10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane

LYN DI CIERO

Wotje Weavers feature at the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

To fly. On a plane. Is wonderful! Nearly two years after Covid-19 upended the planet, an opportunity to travel to Brisbane presented itself during a magical combination of Queensland being classified as Very low-risk, meaning no isolation was required on return to WA, and the installation of the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art shown across both the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. This trip narrowly missed the arrival of Omicron in Queensland, first reported there on 8 December and WA’s subsequent reclassification of the state as Low-risk, meaning fully vaccinated arrivals from Queensland to WA must now quarantine for 14 days, and be Covid tested both 48 hours after touching down and on day 12 of quarantine.
 
The flight was almost full of people, with masks de rigueur on the plane and inside airports both here and in Brisbane. A feeling of wonderment and unbelievability at finally travelling after so long was difficult to ignore: the excitement of being involuntarily thrust back in your seat as plane engines quickly raced to full speed towards lift off; that light feeling of the plane finally becoming airborne, climbing steadily towards the clouds with crosswinds providing the odd bump; the usual plane food in dinky trays, and the feeling of hope this might be the return of a normality we once knew. Armed with the essential Queensland Travel Declaration, a Covid-19 Certificate and a G2G Pass to re enter WA, the Check in Qld App installed and photo ID at the ready, it seemed somewhat disappointing when arrivals from WA, the safest state in the nation, simply waltzed through to baggage unchecked.           

Outside the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane The High/Perpetual Xmas, No Abstractions, 2008 by Scott Redford references motel signage from the 1950s and 60s. 

Across both the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art the massive 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art features 69 projects by emerging and established artists and collectives from more than 150 people in an astounding 30 countries. Recent and new commissions tell stories of travel, journeys, migration, political upheaval and connection to place. The exhibition is layered with issues facing our contemporary world from a vast range of First Nations cultural perspectives, including co-curated Indigenous art from Taiwan; cultural expression from Northern Oceania; pre colonial exchange between the Yolngu of north-east Arnhem Land and the Masassans of South Sulawesi in Indonesia; contemporary ceremonial culture from Papua New Guinea’s Uramat community, and engagement with Pasifika communities.
 
Wotje Atoll is one such community in the Pacific. Around 4500 km north east of Brisbane, Wotje is one of 75 islands which form the Ratak Chain of the Marshall Islands. Just 45 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide, Wotje’s population in the 2011 census was 859. Sighted by a Spanish expedition in 1542, the Marshall Islands were claimed by Germany from 1884-1914 as a trading outpost, and later by Japan from 1914-45, becoming a major seaplane base overrun by over 4000 Japanese military personnel and forced Korean labour. The base was destroyed by allied bombardment with many Marshallese Islanders and Japanese killed in the process. A power station and electrical infrastructure had been installed during this time, with Wotje women now repurposing the copper wire and war era cables to create expressions of beauty and kindness. 

Box Orange 19, 2019, silkscreen and hand-painted on ceramic 39 x 43.5 x 33 cm, by Kimiyo Mishima (Japan). ©Kimiyo Mishima, Courtesy of the artist and MEM, Tokyo.

A selection of works by Japanese artist Kimiyo Mishima is remarkable. Mishima creates utterly convincing ceramic replicas of everyday objects, which closely resemble the real thing. She describes her work as ‘breakable printed matter.’ Born in 1932, she is known for her wry humour and material sophistication. Mishima first came to prominence in Japan as a painter in the late 1950s and 60s, collaging newspaper and magazine clippings to oil on canvas as a play on the emerging consumer culture. In 1971, she turned to ceramics, mimicking ordinary objects such as newspapers, manga, strips of film and post boxes. In this exhibition, Mishima presents a selection of ceramic works from across her career, including a cluster of paper shopping bags and a stack of 1960s single-colour handbills, buckling and folding like cheap paper. A group of fruit box works are packed with individually cast and detailed ceramic newsprint pages. Other works include a pair of dented dustbins, one stuffed with ceramic renderings of cardboard boxes, the other filled to the brim with no fewer than 90 ‘aluminium’ cans, their colourful designs reproduced in exquisite detail. For Mishima, waste is a sign of overproduction. In beautifully crafted, deliberately comical handmade replicas of consumer detritus, she satirises the throwaway mentality of a society who generate much more than they can sustainably process.
Thai artist Thasnai Sethaseree uses scale and spectacle as a means to comment on issues in contemporary Thailand and the world. His massive works at first appear to be an abstract, seething mass of collaged materials. Up to 40 layers of collaged materials make up each work, including coloured paper and fragments of Buddhist monk robes, and begin with a skyline photograph of a business district in Bangkok. Hidden within the work are images of cancer cells, scientific diagrams of tumours, the twilight sky, lava flow, ghosts, skulls, ocean creatures, the lyrics of Paul Simon’s song The Sound of Silence, suggesting censorship, and sky maps from the dates of coups in Thailand in 1981, 2006 and 2014.
 
There is much to enjoy at the Triennial. Diverse and interesting, the exhibition is one of many boosted by a $26.8 million commitment by the Queensland government to support blockbuster shows since 2016. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says her government will continue to support exhibitions such as this because the arts sector and the local jobs it supports are a critical part of Queensland’s economic recovery plan. “Blockbuster funded exhibitions advance cultural tourism, boost the economy, and extend Queensland’s profile as a global cultural hub ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympics when our arts experiences will be showcased on the world stage,” she says.    

It’s unclearly clear, as yet incomplete, (detail) 2017-21, paper collage, Buddhist monk robes, urethane, metal, three parts: 400 x 800 cm (each), by Thasnai Sethaseree (Thailand). Commissioned for APT10. Purchased 2021 with funds from Metamorphic Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation. Photo courtesy the artist ©Thasnai Sethaseree.

Queensland Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch says the government has already provided more than $79 million in initiatives for the arts and cultural sector in response to Covid. She says the 2021-22 Budget continues this support with more than 90 million invested in the arts sector. “This includes a dedicated $6 million over three years for blockbuster funding to attract more of these incredible exclusive exhibitions to Queensland. The arts contribute $8.5 billion each year to the state’s economy and support more than 92,000 jobs for Queenslanders and we’ll continue to do everything we can to support it through these challenging times.”
 
Before leaving the Triennial there’s a reminder of its 30 year history in Brisbane – Boomerang, by internationally renowned Chinese-born artist Ai Weiwei, is an oversized boomerang-shaped chandelier measuring 700 x 860 x 290 cm, which was the centrepiece of the Fifth Triennial in 2006-07. Comprised of 270,000 crystal pieces and hanging majestically over the Queensland Art Gallery’s Watermall, the impressive work was later gifted to the QAGOMA collection by the artist. 
 
Then it’s back to Perth. Documents again at the ready, the corridor leading from the plane at Perth Airport leads to what looks like voting booths, only the back of each one is perspex, and behind each one is a police officer in gloves and mask. The G2G Pass needed to enter WA is required to be pressed up against the perspex, its QR code scanned, and photo ID checked. Somehow this check and verification of every passenger seemed appropriate, and you know you’re back home in the safe, so-called ‘hermit state.’ 
 
The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art is on show at the Queensland Art and Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art until 25 April, 2022.
 
Boomerang by Ai Weiwei is on show at Queensland Art Gallery until 30 January 2022.   
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