The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial (APT6)

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APT6 8Roo and I have managed for the past few years to synchronise visits to his family with the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, a.k.a APT, the flagship international art exhibition of the Queensland Art Gallery and which the spectacular Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane was built to house. The APT never fails to excite and engage us, and the APT6 is no exception. It is also possibly the most child-friendly art exhibition in the world.

We visited the APT6 in December 2009. Whilst I could have stayed all day, it is a measure of how engaging the exhibition is that with both Roo’s septuagenarian mother and nearly-four-year-old Tash in tow, we spent four hours wandering the galleries.

APT6 16The APT has a dedicated kids’ program–Tash is holding the guide in a couple of the photos. There are 17 activities outlined in kids’ apt, of which Natasha’s favourite was The Play House by the Japanese team of YNG, artist Yoshitomo Nara and architectural/design firm graf. Located under the escalators on Level 1 of the GOMA, the play house invites you in to take a seat and add drawings to a range of sketchbooks on topics such as ‘Favourite Place’, ‘My Treasures’, ‘Angry Girl’, ‘Night Time’ and ‘Monsters’. You can also add to a growing collection of small objects by leaving something behind. Tash loved the space and kept returning there throughout our time at the APT6 to add more drawings to the library.

But for the most part, APT6 2Tash was engaged by the APT exhibition as a whole. She was captivated by the Iranian animation, part of a program called The Cypress and the crow: 50 years of Iranian Animation; I joined her to watch The Sparrow and the Boll, exquisite animation designed in textiles. She was also intrigued, as we all were, with PixCell – Elk#2, a work by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa: a stuffed elk, apparently bought on ebay, covered in glass beads in varying sizes (all situated on Level 1).

Tash and Roo spent some time in the media gallery on Level 2 dedicated to the video animations of Hiraki Sawa, 10 short films making up an installation called O and including footage of flying birds silhouetted against the central Australian landscape.

Liminal Air - descend 2007On the same level, Tash and I literally stumbled into Liminal Air – descend 2007, an installation in an enclosed space of white threads suspended from the ceiling and cut into waves so that you ‘disappear’ into the work, the further you move into it. I laughed when I read the official APT6 program description of the work as “creating immersive ‘liminal’ zone offering a profoundly physical experience in which audiences might consider ideas of eternity and the sublime.” Tash and I were less preoccupied with ideas of eternity than we were with playing hide-and-seek in a ‘forest of spaghetti’. And when I was too tired to run after her anymore, I enjoyed sitting back and watching others discover the joy in this piece and the dancing movement created by this engagement.

APT6 5I’ve honed in on work by Japanese artists in this post, but the APT6 boasts excellent work from artists throughout Asia and the Pacific. Other highlights for me:

  • The psychedelic installations of Indian artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra that highlight the dreams and costs for Punjabi young people of emigrating to other countries
  • Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom’s photographs Waiting for the King 2006
  • Sopheap Pich’s rattan and bamboo sculptures inspired by the memory of travelling across Cambodia with his family in the wake of the Khmer Rouge
  • Australian artist Tracey Moffat’s hilarious montage Other 2009 on the portrayal of ‘the native’ in cinema

APT6 11There are also some wonderful contributions by Chinese artists. Chen Qiulin’s reconstructs a traditional house in Xinsheng Town no. 275-277, that was demolished to make way for urban development related to the Three Gorges Dam project. This is extraordinary both for the insight it provides into the way the poor in China live, as well as a symbol of what can be sacrificed in the name of development. Also worth watching is his video Garden (2007) that follows flower sellers as they traverse new urban developments in the same area.

People holding flowers 2007 by Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing is a standout work, deceptively light-hearted at first glance, but a scathing critique of post-Cultural Revolution consumerism in China. The work has been purchased for the QAG collection.

APT6 32Roo commented that much of the Chinese work is bleak and depressing, which is true, but it also indicates a liberalisation in the arts, too: a departure from the triumphalist propaganda of the past, which can still be seen in the works from the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, which were commissioned for the APT6. The inclusion of the North Korean works was controversial, and the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister refused to grant visas to allow the artists to visit with their works. Personally, I welcome any chance for insight into this most secretive of countries, and the North Korean works are striking and technically stunning.

There so much more that I haven’t even mentioned – the stunning mirror mosaics of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, the colossal paintings of Shirana Shahbazi, Subodh Gupta’s metal sculptures… I could go on and on. But not now. I’m too busy monitoring websites for discount airfares so I can get back to Brisbane and visit the APT6 again before it finishes on 5 April 2010. And as I write, Tash has just seconded that idea, saying ‘I want to go back to that white b’sgetti.’

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