UJI HANDOKO EKO SAPUTROThe New Prophet, 2011. Polyester resin and air brush.Collection of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. Courtesy Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

TAKAHIRO IWASAKI, Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss), 2010–12. Japanese cypress, wire. Courtesy the artist and Arataniurano, Tokyo.

RICHARD MALOY, Big Yellow, 2012. Cardboard, paint, wood. Courtesy the artist and Sue Crockford Gallery, Auckland.

KWOMA ARTS, Koromb, 2012. Sculptures and paintings similar to those found in a ceremonial men’s house (koromb) in the village of Tongwinjamb, in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Courtesy Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

The Seventh Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

The seventh edition of the Asia Pacific Triennial (APT7) marked the 20-year anniversary of the flagship art exhibition of the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). When APT began in 1993, its organizers suggested a ten-year trajectory for getting to know the Asia-Pacific region and its art. Today one can appreciate the breadth of QAGOMA’s tremendous archival work, through its Asia-Pacific art collection and its research facilities, as well as through newly commissioned projects for APT7 inspired by the exhibition’s two-decade history. 

“The 20-Year Archive” project invited artists and collectives who regularly incorporate archival processes in their work—including Heman Chong, MAP Office, Raqs Media Collective and, under the title [disarmed], Torika Bolatagici, Mat Hunkin and Teresia Teaiwa—to engage with the archives of QAGOMA and APT. Chong’s sound installation Asia / Pacific / Triennial (2012) encouraged audiences to enter a red room through an opening, where they heard repeating words and phrases, selected by QAGOMA curators and reworked into poetic form by Chong, describing APT’s history. 

APT7 also reflected on the temporal through a focus on ephemerality in art. Indeed, the most exciting artworks in the exhibition engaged this curatorial interest. Among these was a series of works by Papua New Guinea artists including traditional masks and headdresses and boldly painted structures that form part of ceremonial houses in the East Sepik River region. The labor invested in these aesthetically rich forms is meant to ensure the longevity of ancestral spirits and cultural knowledge, rather than to secure the permanence of the object, thus revealing a tension between the modern institution’s impulse to collect and archive, and the ephemeral nature of objects often purpose-made for one-off rituals. 

Ephemerality was further explored in Richard Maloy’s Big Yellow (2012), a seemingly glowing, blob-like mass. Upon entering its empty interior, visitors discovered its humble, degradable construction of common industrial materials: cardboard, tape and yellow paint. By contrast, in Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi’s “Fakalava”series (2003–12), intricate, balsa maquettes are placed alongside coconut-husk-made lashings, highlighting the aesthetic complexities and precision of Pacific visual language. Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss) (2010–12), by Takahiro Iwasaki, also portrays the complexity of structural design principles. By re-creating Japan’s Byodo-In Temple as a suspended “double-image,” the line between reality and reflection becomes indistinguishable, evoking Zen-Buddhist notions of transience and permeability. This ethereal quality continued in Nguyen Manh Hung’s Living Together in Paradise (2009), an intricate reconstruction of the cramped “vertical village” apartment buildings of Hanoi. Nguyen surrounds them with a heavenly cloudscape, suggesting this mode of dwelling will continue in the afterlife. 

This year, APT extended its geographic scope to West Asia. The feature exhibition,“0 – Now,” included photographs, videos, sculptures and multimedia installations by artists from the Middle East and Central Asia. Slavs and Tatars’ installation PrayWay(2012) served as a centerpiece—an intended point of gathering and conversation enabled by a communal seating structure draped with a rug that echoed the form of a prayer-book stand. While there is a regional logic in separating the West Asia section, a dispersal of these artworks within the main exhibition may have afforded more interesting resonances. 

APT7 marked the largest Indigenous Australian inclusion in the exhibition’s history (five out of the seven Australian artists), and together these artists offered a strong focus on Indigenous histories, changing cultures and the impact of colonialism—issues that critics feel have not always been adequately addressed in previous editions of APT. In his photographic series “Civilised” (2012), Michael Cook explores the first encounters between Indigenous peoples and Europeans. By inserting Indigenous peoples into the roles of Western colonizers, Cook asked viewers to ponder what it is that makes one “civilized.” Lorraine Connelly-Northey’s oversized, rusted-iron sculptures offered commanding reinterpretations of narbongs (hunting or collecting bags), recalling the traditional hunter-gatherer practices that were interrupted by colonization. In his four-channel film, A Darker Shade of Dark #1–4(2012), Daniel Boyd showed an animated, Indigenous “dot painting” that pulls viewers into a web of dark matter and brilliant stellar configurations. 

APT7 marked a strong return of Indonesian art, focusing on younger artists. From his “Trinity” seriesstreet artist Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (aka Hahan) presented The New Prophet (2011), a sculptural installation of a grotesque, “two-faced” curator, whose one side is swallowing an art book, while the other consumes wads of cash, evoking a pressing dilemma for Indonesian artists today: how to balance commercial and critical success. Jakarta-based art collective Ruangrupa extended APT7’s archival theme by installing a mini-museum filled with quasi-documentary memorabilia based on a fictional 1970s Indonesian rock band called The Kuda (“The Horse”).

A predominance of painting and painterly techniques was seen across APT7. Vietnam-based collective the Propeller Group presented a large-scale, collaborative portrait, created with street artists Shamsia Hassani from Afghanistan (who was rendered in the painting) and El Mac from the United States. Raqib Shaw’s “Paradise Lost” series (2001–11) allured audiences with its mythological scenes of animal-human hybrids painted in dazzling metallics. Nguyen Thai Tuan’s more somber Black Painting No. 80(2009) depicted a headless man seated on a chair with his hands behind his back, literally decapitated of his identity. Malaysian artist Phuan Thai Meng showed The Luring of [ ] (2012), a dystopian, concrete cityscape spread over an enormous six-part panel, which addresses formalist concerns of painting with its ripped canvases spilling onto the floor.

Even the handful of filmic works on display offered painterly images, especially in their evocation of slowness and stillness. Fiona Tan’s Cloud Island (2010) portrayed the quiet, slow-paced life of a diminishing and aging community on Inujima, an island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Yuan Goang-Ming’s three-channel video installation, Disappearing Landscape – Passing II (2011), was a standout piece, suggesting time passing and cycles of life. Switching between slow- and fast-paced “push-forward” and “pull-back” camera movements, the film simultaneously captures an array of shifting images—the sea, a reconstruction of the artist’s deceased father’s study, clusters of tree-top branches, the artist and his family in their home and Taiwan’s city roads by night. The work elicits deep sensitivity and empathy toward matters of human loss and joy, portraying a sense of everyday life in suburban Taiwan. 

Loss was also eloquently expressed in the multimedia installationFukushima Esperanto (2012) by Tadasu Takamine. A moving tribute to the victims of the Japanese earthquake and Brisbane floods in 2011, the artwork traces shared experiences of memory and loss. Installed in a darkly lit, site-specific theater, it combined light, text, operatic music and abandoned belongings symbolic of the disasters, which visitors viewed from a purpose-built platform.  

APT7 was refreshingly focused in its curatorial premise, with its attention to aesthetic form and structure, exploration of time and temporality as well as place and space, and the ephemeral and enduring. Predominantly reflective in tone, it highlighted art that is contemplative and measured yet arresting and enchanting, and invited audiences to pause and reflect. The exhibition’s focus on the archive encouraged retrospection, urging attendees to consider existing histories and those yet to be recognized. What was lacking, however, was a more active invitation to the public to engage with the actual archives of APT and QAGOMA. An extended critical debate on how the APT archive gains its shape and legitimacy, and what that collection offers for the future, is wanting. Undertaking this task would be a valuable step for assessing the future of APT, as well as contemporary Asian and Pacific art.