review swapper


In Melbourne on February 11, 2010 at 11:41 am
Ross Coulter
Seventh Gallery, 3–20 February 2010

Ross Coulter, 'Prelude', Seventh Gallery, 2010

Dear Evan

Viewing and reviewing the work of friends can be a fraught experience. I found this out when I read your novel a couple of weeks ago and was hyper aware of the care with which I wrote my response. Today I find myself in a similar position as Rose has asked that I kick off this Artpals relationship with a review of my old friend Ross Coulter’s latest show at Seventh Gallery.

The reason I say that the task is fraught is not that I feared the work would be dreadful (it wasn’t!) and that I may have had to weigh truth against friendship when I wrote about it, rather it’s because in both circumstances I am in the odd position of having prior or other knowledge than a regular punter would and this surfeit of knowledge is tangled up for me with the pull of narrative and the experience of experiencing other people as narratives.

In many ways that is what both you and Ross are for me – memories of things we’ve done together and the stories you have told me over the years. And though I know some pretty juicy details about you both, I’m equally aware that there are billions of events that make up your life of which I’m unaware and I’m not sure what roles these stories (whether known to me or not) might play in your work, other than the ones my inherent propensity to narrativise everything create.

Ross Coulter, documentation of casting process, 2010. Photo by Tom Burles.

This predicament is amplified in this particular situation because I think that Ross’s practice has almost always been directly concerned with Ross. With that said, this is one of the first shows where literal representations of Ross haven’t been physically present in the work. For years I’ve watched as he cast himself large in photographic self portraits, in drawings of himself he commissions others to make, in videos examining bits and pieces of his daily life (in ways both excruciatingly banal and fantastically existential), during his early career as a roving reporter and TV host and in his most recent incarnation as a dancer. Yet even though Ross isn’t literally or figuratively in his latest show, for me he is unavoidably present and he’s there because of a story.

Years ago Ross told me that he once worked in the State Library and one day on his lunch break he wandered into the great domed atrium that at the time was closed for renovations and while standing on the top balcony he fashioned a paper plane and launched it into the reading room below.

VK. Why did you do that? RC. To see where it would go.

VK. Where did it go? RC. Down.

VK. Where did you expect it to go? RC. I thought that it would hover and float around.

When I walked into the show and negotiated the clusters of paper planes suspended from the ceiling and made my way through to the concrete figure/building/block at its center it was this story that came back to me and directed my viewing experience. And while there is much that could be said for the pale-on-pale palette, the materials and the tension between those things that squat heavily, are suspended and hang lightly near us in this show (and that is what Ross chose to speak about the day I visited him in the gallery), what these formal and material elements serve to highlight for me is one very specific body that negotiates and defines itself in relation to these positions and forces. That body for me is Ross’s body and it is his unique obsessive concern with fixing his Rossness, experimenting with how this Rossness might extend into the world and with articulating his unique Rossy umwelt, that makes any Ross Coulter exhibition such a singular event.


Review by Veronica Kent to swap with Evan Maloney
  1. Hey there, I thought the top image might be a prickly self-portrait of Ross. The second one, for some reason, reminded me of Mother Theresa with an axe in her face.

    I am going to write my dinosaur review tomorrow. Why did I ask your opinion like a student submitting a proposal to a teacher?

    I’m looking forward to it.


    I’m just getting back to normal here. I think your experience has been shared by many friends (of Ross’s, mine, and many other artists). I’m yet to get a negative response yet regarding the book, but after a critic vilified the ending, a few friends have agreed they didn’t like the ending either.

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