The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) is one of the region’s most anticipated exhibitions. With a geographical reach that furnishes the Triennial with a diversity few art museum exhibitions can achieve, the series has grown to become central to the discourse on art in the Asia Pacific.
‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT8) has developed out of the concerns facing the Asia Pacific region over the last three years. These concerns can be celebratory, like the triumph of art practices in places lacking supportive infrastructure, or propelled by a re-appraisal of common materials into wondrous, imaginative structures. For many artists, however, the focus has been the social and political pressures that are currently shaping the region. Economic development and crisis; environmental exploitation and natural disaster; technology, democracy, human rights, border disputes; and the operation of the politics of nationhood, are ideas that pervade contemporary art in this part of the world. Our global connectedness means that people separated by geography can also share similar interests and participate in concurrent world discussion, if at arm’s length. The sheer volume of information and our ubiquitous exchange has the effect of flattening individuality and diversity, on the one hand, and galvanising opinion, building momentum and catalysing social and cultural change, on the other. The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the anti-nuclear movement in Japan and the political turmoil in Thailand and other parts of South-East Asia are examples of political movements that have played out in an ever-expanding public sphere.
APT8 features a number of artists who seek ways to build new social and cultural relationships and structures. For some, this requires a more complex and nuanced comprehension of history; for others, it involves the creation of relational spaces. In varying degrees, all express a hope for collective social renewal and variously engage the vulnerable, sensate body.
The conscious and deliberate activation of the body as a motif or instrument in contemporary practice is a palpable thematic thread throughout the exhibition. In simple terms, performance — or rather, an idea of performance as a reflection of the dense variety of social and cultural positions that might be encapsulated by the vast geographic expanse of Asia and the Pacific. A diversity of devices and approaches offers a highly layered understanding of the breadth of practices that illustrate how the body is employed in space; practices that draw out nuance, respond to history, champion the vernacular and create critical spaces for art. This APT asks, what makes these bodies reflective of their histories and environments? What can be learnt, and how can individuality be reinserted?
As its ephemerality dictates, performance often emerges or exists outside of the museum context, or is developed as a critique of it, and we are now placed at a discursive juncture where it becomes increasingly institutionalised and historicised. Performance artworks and documentation have recently become more actively collected by museums, and survey exhibitions and re stagings of works by performance artists are taking place with increasing regularity. It seems timely to consider a form that has always had a central position in Asian and Pacific art (and been an enduring element of the APT), but whose presence has expanded so considerably within the international contemporary art sphere over the past decade.
More than merely presenting a snapshot of art from in the region, the APT series also helps us to question prejudices around the role of the museum, and the institutional representation of varying creative practices. Over 16 years ago, the APT featured an example of the vernacular traditions of India,1 which was considered controversial by some factions of the art establishment and stirred wider criticism of the inclusion of vernacular practices in the realm of contemporary art. APT8 revisits some of these earlier conversations through a major project titled Kalpa Vriksha: Contemporary Indigenous and Vernacular Art of India. The exhibition project features 19 artists whose practices look to a range of traditions and inherited knowledge drawing from a diversity of locations, customs and belief systems. Components of traditional techniques are adopted, while others are discarded, as these artists experiment and re-evaluate their own creative devices and apply them to new contexts.
Yumi Danis (We Dance), a project co-curated with ni-Vanuatu songwriter, musician and author Marcel Meltherorong, brings together dancers and musicians from Papua, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. A conscious response to issues of translation and the contextualisation of contemporary Pacific performance for a broader audience, Yumi Danis is staged as an immersive multimedia installation, animated throughout the duration of the exhibition with live performances.2 Working closely with Meltherorong, Kanak artist Nicolas Molé has created an interactive multimedia landscape through which visitors are transported, via image, sound and dance, to the lands of Papua and the Ring of Fire imagined and articulated by Meltherorong in his poetic writing on this project.3 Visitors enter the space through the tangled roots of a banyan tree, found so often in the heart of a Melanesian village. A path opens up in the form of a sand drawing design, which we must try to fathom and then follow in order to enter into this cultural realm. The darkened forest surrounding the village beckons; if we watch closely, we are rewarded with glimpses of animated animals, spirit figures and the villagers as they watch us from this mysterious, darkened space.
Cinema has played an important role in the APT since 2006, highlighting key practitioners, cinema histories, and lines of influence between the moving image and other forms of cultural production in the region. Three projects have been developed for APT8 that frame particular religious geopolitics, cultural and aesthetic concerns: ‘Pop Islam’ (co-curated by Khaled Sabsabi), ‘Filipino Indie’ (co-curated by Yason Banal), and a program of works by artist–filmmaker Lav Diaz. Together these projects reflect on the agency of the moving image in its varied contemporary forms and provide a platform to present some of the most engaging artists and filmmakers working throughout the region. Within the context of the broader exhibition, the APT8 cinema projects reveal the way the body continues to be activated by social, political and economic structures. Ultimately, the Asia Pacific Triennial looks for incongruities — artworks, practices and concepts that make us look twice, rethink or revisit what is expected. Performance, the body and its relationship to politics and society may provide the thematic underpinnings of this iteration of the APT, but the ultimate role of exhibition projects like the APT is to bring artists together, to generate knowledge and understanding, and to create a space for change.
This is an edited composite, created from texts by Maud Page and Aaron Seeto, Tarun Nagesh, Ruth McDougall, Russell Storer and José Da Silva that feature in The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, the exhibition’s accompanying publication.
1 The artist Sonabai, from rural Chhattisgarh in central India, re-created her now celebrated domestic structures of clay figures and latticed jali (screens) for APT3 in 1999.
2 This includes a selection of the 15 dancers from across Melanesia who took part in the Yumi Danis (We Dance) creative exchange as part of the Emyo Tinyo Festival on the island of Ambrym, Vanuatu, in November 2014. These dancers included Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea–Australia), Lucy Efi (Papua New Guinea), Sam Roem (Papua– Australia), Katalina Fotofili (Fiji), Ratelevu Tora (Fiji), Michael Maetarau (Solomon Islands), Andrew Tamata, Steve Williams, Anderson Laurin, Tio Massing, Manuella Kelep (Vanuatu), Simane Wenethém and Richard Digoué (New Caledonia).
3 Marcel Meltherorong, ‘From the lands of Papua’ [curatorial statement], email to Ruth McDougall, November 2014.
The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016
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Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia