One of the world’s great long running art exhibitions has opened again in Brisbane. The eighth Asia Pacific Triennial is a once every three years showcase of the best and most vibrant art from the Asia and Pacific regions in one of the best art galleries in the world: Brisbane’s Gallary of Modern Art or QAGOMA as it has renamed itself (Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art). The name may be awkward but there is nothing awkward or forced about the art, which is true reflection of the most vibrant part of the world.
Whether the exhibition is dealing with post Soviet trauma in Central Asia, life in the Bangkok banlieus or Aboriginal nationhood, APT8 brings a refreshingly deep perspective that is an antidote to the bland isolationism of modern Australian life. APT is the flagship exhibit of QAGOMA and its eighth incarnation emphasises the role of performance in recent art, with live actions, video, kinetic art, figurative painting and sculpture “exploring the use of the human form to express cultural, social and political ideas, and the central role of artists in articulating experiences specific to their localities.” There are works from over 80 artists and groups, with ongoing performances and projects, a conference and cinema programs, publications and as always, plenty of activities for children.
Asim Waqif creates large scale installations from leftover and found objects. Waqif was born in Hyderabad, India in 1978 and now lives and works in Delhi. His work All We Leave Behind dominates the entry space to APT8. Prior to the exhibition Waqif visited Brisbane to learn about the history of building and demolition in the city. He collected worn timbers typical of south-east Queensland construction and used nooks and crannies of art gallery space to construct an edifice that is labour intensive and unplanned but also inviting. Waqif is fascinated by the concept of waste. In a 2013 interview he compared waste to archaeology. “One can speculate about the habits of a person by looking at the waste he/she generates,” he said.
Eddie Mabo was probably the most famous person to come from the Torres Strait island of Mer (formerly known as Murray Island) but an important elder on the island today is Segar Passi. Passi began painting in the 1960s, observing sealife, birds and weather, and painting portraits, daily life, and Creation narratives. Passi encourages people to be mindful and respectful of their environment, important social and cultural practices and knowledge. His works study the volcanic islands off Mer and Passi references the physical features of the islands and their geological evolution. His paintings speak of a profound and culturally embedded knowledge of place, with geological links to the ancient volcanic landscapes of Papua New Guinea.
Burmese artist Nge Lay‘s large-scale installation The sick classroom (2013) came out of years of research and regular visits to Thuye’dan, a village ten hours north of Yangon (Rangoon). With husband and fellow artist Aung Ko, Nge Lay established the Thuye’dan Village Art Project in 2007 which shared art of the villagers working with some of the most successful artists in Myanmar. Nge Lay also worked closely with local craftspeople to create sculptures that are the basis for her recent sculptural works. The sick classroom features life-size carved wooden sculptures of the classroom, the teacher and 26 first-year students. The installation is a call for better rural education in Myanmar.
Paphonsak La-or’s realistic drawings and paintings are critiques of the politics and history of his native Thailand. ‘Silent no more’ 2014-15 features empty landscapes around Fukushima and Futaba abandoned after the 2011 tsunami and 2011 nuclear disaster. Through Google Maps, La-or discovered a connection between these uninhabitable but lush landscapes and his frustration with the political situation in Thailand around the 2014 military coup. La-or emphasises the contradictions between the peaceful Japanese scenes and the Thai turbulence using jarring text rendered in dust.
STAB is the School of Theory and Activism, Bishkek in the capital of Kyrgyzstan. STAB is an artistic, research and activist platform informed by Soviet avant-garde art and activism. STAB runs animation workshops on dominance of the Russian language in Central Asia, urban development, and post Soviet homophobia. STAB also examines the Kollontai commune, a Soviet era queer communist and feminist collective associated with the architecture school in Frunze (now Bishkek) in the 1970s.
Rosanna Raymond draws on her New Zealand, European and Samoan heritage in the multi-art installation and performance event SaVAge K’lub. Savage Club was a British 19th century gentlemen’s club but Raymond’s K’lub places more emphasis on the VA’ within SaVAge, a term invoking Samoan philosophical understandings of space. This, says Raymond, “is an active space. It is activated by people. It binds people and things together. It forms relationships, and reciprocal obligations.”
Leang Seckon lived through Year Zero and the Khmer regime in Cambodia. A generation of artists was wiped out leaving a visible gap in the country’s contemporary art. Leang’s dense paintings have lush tapestry-like surfaces, that combine myth, popular culture and history. Hell of Tuol Sleng 2014 depicts a high school that became a notorious prison and death camp. “In 1977, when I was about seven years old, I had a serious fever and I fainted and was taken to a hospital near Tuol Sleng,” Leang said. “When I went to shit behind the building, I saw troops wearing black uniforms taking a very skinny person, almost like a ghost, to plough the fields. The person couldn’t even walk, but the soldier hit him and brought ants to bite him. The person fell onto the rice field. I hid beside a small group of trees and felt horrified.”
Like Paphonsak La-or, Navin Rawanchaikul is a Chiang Mai Thai artist who draws inspiration from Japan. Navin exhibited in APT2 (1996) and his panoramic figurative paintings draw on film posters and murals. APT8 features ‘Tales of Navin 1–4’ 2013-15 capturing the many stages of his career accompanied by a letter From Navin to Navin (January 2, 2015) that reflects on his relationships, love and death. These include the death of his mentor Thai artist Montien Boonma and Rawanchaikul’s trips to Australia to assist Boonma in the 1990s.
Guangzhou artist Duan Jianyu’s playful work uses erotically charged imagery and humour to parody Chinese and colonial life. Her faux-naïve style owes to Revolutionary Realism and the French Barbizon school portraying rural peasant women carrying giant geese with snaking, phallic necks echoing European modernist ideas into China post-Cultural Revolution. She draws attention to tensions between urban and rural, and tradition and modernity in a society undergoing enormous change.
Chilean-born Australian painter Juan Davila has six works in APT8. They draw on references including 19th century Parisian advertisement posters with Davila devising his own typefaces and fonts. Hung as a group they address the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia using barbed wire and people of mixed gender and races.
Mongolian artist Gerelkhuu Ganbold’s painting Soldiers Who Don’t Know Themselves (2013) is a vertical triptych, depicting mounted horsemen in armour riding through a vast desert space. On close inspection the armoured suits are either empty or inhabited by skeleton figures, sitting up on their horses in a ghostly way. Gerelkhuu draws from Mongol zurag painting and equestrian art, and contemporary comics and science-fiction cinema. His horde recalls Genghis Khan while also commenting on modern Mongolia which is rapidly urbanising and undergoing economic overhaul.
APT8 is free at QAGOMA, Southbank, Brisbane until April 10, 2016.