ACMI, The City of Melbourne & The Mordant Family VR Commission present

Joan Ross: Did you ask the river?

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Did you ask the river? is the debut VR work from one of Australia’s leading visual artists, Joan Ross.

In the style of a first-person videogame, you're given free rein to explore an interactive 3D extension of Ross’ vibrant, yet unsettling, colonial landscapes.

Unlike many VR experiences, you're placed in a body – that of an 18th century colonial woman – and become uncomfortably complicit in her unwitting destruction of the landscape.

About the work

Did you ask the river? is the second Mordant Family Commission VR, a three-year program worth $240,000 that supports Australian artists who have never worked in VR before to create new works in this medium, funded in partnership with philanthropists Simon Mordant AM and Catriona Mordant AM, the City of Melbourne and ACMI.

Joan Ross’s work is deeply critical of the colonial history of Australia, using open narratives, disruptive chronologies, and faux playful collaging to re-vision nineteenth-century European aesthetics. Her acclaimed video works combine visual elements from a variety of early colonial Australian paintings and contemporary life, so as to re-conceptualise and problematise our relationship to both. The resulting videos are irresistibly beautiful, while illustrating the brutality of colonialism’s legacy through a lens of black humour.

Developed in collaboration with Dr Josh Harle at Tactical Space Lab in Sydney, Did you ask the river? sees the engaging aesthetic style of her collage works translated into a room-scale VR context. Participants are given the agency to alter the landscape with implements and sweeping gestures, as their virtual body mirrors their physical movements

How to participate

  • Did you ask the river? runs for approximately 7 minutes
  • One person can participate at a time
  • No bookings required - drop in to Future Lab on the Federation Square level between 10am and 5pm

About the artist

Joan Ross is an established artist working across the platforms of video animation, print, sculpture and installation. Joan’s work investigates globalisation and colonisation, with a particular focus on reconfiguring the colonial Australian landscape and drawing attention to the complex and ongoing issues surrounding first contact. Joan has exhibited extensively, including numerous solo exhibitions locally and internationally. In 2016 and 2017 her work was included in Today Tomorrow Yesterday and Recent Acquisitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Tracks and Traces: Contemporary Australian Art at The Negev Museum of Art in Israel, as well as exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia, UQ Art Museum and numerous other galleries. Joan was recently awarded the Glenfiddich Artist in Residency in 2016, which saw her spend four months living and working in the Scottish Highlands. She is the recipient of numerous awards, grants and prizes, including Australia Council Projects and New Work grants. Her work is held in major public and private collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Kaldor Collection, Campbelltown Arts Centre and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Joan lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

About ACMI Commissions

ACMI commissions new screen-based works through our range of vibrant commissioning programs, including the $100,000 Ian Potter Moving Image Commission, which supported Angelica Mesiti’s The Calling (2014) and Daniel Crooks’ Phantom Ride (2016).

We have premiered commissioned works including Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS (2018) and Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto (2015).

In addition to the Mordant Family VR Commission, we've established the $70,000, three-year Artbank + ACMI Commission. The inaugural Artbank + ACMI Commission was awarded to artist and activist Zanny Begg for her video installation The Beehive (2018).