ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Ann Veronica Janssens - 2003 - Joyce’s Path [EN, essay]
About a sculptural proposal by Ann Veronica Janssens
As the point of departure for the sculptural proposal ‘Joyce’s Path’, Ann Veronica Janssens invited several pupils from a nearby primary school to draw a path with no beginning or end. She chose Joyce’s drawing as being the most appropriate and had it enlarged into a path covered with red gravel, some 200 metres long and 70 cm wide. The path starts about a metre from an existing road and winds its way through a young, thickly overgrown wood without leading anywhere.
For the artist the poetry of this work lies mainly in the change in scale: the strange sensation of finding oneself in a child’s drawing which has taken on the scale of a landscape. She also likes the crunching sound of the gravel. The spectator walks through a crunching child’s drawing with living plants all of which in their own way filter the sunlight.
I asked the artist if she thought this work was characterized by the pleasure architects derive from the shift between large and small. “Not only that”, she answered. “Of course, I use the same method here, but I don’t build an object, I don’t erect a building. I play with the ground, with the light and the space and with the idea of giving a drawing the scale of a landscape. But I would prefer not to say more about it than is absolutely necessary.”
In a recently published book about Ann Veronica Janssens I wrote that it was during my childhood that I experienced the most perfect cinema with wonderful, ever-moving images. I used to play in an overgrown orchard where everything was constantly in motion and the opportunities for discovery were endless. If in a work of art I experience that same feeling of an organic, not statically conceived space moving around me, it is as if I am coming home into a world of true freedom. Few buildings evoke that sense of space. There is room, but there is no space. Good sculptures, paintings, pieces of music and books render the world liveable by making room for its mobility. We need forms to see and think, but we must also be able to let go of those forms if we want to see things we have never seen before.
In this grove we meet two writers. The first is the butterfly expert Nabokov who at the age of six went looking for rare butterflies in the forests near his home. There were still lots of butterflies in those days because his uncle had only recently shot the last bear. A forest inhabited by bears is a safe habitat for butterflies. It was Nabokov who observed that, as the first in Russian literature to notice the moving pattern of light and shadow at the foot of trees, Gogol really looks at colours and no longer describes them in clichéd terms. Nabokov observed this because he himself was trained to look at colour nuances and to descry butterflies fluttering in the dancing patches of light at the foot of a tree.
The second writer is John Fowles, who in 1979 wrote a book about our fear of nature and our endeavours to find a name for it, to classify it and ignore it. As he walks the gravel-strewn paths of the garden of Linnaeus, the great classifier, he sees a similarity between forests and fiction in prose form.
“But even the most ‘unreadable’ woods and forests,” he writes, “are in fact subtler than any conceivable fiction, which can never represent the actual multiplicity of choice of paths in a wood, but only one particular path through it.”
Thus Joyce’s path is an amusing parody on the straight paths in Linnaeus’ garden. The path does have a beginning and an end, but it doesn’t link two other roads. It is situated not between two roads, but among trees.
For John Fowles nature has nothing to do with the isolated images we see in scientific reference books and on television. Nature is the background, and it rarely becomes foreground. Everywhere, even in the cracks of the pavements, it provides infinite diversity and depth, but we cannot perceive this diversity and depth. The only thing we can do, whether in science or in visual art, is simplify it and fossilize it.
The difference between art and nature, he continues, is that nature “is not only created (…) but also creating in the present, as we experience it. As we watch, it is so to speak rewriting, reformulating, repainting, rephotographing itself. It refuses to stay fixed and fossilized in the past, as both the scientist and the artist feel it somehow ought to; and both will generally try to impose this fossilization on it.”
This description of nature could almost be a description of a number of Janssens’ sculptures, including Aquarium for instance. In this work, because of the surface tension, a small quantity of liquid silicone in a solution of alcohol and water contracts into a ball, a liquid lens, which moves almost imperceptibly so that the images picked up by the lens seem to flow over very slowly one into the other. Because of this disintegration of the seemingly moving image which constantly surrounds us, this sculpture shows how we ourselves look at things: by projecting a simplified and steady image over billions of whirling reflected rays of light.
Ann Veronica Janssens’ work interrupts the probability of the images that surround us, images which derive from the past, and it plunges us into the present. We sense how we make images. Things outside our field of vision, we simply let be.
“Trees warp time,” Fowles writes, “or rather create a variety of times: here dense and abrupt, there calm and sinuous – never plodding, mechanical, inescapably monotonous.” The same applies to sculptures: if they succeed in restructuring time, we obtain a liveable space. We then find ourselves in Borges’ garden of the forking paths, where every conceivable thought, every conceivable argument is permissible and where blind walls are dissolved by our dreaming gaze.
Montagne de Miel, January 29th 2003