Joan Ross: Enter At Your Own Risk

Posted on October 26, 2010

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Joan Ross, "Enter At Your Own Risk' installation, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Barry Keldoulis.

Joan Ross has titled her solo show, Enter At Your Own Risk. So consider yourselves warned. This exhibition is extremely bright. Ross presents an almost monochromatic simulacrum of a domestic interior. But the one colour isn’t soothing shades of grey; it’s a lurid, almost virulent, fluro yellow.

It might seem like Ross has just returned from studying interior design in some kind of parallel universe where too much kitsch is never enough and hazard yellow is the new black. But Enter At Your Own Risk is just the latest stage of the artist’s ongoing project in which she symbolically pokes her fingers into the puss laden, festering wounds of Australian history.

Ross seems to have envisaged a suburban lounge room through the filter of a nightmare. Tacky replicas of 18th century figurines are mutated by sprouting protrusions of kangaroo fur and shocking yellow appendages. In several instances her figures seem to literally embody the phrases “dick-head” or “air-head”, as their quaint ceramic visages are replaced by grotesque stuffed phalluses in yellow vinyl, or large cloud-shaped fabric blobs. Captain Cook, sometimes represented just by his cocky hat, lurks in every corner and everything has been invaded by overwhelming, insidious yellow. It’s weird and funny. And horrible. And this, of course, is the point. For those who were already here, what the West so euphemistically calls colonisation was an invasion and to say it was a nightmare is a hopeless understatement.

Joan Ross, 'Once upon a time in Great Parrotland (rowboat)', 2010. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Barry Keldoulis.

In the ‘backyard’ of her twisted home, Ross offers some respite from yellow. In her DVD, When I grow up I want to be a forger, an idyllic Australian landscape by convict artist Joseph Lycett is animated and accompanied by a soundtrack of gentle music punctuated by the harsh cries of native birds and the odd airplane or cruise ship (modern instruments of colonialism). Eventually a large clipper crash-lands on the shore, smashing a ring of bright red safety cones; a none too subtle metaphor for the devastation wrought by the colonial interlopers.

In fact, none of the show is subtle. But then neither is invasion. Appropriately, this exhibition is an ocular assault.

Tracey Clement

Joan Ross: Enter At Your Own Risk is on at Gallery Barry Keldoulis until November 13, 2010.

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