Collector’s Paradise is a continuation of Joan Ross’ critique of Australia’s colonial legacy, using archival intervention to disrupt methodical nationalisms that are endlessly perpetuated by their archival existence.
The exhibition was divided into four stylistic sections, featuring: hand-drawn mixed media with typewriter font on paper; hand-painted digital collages of headless birds; an animation, I Give You a Mountain; and, hand-coloured pigment prints on cotton rag paper, drawn from the aforementioned animation. Each style references their colonial subjects and are linked together through florescent high-vis colour schemes, while suggesting the modern-day pervasive undertones of coloniality. Jars, naturalist drawings, and museums are common motives of the ‘collection’ theme of the show. The irony also spreads to the audience, with the tongue-in-cheek nature of the art collector becoming involved in this narrative.
Ross’ hand-drawn mixed media works contain typewritten sentiments such as “their webs were the silkiest I ever felt,” and “I have long thought though, their labour might be turned to advantage,” which are reminiscent of colonists’ diary entries and naturalist inquiry. The text is juxtaposed with images that don’t quite fit their description, as use of the archive entangles Western knowledge formations. The hand-painted digital collages of headless native birds follow suite, with their titles (e.g. A Very Rare Bird) and florescent colours highlighting the ongoing erasure of wildlife as an enduring colonial legacy.
This leads to the sprawling animation, I Give You a Mountain, hidden behind a closed curtain. Here, the audience are led through a dystopian museum. Their voices on the opening night drown out the audio, except for the occasional birdsong. They are presented with a flooded entrance, with floating designer handbags and the moss reclaiming what it can. Down the hallway, headless native birds are visible in jars as well as colonists, with only their heads remaining. Pigeons exist freely. Daytime telly, sales balloons, and commercials loop endlessly as the audience are led outside to the mountains. This appears to be the end of time, with ∞ (infinity) sprayed on rocks. We are greeted by two colonists, whose heads remain in tact – even after the mountains crumble and their bodies turn to dust. The repercussions of colonial pursuits are endlessly pervasive.
Marked beside the hand-coloured pigment prints on cotton rag paper are black circular stickers denoting sales or commercial interest. Modern-day consumerism and suburbia encroach on these works, creating a displaced timeline amalgamation of archived coloniality that often remains dormant. By rearranging their existence as ‘charged objects’ in the public sphere, Ross’ works reconsider historical narratives, bringing attention to the effect of coloniality in disavowing and dispossessing Indigenous peoples’ from their land; the silent remnants and ongoing structures of colonialism affect all aspects of contemporary Australia. Ross’ use of the archive interrogates modes of representation through various styles. Collectors Paradise shows Ross comfortable in carrying these amalgamated motifs through varied and thoughtful works.