Tripping Through Time

Joan Ross, I give you a mountain, 2018

In her six-minute video animation, I give you a mountain (2018), the artist Joan Ross takes us on a ride through the Enlightenment. A journey back in time to the origins of the modern museum, we slowly progress through mossy grottoes and caves filled with exotic objects and creatures. Along the way, we are introduced to the work of another artist, Sarah Stone, who painted the natural history collection of Sir Ashton Lever in 1786.

In 1775, Lever showcased his collection of over 27,000 objects sourced from around the world in a museum he opened in London. Some of them were contributed by Captain James Cook from his second and third voyages of discovery and included: ethnographic material, shells, butterflies, fossils and plants. These are the curios with which Enlightenment collectors filled their cabinets – objects of wonder that were taken in the course of colonisation.

Stone was commissioned to record Lever’s collection before it was sold off and her paintings are important works of art and historical documents. It is these paintings which Ross animates. She situates the objects in mysterious caves of hi-vis moss that open out to rooms that become increasingly strange and clinical, in which bewigged men of the Enlightenment become specimens themselves.

Ross plays with conventional colonial imagery to explore postcolonial thought. She uses portraits of ‘Great Men’ to critique the culture of exploitation and consumption that came with imperial expansion. In the final scene of I give you a mountain, which ends in a barren mountain landscape, she calls time on their outdated conceptions of history and progress. Here, the male representatives of the Age of Exploration, like the land around them, are dissolved into dust and blown away.