Joan Ross by Emma Kindred
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
In the animated video work Colonial grab 2015 Joan Ross continues a pattern of visual response to the ‘creep’ of high‑visibility fluorescent yellow into the everyday environment. As more and more workers took on this uniform of authority following the September 11 attacks in New York, she ‘noticed that you could do anything you wanted to the land whilst you were wearing it, without being questioned. I began to use it as a metaphor for Colonisation as I saw it beginning to colonise my environment’.(1)
The ugly clash of fluorescent yellow against the heaving red of patterned carpet suffocates the room where the ‘Colonial Grab’ poker machine spins and clicks. A bonus win on the pokie transports us to the ancient rock formations of Kata Tjuta, the sky burning orange. We hear the murmur of a gaming lounge, punctuated by a distant call of a magpie. A hi‑vis insect with surveillance camera eyes buzzes through the landscape.
We then arrive in a room set with an ornate centre table and John Glover’s Natives on the Ouse River, Van Diemen’s Land 1838 on the wall.(2) Using trees stripped out from Glover’s painted landscape of lutruwita/Tasmania, the colonial lady engages in the Japanese art of flower arrangement, ikebana. Ross’s referencing of this traditional practice highlights the imposed structuring and control over nature as ‘an act of total disrespect and disregard, which is how I see the impact of colonialism’.(3) Sporting a terrific mass of ostrich features to coordinate with the hi‑vis yellow of her dress, the colonial lady is drawn from the eighteenth‑century Grand Manner portraits of English painter Thomas Gainsborough. Her dominating presence alerts us to the violent intrusion and ongoing burden of the British Empire on the sovereign lands of Australia’s First Nations peoples.
Ignorant of the small figures of Palawa Tasmanian Aboriginal people that become part of her display, the colonial lady arranges the curved forms of eucalypts into vases. This ‘improved’ vision of nature is then reintroduced into Glover’s landscape. The lady and her gentleman companion enact a bobbed curtsy before the vases are placed upon the land, suggestive of an offering. Yet nature refuses the restriction of order and bursts from the vases, leaving shattered shards among felled limbs.
The heavy legacy of colonisation on First Nations peoples and Country is at the heart of Ross’s multi‑disciplinary practice: ‘One of the reasons that I make the work that I do is that I’m very aware, and I don’t think you can be anywhere in Australia and not be aware, that we’re on Indigenous land. And I’m constantly aware of the colonial influence, and the disjunction between that and nature.’(4)
(1) Joan Ross quoted in ‘Joan Ross—2015 Glenfiddich Artists In Residence winner’, Byron Arts Magazine, 5 July 2016, at byronartsmagazine. com.au/blog/2016/6/28/joan-ross-2015-artists-inresidence-winner, accessed 28 October 2019.
(2) Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
(3) ‘The art that made me: Joan Ross’, Art Sets, Art Gallery of New South Wales, at artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artsets/cswl4f, accessed 18 October 2019.
(4) As above.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Kindred, Emma. "Joan Ross" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 318–319.
EMMA KINDRED is is Curator, 19th Century Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.