Ann Veronica Janssens’ Emulation of Biological Structural Color

Ann Veronica Janssens, a Belgian artist born in the UK, has been experimenting with installations of light and sound since the 1970s. Science and minimalism collide in immersive installations influenced by her early exposure to architecture. Using materials both tangible and intangible, Ann Veronica composes with light, transparency, and refraction. Glass, an architectural material, is used as a channel for emulations of biological transference of light and color. 

Guest Post by Amanda Wall

After the Peacock Wheel, at Bortolami Gallery in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, is an artist’s experimentation with a conceptual and material hybrid of science and sculpture. The complexity of Ann Veronica’s process involves research, collaboration with Dr. María Boto Ordóñez (an artistic researcher of structural color study), and emulating film interference and light diffraction.

What does this mean exactly? Film interference is light reflected from different surfaces of a thin film, for example, rainbow colors on a soap bubble. Structural color is the phenomenon that occurs in nature that creates the iridescence of a butterfly’s wing, a beetle’s shell, or a peacock’s feather.

The title of this exhibition suggests that Ann Veronica Janssens is imitating natural science rather than reinventing the wheel. She soaks optical glass scored with parallel lines with artificial melanin. When the melanin dries, it forms cracks Ann Veronica describes as “little accidents.” Light, structure, and chemistry combine to create a spray of royal colors: purple, blue, turquoise, and gold. The result is an aesthetically attractive sculptural object that embodies the human perception of light interference and diffraction.

Light, structure, and chemistry combine to create a spray of royal colors: purple, blue, turquoise, and gold.

Biologically, the experiment is successful if you consider the purpose of structural color in nature. Structural color is designed to attract a mate or serve as a camouflage as protection against predators. An artist using film interference as a tool to attract the viewer, as well as surrendering control over color, is as metaphorically clever as it is humorous. Ann Veronica Janssens is playing with her audience. She can seduce you and camouflage her emotions simultaneously. An experiment so scientific that the titles are dated and numbered, is protecting the artist from exposing the emotional side of art making.

Rather than plunging into assumptions about Ann Veronica’s psychological intentions or unconscious intentions, one could unpack another theory about the works’ connection to mythology. The preciousness of the beautiful creatures associated with reflective iridescence were revered in ancient cultures. The Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese believed in the collective symbolism of birth, transformation, and rebirth. Perhaps the absence of transparent emotion alludes to a deeper meaning transcendent of human fragility. Eternal life has been a common obsession among religions and cultures since the beginning of time. A transcendent experience from reality, or object in this case, to an alternative reality is a portal to the possibility of death, ascension, and rebirth. 

12.05.23 #1 is reminiscent of the scarab beetle of Ancient Egypt, which was a symbol of royalty, protection, and resurrection and represented a similar concept of eternal life in Ancient China. The rolling of beetle dung from sunrise to sunset was seen as a metaphor for the birth of the sun god Khepri. Early Roman Christians interpreted peacocks on the walls of the catacombs of Rome as a symbol of the mortal body traversing to eternal life in Heaven. 

The translation for butterfly in formal Greek is “psyche,” believed to be the soul of the dead. Psykhe (Psyche) was the goddess of the soul and the wife of Eros, god of love. In ancient Rome, the depiction of a butterfly flying out of the mouth of the dead symbolized the soul leaving the body. 

Mythologically these creatures were consistently considered precious for embodying the transformation of the soul through life, death, and rebirth. The color spectrum of iridescence: blues, purples, and golds have historically been associated with abundance and royalty. However, the ancients seemed to define abundance as the richness of the mind and soul. 

Surrendering to this concept of perception, the correlation to ancient philosophy and mysticism, in full awareness, differs from the more rational approach focusing on the literal, scientific and artistic process. Science and mysticism are often separated as unrelated. Art, therefore, presents ideas derived from nature either scientifically or mystically. The beauty of perception is its uniqueness to every individual. 

Through science and art, the illusion of a natural phenomenon can transport the mind further than the limits of reality and material.

Initially, the viewer is compelled to research and consider the methods, process and materials. When art stimulates intellectual perception, further meditation can lead to an interpretation of the senses and the soul. Through science and art, the illusion of a natural phenomenon can transport the mind further than the limits of reality and material. If structural color stimulated the concept of eternity for ancient cultures, the potential for contemporary art to challenge our extended perceptions is entirely plausible. 

Meditation before these works, rather than scanning, as you would, an interesting window on Fifth Avenue, is recommended. These works remind us of the passing of time and how the current architectural materiality of an urban landscape speaks to the conceptual complexity. Space and time are recurring themes in Ann Veronica Janssens’ site-specific oeuvre. She considers the environment as a component of the work itself. At Bortolami Gallery, the exhibition works as a collective experience within a white gallery space, as well as prompts investigation and a deeper dive of each sculpture. 

Ann Veronica covers all of the bases: intellectual and sensory stimulation and the eternal curiosity about transformation of the soul. All-encompassing stimulation can be a welcome challenge, if you take the time. Janssen’s intriguing work forces the mind to explore intensely thought-provoking and meaningful possibilities. Art absolutely should stimulate the butterfly (psyche) within. This work speaks to the anthropological evolution of humankind and our connection to nature as our intuitive guides. Fortunately, humans continue to have familiar innate metaphysical curiosities and Ann Veronica’s work is an inspiring catalyst.

© Amanda Wall (7/31/23) – Special for FF2 Media


Check out Ann Veronica Janssens’ exhibition at Bortolami Gallery.

Find more work to explore on Ann Veronica Janssens’ website.

Learn more about the history and legends of the scarab beetle and Psykhe.


Featured Photo: ‘YellowBluePink’ mist, light and colour abstract installation by artist Ann Veronica Janssens. The Welcome Collection (London). Photo Credit: Guy Corbishley (10/14/15) Alamy F48XG6

Middle Photo: 12.05.23 #1 at Bartolami Gallery. 

Bottom Photo: 03.06.23 #2 at Bartolami Gallery.

Photographs courtesy of Amanda Wall. All Rights Reserved.


Amanda Wall is a Brooklyn-based painter. She graduated from the University of Tulsa (OK) with a Bachelors of Fine Arts (Painting and Communication Design), and received a Masters of Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from Pratt Institute in 2020. Click here for CV and samples of her work on her website.

Tags: After the Peacock Wheel, Amanda Wall, Ann Veronica Janssens, Belgium, Bortolami Gallery, Film interference, Manhattan, María Boto Ordóñez, Structural Color

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