Originally published 2010-11-10 on carnivalaskew.com
Joan Ross’ “Enter at Your Own Risk” at GBK looks like the living room of a poor man’s King Midas. The objects within it do not betray great wealth. The room is a patchwork of stylistically diverse commodity culture, kitsch, and cheap decorative home-ware seemingly selected by a sentimental taste with a cheap sense of humor and a penchant for colonial themes. Almost everything within it has received the transfiguring touch, not into gold but fluro or hi-vis yellow.
Perhaps this is how a poor king might live: in the facsimile of wealth, comfort, and taste that our modern commodity culture has made possible. Such a world is informed by the poverty of its illusion and the cheap disposability of it’s values and at the same time it is sustained by complacent privilege and a sense of sovereign entitlement. The aristocratic culture, and the history of sovereign colonial rule that informs much of this taste is degraded in station by the plebian material circumstances in which it finds itself expressed. In modern society, sovereignty itself has become poor.
This is the world that Joan Ross presents to us by painting it fluro. The color seeps into the creases that define this world, like the staining agents that doctors use to reveal a malignancy, injury or disease; this color also isolates, lifting into view, a quality or dimension that is otherwise invisible beneath the unarticulated surface of the world. What you see are the objects, lifted from the obscurity and indifference that familiarity shrouds them in, and rendered each as unique and resonant depositories of those values and relationships that we incidentally imbue them with.
Ross pursues this meaning relentlessly, teasing it with dark humour, mutation and mutilation that comment upon those values and the absurdity of their vehicles. Strange growth, fungal forms, cancerous and organic, spring forth, drawing connections between the trite, sentimentalized kitch object and the dark history of which it is the product. She does this not to lecture us on the violent and criminal history upon which we have founded our present world, but to marvel in partially horrified awe at the absurdity of it. The fact of these artifacts is that they are how we possess our past, our most heinous crimes are rendered anodyne to decorate our living rooms and impress our friends at dinner parties. Ross’ absurdities accuse our world in a satirical allegory that reveals itself only when you realize that they are redundant — that the objects she has made are not nearly as absurd as the objects she’s made them from.