Review: Joan Ross, “Enter at Your Own Risk” GBK

by Alex Wisser

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.

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