For European explorers across the Fifteenth to Eighteenth centuries, Australia was a fantastic, geographically remote, ‘island’ continent. Australia represented a wunderkammer filled with curious animals, plants & cultures waiting to be ‘discovered’.
Early cartographers decorated maps of ‘Terra Australis’ with illustrations of extraordinary animals inspired by their encounters on the ‘island’. Transformed by the rare glimpses experienced by their illustrators, Australia’s native animals assumed a supernatural demeanour. However, these fantastical illustrations paled in comparison to those reserved for the unexplored sections of maps titled ‘Hic Svnt Dracones’, where the cartographers illustrations would cross into the realm of pure fantasy as they imagined what lay across the great, yet unexplored, horizons.
To ROA, ‘Hic Svnt Dracones’ (Here Be Dragons) exemplifies the long-lost sense of wonder that compelled exploration into the unknown. The title also represents the biter irony that, ultimately, this personal quest for knowledge by individual explorers would become a tool of imperialism. A curiosity that would ultimately give way to colonialism, blood and extinction.
The relationship between humankind’s sense of wonder and the destructive footprint left in it’s path is the central theme of this exhibition. ROA is a modern reincarnation of the early explorer, he is driven by the same need to discover and catalogue nature. However, rather than exploring pristine ecosystems, ROA revisits the continents, centuries after colonisation, picking through the wreckage of civilisation and following up on the state of nature.
ROA’s work re-illustrates the animals that once fuelled the imaginations of early explorers, transposing them against the brick and debris of their new environments.
‘Hic Svnt Dracones’ no longer represents the fantastic danger waiting for us in the unexplored lands beyond the horizon. There is nothing left to explore. For us, now, ‘Hic Svnt Dracones’ represents the dangers of an unknown future, into which we are equally compelled and remain just as blind.
From the 3rd to the 19th of June, Backwoods Gallery will be presenting ‘Hic Svnt Dracones’, the latest exhibition by ROA. The result of a modern expedition, the show will explore the impact of western civilisation on Australia’s native fauna through illustration, sculpture and installations.