The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) has announced that UNSW Art & Design alumna Joan Ross is the recipient of the second $80,000 Mordant Family VR Commission.

The high profile commission has been created through a partnership between philanthropists Catriona and Simon Mordant AM with the City of Melbourne and ACMI. The VR commission builds on ACMI’s existing creative technology initiatives and cements ACMI as a leader in developing artists working at the forefront of digital platforms.

Joan was awarded the commission following a highly competitive selection process that included a shortlist of outstanding artists: Chris Caines and Alex Davies (UNSW Art & Design), Unknown Fields, Phillip George (UNSW Art & Design), Baden Pailthorpe (UNSW Art & Design), and Khaled Sabsabi (UNSW Art & Design).  

This year’s winning commission was selected by a panel of national and international industry experts including; Natalie Kane, Curator of Digital Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; John Allsopp of Web Directions; Rebecca Coates, Director of the Shepparton Art Museum; Seb Chan, ACMI Chief Experience Officer; Fiona Trigg, ACMI Senior Curator; and co-chairs Simon Mordant AM and ACMI Director and CEO Katrina Sedgwick. The commission is held annually over three years and supports Australian visual artists with an established gallery-based practice to experiment with and extend their craft using VR.

One of Australia's leading contemporary artists, Joan has worked across a range of mediums including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video and digital animation. Her bold and experimental practice investigates the legacy of colonialism in Australia.

The Mordant Family VR Commission will enable Joan to work in collaboration with internationally recognised digital artist and researcher Dr Josh Harle (UNSW Art & Design), to transform her dynamic 2D animations into immersive worlds using the medium of VR.

“I’m overjoyed to be the recipient of this exciting commission and would like to express my gratitude for the generous support offered by Catriona and Simon Mordant, the City of Melbourne and ACMI. The commission will allow me to experiment and play in the arena of VR and I can’t wait to get started,” said Joan. 

Joan's proposed work is titled; Did you ask the river? In the style of a first-person video game, participants embody an 18th Century colonial woman and are given free reign to explore an interactive 3D extension of Joan's signature, vibrant yet unsettling, colonial landscapes.

The basis of the work and concepts explored were developed as part of a Tactical Space Lab VR Studio residency, during which Joan collaborated with artist and creative technologist Josh Harle in translating the engaging aesthetic of her collage works into a room-scale VR context. Through this incubator style studio, Joan and Josh were able to experiment with this mode of experiencing her work, test the allowances of the underlying game engine, and explore the implicit ethics and politics of the medium.

“In establishing this commission, we sought to offer established artists the chance to harness the creative potential of VR to extend their practice. Joan Ross powerfully persuaded the judging panel that not only did VR offer a new canvas but its immersive and interactive qualities would enable her to challenge the viewer in different ways though an artwork that powerfully explored the ongoing legacy of colonisation,” said ACMI Director and CEO Katrina Sedgwick. 

“Joan was one of six shortlisted submissions, each of which was extraordinary. However Joan stood out as an established visual artist with an excellent exhibition history locally and internationally and she had carefully considered how VR could enhance her artistic practice. Catriona and I are excited to see how Joan uses virtual reality to create Did you ask the river?” said Simon Mordant AM. 

In addition to financial support, Ross will receive expert advice and support from ACMI in the development phase, as well as a work space in ACMI’s vibrant Southbank co-working studio for the screen industries, ACMI-X.

Did you ask the river? will premiere at ACMI and an edition will be accessioned into ACMI’s collection. 

The Mordant Family VR Commission for Australian artists is worth $240,000 over three years. Entries for the 2019 commission will open towards the end of 2018.