Fall 2015

Saturday 12/12/2015

Christian Thompson. "Trinity I," "Trinity II," and "Trinity III," (2014); Type C photograph. Courtesy Queensland Art Gallery.

Report From the Asia Pacific Triennial 8

At the first edition of the Asia Pacific Triennial in 1993, Doug Hall, director of the Queensland Art Gallery, noted how Australia’s near northern neighbors were still in common reference exotically known as the “Far East.” The following years have seen this exhibition morph through eight iterations, including editions with work from more than 160 artists and a pared-down version of just 17. Meanwhile, Brisbane has also seen the opening of a new venue, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)—which more than quadrupled the existing exhibition space and was built with this hallmark exhibition in mind—as well as the growth of the institution’s reputation as the foremost leader in acquiring and exhibiting work from the Asia Pacific region, tangible development that speaks as well to shifts in the consciousness of a viewing public.

In its eighth edition, which includes 80 artists (from locales including Mongolia, Nepal, and Soloman Islands), the show has no unifying visual thread, nor does it seem that artists hailing from the same country share much of an aesthetic with their compatriots. For the first time, however, a suitably nebulous curatorial theme, movement and the body, unites the work. It could be this development that makes the show feel both visually diverse and curatorially tight—one in which Filipino artist Maria Taniguchi’s monochrome brick paintings might be recalled when met, three floors up, with a conveyor belt carved with traditional designs by Gunybi Ganambarr, or where David Medalla’s dish-soap sculpture will bring to mind the snakelike plastic tubes trailing behind the motorbikes in Uudam Tran Nguyen’s three-channel video installation, Serpent’s Tails, 2015.

Immersive environments—often with collaborative or performative details—recur throughout. Dominating GOMA’s central, three-story-high gallery and visible from every floor is Indian artist Asim Waqif’s All we leave behind are the memories, 2015, a clicking, vibrating installation made of rough timber common to Queensland architecture. It’s a family pleaser, embedded with lights and sensors offering a playground-esque invitation to interact. For Ils vous regardent (They look at you), 2015, Nicolas Molé projects a vibrant animated forest-scape on the walls of a third-floor gallery, which contains, in the form of a traditional Kanak hut, a more contemplative inner room lined with slow-moving figures on flat-screens and scented with an earthy pandanus-leaf flooring. Rosanna Raymond’s SaVAge K’lub project, 2010–ongoing, usurps the stereotype of colonial gentleman’s clubs with an installation and performance space made in collaboration with the K’lub’s 19 members, and Lawrence English’s droning sound installation, Audition, 2015, changes drastically depending on where the listener is situated in relation to the concave objects at either dimly lit end of the room. These environments provide a more experiential involvement with the themes at play, prompting a cultural submersion of sorts for visitors.

This triennial is flexible in the demographics it anticipates, serving multiple audiences—both art-world types and locals experiencing firsthand the continuing shift in their country’s regional identity. The curators’ treatment of place displays a genuine engagement with visualizing and defining what it means to live in and be from this newly designated area. In a region marked by fluctuating political lines, and in a nation that still struggles with the ramifications of its own violent colonial history in a unified territory once made up of hundreds of different countries and distinct language groups, GOMA should be acknowledged for its transparent attempt to incorporate the societies and cultural groups that make up the place we are coming to understand as the Asia Pacific.

More often than not, the artists here cannot name one single place to identify with, having left their first home for any number of reasons, from political strife to furthering their education. And those who do have a place to call home are, in many cases, exploring other cultural influences, on both their work and their surroundings, wrought by history of place, access to global communities brought on by rapid changes in technology, trends in immigration, and family legacy. Examples include Thailand-based Paphonsak La-or’s painted landscapes made from Google Maps aerial footage of the Fukushima area; Juan Davila’s paintings, which draw from both his Australian and his Chilean heritage; the London-based, Australian-born (hailing from the Bidjara people of Western Queensland) Christian Thompson’s video and images that merge international pop culture with his indigenous heritage; and Pacific artist Len Lye’s films and sculptures, which owe as much to the patterns he encountered in Maori culture as they do to the kinetic art scene he was involved with beginning in the 1930s. As an understanding of what it means to be a part of the relatively new designation Asia Pacific has become more sophisticated, so too has the Asia Pacific Triennial followed the dialogue, exploring this larger identity and the ones that it encompasses through such wide-ranging cultural production.

The Asia Pacific Triennial runs at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia, through April 10, 2016.

From the Blouin Artinfo online posting by Juliet Helmke (Class of 2012) on December 7, 2015.