Visiting Brisbane, Part 1 of 2
After the sunless days in Tromsø this last January, it was positively antipodal to fly into Australia during February with CA+E Archivist and Librarian Sara Frantz. We were there to help open the exhibition of the Paruku Project in Alice Springs, which we’ve been working on for two years. Alice would be about 90ºF warmer than Tromsø–but more about that in the following blog. First, let me tell you about visiting Brisbane and the seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT).
Most of Australia’s population is concentrated in the three largest cities of its East Coast: Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Founded in the state of Queensland around 1825, Brisbane is the youngest of the three, but its conurbation now runs to three million people perched around the serpentine spine of the city’s perpetually flooding river. Global warming every year brings closer the possibility that saltwater crocodiles from up north will be documented in downtown Brisbane waters.
We flew out of Los Angeles and crossed the international date line to arrive in Brisbane fourteen hours and a day later. With a long layover, we decided to take the train into the city so we could visit the APT, which was at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. The APT is the museum’s signature contemporary art event. It focuses on Asia, the Pacific region, and Australia, and is unique among biennials by virtue of commissioning and collecting significant portions of what it shows.
Once inside the museum, we were greeted by Huang Yong Ping’s Ressort, a fifty-foot-long aluminum snake reminiscent of a dragon stripped bare by the artist that connects sky and water. If Ping’s sculpture is a metaphorical totem for the deconstruction of traditional Chinese symbols, then the large-scale commissioning of a facade akin to those found on a Papua New Guinea men’s spirit house was a more literal recreation of totemic architecture. These two works set up a dialogue that would be carried throughout the exhibition between old and new, original and appropriated themes, the minimal and the maximal.
One of our favorite works was Takahiro Iwasaki’s cedar model based on the Byodo-in, a tenth-century temple outside Kyoto. This elaborate miniaturized structure, suspended from the ceiling to hang in front of viewers, was so elaborate it seemed more like a hologram than a solid object. The play in scale between Ping’s snake and Iawasaki’s temple was yet another oppositional strategy in the exhibition.
Perhaps the most striking concatenation of old and new was the translation by Aboriginal painter Daniel Boyd of his dot paintings into a multimedia experience. Luminescent dots coalesced, broke apart and reformed constantly in a darkened gallery bringing alive the duration and experiential nature of Dreamtime.
APT7 mounted more than 200 works by 75 artists from 27 countries. Its contents ranged from works that would once have been considered ethnographic objects more fit for an anthropology museum than an art venue, to multimedia works that would rest seamlessly in the Venice Biennale. Its very strength, in fact, rests upon the diversity of the region, which was reflected almost–but not quite–to a fault in the massive exhibition. Urbanization, industrialization, the overthrow of traditional icons, the creation of cultures neither Eastern nor Western–overall we found it exhilarating. Then it was back on the train to the airport and a flight to Melbourne and the interior.