inside. Here she shows how the light can trap swirling particles. To make that tangible, all she really does is add a sort of pigment to the air. And it works. You feel it. You are right in the middle of it…

Viviane Klagsbrun: I see Ann Veronica Janssens as a sculptor, a spatial sculptor, who works with light, sound and air… She tries to capture a space or what is happening in it and then makes it visible. Everybody has an idea about what mist is, but Ann Veronica has put it there for us. She is very sensitive to spaces, moments or the way we might perceive something. She can show people things as she sees them, or as people do not know they see things. I’m particularly fond of that little pile of glass panes in Venice, with the sea in the background. That is marvellous. I also love the window lying on the floor in the Arenberg Instituut reflecting the real window. I like those two works best. This work, this mist, becomes more comprehensible if you see the links with the other works.

Tristan Ledoux: I am not a great connoisseur of art, but to my mind this work is a bit short on substance… Filling a room with smoke and showing it as an object to look at and to sense, with the inversion of sounds coming from outside which are heard inside… It’s been done before. It’s like targeting the museum and questioning the conditions and requirements for art production. It is an almost institutional, sociological criticism. All that you are left with is an idea… There’s no tangible thing to put across that idea, as if we no longer need a vehicle for an idea… Ann Veronica wants to blur borders, bring inside what is outside, even bring inside the mist from outside, then erase the borders between the museum inside, and the city outside, partly by the sounds, which are recorded outside. So, we are confused, but does that mean she has to show fog? What is said is said too quickly. Personally, I need a roundabout route via the material, an indirect way of expressing.

Walter Swennen: The work is formidable. Ann Veronica is the champion of Columbus’s Egg. Once it’s there, you say: but of course! It is a magical work. I went back twice later on, when there were not so many people, but the first time I went in the place was crowded. It is very funny, because you see groups of silhouettes, you approach slowly, and when you can almost make out who they are, you only need to step back a couple of centimetres and you are in the mist again and nobody has seen you.

Luc Tuymans: That’s the work with the smoke, isn’t it? I saw it in the evening, without daylight, and that is probably a totally different experience from seeing it during the daytime… It is an installation that relies on effect, but the good thing about it is that it works spatially. But that is often the case with Ann Veronica Janssens, that’s why I think her work is OK. I’m not sure if it would work permanently, but that might be a specific characteristic of the work as well… 
We should also go and see it during the daytime, to see what effect it has then, because in the dark it is a completely different experience and also has different connotations.
    Furthermore I think it’s very important that the visitor becomes interactive and Ann Veronica Janssens tries not to make objects. I once had the idea of filling a space with smoke myself – I would have used cigarette smoke –, because at the end of the day all matter is but smoke.
    It also works because it is site specific and at the same time unexpected without being too sensational or contrived. There is an element of understatement about it… The work does not depend solely on effect – as it might well have done - and at the same time it is used very specifically.
    But I do have some reservations: despite the fact that the idea could be considered an aha experience, the question is how far you can go with playing with the spatiality within that non-formulation. But in terms of raising lots of questions, it is quite interesting. There is something provocative about the work, but at the same time also something soothing and that is unusual.

Guy Rombouts: Monica and I once made a sculpture using the same material. The idea was to lead the visitors by means of spots, which marked out corridors. It was really amazing, because people didn’t dare to leave those corridors. But it was not nearly as beautiful as here, because the space was much smaller. And the mist in ours was much thicker. Mist and no wind, like here, but you couldn’t see more than a couple of feet in front of you.

- You think of mist, while others think of smoke.

Guy Rombouts: Smoke? No. Smoke makes me think of smell, but there is no smell, it is very neutral…
    The sound reminded me of “Radio Centraal”. At night, when nobody was in the studio, they connected the microphone of the doorbell with the studio and broadcast everything. I used to listen to it. You would hear the constant sound of traffic, sometimes also the conversations of people who happened to be standing there or people who came and recited a poem because they knew there was a microphone. And that is rather like what Ann Veronica did. By the way, do you know where that microphone is?

Gérald Fenerberg: A few days after the preview I got a phone call from Liliane Dewachter complaining about strange sounds in the museum. When I went to look, it turned out we had lowered the microphone from the roof to just above the bog of a building site. The sounds had intensified because the roof of the bog had blown off.

Guy Mees: I think it’s good. But I don’t want to say any more than that on the telephone because I don’t know the colour of your eyes or the shape of your nose. We could of course talk about it over a beer.

Thé van Bergen: It is wonderful. It really worked for me. My only concern is that nobody will find it. Nobody will dare to open that door or to go in alone.

Delphine Bedel: First and foremost, I thought the work was wonderful and very moving, however banal that may sound. I knew about the project and I had tried to imagine what the object and the atmosphere would be like – but in fact it was totally different from what I was expecting. The first thing that struck me was the plastic quality and the visual merit of the work, for example because of the way Ann Veronica closed off the balcony with a plastic sailcloth, so that the balcony actually became a wall, an opaque, murky wall that transformed the architecture behind it.
    During the daytime the work probably reveals the architecture, because of the light that filters in through the windows, but in the evening all the contours disappear in that haze, in that mist, so that it is rather like a walk through your own perception. The people were not really tangible, they became silhouettes or shadows, you didn’t know if you would encounter a wall or a little group of people a few metres further on, you felt your way through the space. You came in through that door and you found yourself in a different universe, but when you came out again everything seemed very brutal, the architecture, the lighting and the other works of art, so that you wanted to go back to that space of reflection…

Raoul De Keyser: Briefly I am just going to say that I think it’s interesting, but I don’t want to elaborate on my opinion of it because I don’t feel qualified to do so. Certainly, Iam favourably disposed towards it, but I am afraid I will waste words without adding anything to the subject.

Monica Droste: It’s mysterious.

Guy Rombouts: It’s slippery.

Narcisse Tordoir: My young son enjoyed sliding on that slippery floor. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by the museum; usually I find it rather depressing, so dirty, but this time it was clean. And I thought Ann Veronica’s exhibition was very good. The idea is well thought out, the concept clear and as soon as you step inside, it is obvious that it works. It has stuck in my mind.

Claudia Radulescu: I think that most works of art made today can only come about because they contain a minimum of ideas and images which derive from fashion and advertising and so are easily recognized by the public. The strength of those works lies solely in that recognition. So they are short-lived, just like fashion. That is one reason why I like Ann Veronica’s works. Their disappearance is built in. Her latest works last no longer than the time it takes to build something or demolish it, the duration of an exhibition, of lighting, a print (though this does last), a flash… As far as this specific work is concerned, I had a wonderful moment in the mist, surrounded by bodies I didn’t recognize, until I spotted Ann Veronica in a corner spraying the mist.

Wim Delvoye: It is the only work I have not seen, because I arrived very late. But I do have a work by Ann Veronica at home: two aluminium bowls. I still think it’s the most beautiful work I’ve ever bought. If people are visiting for the first time, I always put one of those bowls on their head.

Bernd Lohaus: It reminded me of Marcel Broodthaers.

Ann Veronica Janssens: “Défense de fumer?” A marvellous work.

Bernd Lohaus: She’s a bit of a thief, isn’t she?

Koen Theys: I thought it was great. In many of her recent works Ann Veronica seems to draw inspiration from op art, which for me is the most uninteresting art form of all times, but she manages to give it a twist and a new excitement. On the other hand, and I don’t know if this is a conservative reaction, I tend to look for the artist’s world view in a work of art. That is what I sometimes miss in her work… But what I like about it is that she plays around with almost immaterial things and then makes very clever works… It’s a way of making images without actually making images, whereby the work becomes fleeting and intangible… The space certainly lends itself. You go bonkers in that museum with all that white, and now she is making it even harsher; there are times when you are really thrown off your stride.

Bernd Lohaus: When I came in, I thought I saw Ann Veronica standing in the distance talking to Marie-Pascale, but I was not absolutely sure it was them. “No, I shouldn’t put my thumb and forefinger in my mouth and whistle”, I thought, “people don’t do that any more…” I drew closer and I looked again: “It was them, so I could have whistled.”

Koen Theys: Did you read the text next to the door? I don’t understand why they had to regurgitate the whole history of art to explain that work. That’s absolutely nonsensical. First about Altamira… Because once upon a time, dear children, works of art were inextricably linked to the space in which or for which they were made… Then about the Renaissance, because those altarpieces were intended for a very specific place in a very specific church, and they were not to be moved every two days. And then about the Nineteenth Century with The Modern Artist Who No Longer Accepted Commissions, you know the story, so that suddenly works of art could be moved every two days, etc. Until artists like Smithson came along in the seventies, who again made art in a specific place, so that the public had to go to that place to see the work, “like pilgrims”. And all that to explain this work by Ann Veronica…

Laurette Gillemot: I went back afterwards, when there were not so many people.

Suzanne Oxenaar: I wanted to go in and then I wanted to go in again. And again.

Guy Rombouts: The best thing that could happen to that museum.

Luc Deleu: I thought it was good. A good work for the Muhka…

- At last a reason for those white walls and that white floor, as a background for the seemingly thickening and whitening mist?

Luc Deleu: Of course. But also because it is such an ugly museum. The only large window, for example, in the corner of that wedge-shaped room, means that you cannot really hang anything on the walls because you only have sidelong light from that one source. Those are the only high walls in the Muhka and then they are poorly lit. Milk-glass would be a considerable improvement, then the light would be more diffuse. They could of course also hang a white cloth in front of it! (Laughs.) Yes, it really is an ugly museum.

Ria Pacquée: I thought it was very good. Firstly, because in my opinion the Muhka is a rather ugly building, with ugly rooms, and it was really the first time – and certainly in that space, because it is so big – that I had pleasant vibes when I set foot inside it. Moreover, at an opening like that, everyone is there to see and to be seen, whereas on that occasion you could lose yourself in the smoke. I also thought it was very picturesque, all those silhouettes disappearing into the distance.

Frédérique Lagny: I don’t think one should describe the work as beautiful. I think it is confusing to call it beautiful. I think it is first and foremost a very receptive work, because it doesn’t impose a mental frame of reference. But at the same time, one could say that the humour it takes to fill a room with smoke like that, is the ultimate reference. I went back three times.
    Ann Veronica told me that the sounds came directly from outside. I thought that was very good, because the work reminded me of a scene from a film by Antonioni. A man and a woman are having an argument in a car. They drive along a motorway enveloped in mist. They stop and the woman disappears into the mist… At one point, in the museum, you could actually hear the voice of a station master… It made me think of being on a journey, departures…. Time evaporating, everything disappearing…. It is a bit ‘in-between’… It is between things. Apart from that, I had the impression that most people took the work quite seriously. Perhaps because they were wondering if it is still art. To me it was a sort of transitional form.

Liliane Vertessen: It was very powerful. I still think it’s very good. It was very special… Why do I think it’s good? Because of its grandeur and because it’s unusual and unexpected.

Michel François: It was a beautiful experience. Very powerful, very sensual. It is often said that Ann Veronica makes light tangible, but perhaps it is actually the reverse. Maybe she tries to transform all matter into light. Maybe she wants to clear away all the obstacles, to make all matter fluid…

Guy Rombouts: Sun, water and clouds, what more could you want?

Montagne de Miel, February 9th 1997


For Léone