In Australian slang, BBQ this Sunday BYO means Barbeque - Bring Your Own Alcohol. It is an invitation, in this case to re-enact the process of colonisation through the modern cultural ritual of an Australian summer picnic. Joan Ross invites us to gather in an Australian landscape painted by convict Joseph Lycett, an Englishman transported for the crime of forgery. Ross forges the forger, rearranging his 1800’s view to accommodate a contemporary history story.
On what was once Lycett’s shore, the BBQ has already begun. Freshly caught fish roast on a campfire tended by a group of Aboriginal people. Above them, the untouched southern night-sky flags their ownership of the meeting place beneath it, as they wait for guests with dubious manners. The colonials arrive late, flying in on a tartan carpet, bringing a barrel of rum and a bright yellow High Visability (hi-vis) designer handbag. They are accompanied by the drone of a blowfly, the sound that signals the beginning of the Australian summer and the inevitability of unwanted pests. The visitors are an ornate ceramic couple, overdressed for a BBQ, perhaps grotesquely. Their fluorescent slinky-toy-hats wobble arrogantly as they move through chartered airspace onto already occupied land, wilfully unaware that the trappings of their social status are out of sync with local customs. As their flying carpet lands abruptly, it unsettles the party momentarily, causing a host to quickly gear up as if for an emergency.
Modern hi-vis colours of emergency grow in the ancient landscape as more guests appear, bringing their own artefacts of civilisation. As the crowd around the BBQ grows, the fluorescence that at first seemed out of place becomes almost natural. Important figures from Australian colonial history arrive, yellow-cladded but empty handed; a man with a pixelated face and a safety-jacketed dog brings a dead kangaroo; a giant kangaroo brings gourmet sausages in a plastic bag. The party seem almost oblivious to the Tall Ships sailing past behind them, dragging the bright comforts of another world toward a flat edge that the vessels tip over. As the BBQ continues, the fluorescence fills the airspace with gaudy sprirographs that hide a tiny smallpox molecule that will wreak havoc on the Aboriginal people. As the bacterial speck melds and rises into the cloud of colour, it morphs into fireworks: the sight and sound of a modern Australian celebration filling the frame.
In BBQ this Sunday BYO, hi-viz yellow no longer signals an emergency, it signals the commonplace and the ordinary. Ross associates the acceptance of the colours of catastrophe into our modern lives with disastrous civilisation.
Dr Lisa Armitage