Joan Ross: Did you ask the river?

Joan Ross: Did you ask the river?


This event has ended and tickets are no longer available.


7–31 Mar 2019

Discover vibrant, yet unsettling, colonial landscapes in this interactive VR experience.

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

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

Unlike many VR experiences, participants were placed in a body – that of an 18th century colonial woman – and became uncomfortably complicit in her unwitting destruction of the landscape.

About the work

Did you ask the river? was the second Mordant Family VR Commission, 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 Professor Cav. Simon Mordant AO 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? saw the engaging aesthetic style of her collage works translated into a room-scale VR context. Participants were given the agency to alter the landscape with implements and sweeping gestures, as their virtual body mirrored their physical movements.

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.

Commission Partners


Our commissions support the creation of new works by providing artists with the time and resources to nurture and develop ideas, to pursue cross-disciplinary collaborations and to work at a scale that would not otherwise be possible.

Zanny Begg, The Beehive, 2018; courtesy the artist. Photograph by Philippa Bateman, featuring Koco Carey