APT8: They say you never forget your first time
Thursday 18 February 2016 Share FacebookDelicious Email

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Carrie McCarthy walks us through her first Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, as one of our biggest fans, we invited her in for a photo shoot and a chance to reflect on the exhibition series.

I was sixteen and doing work experience at the Gold Coast Art Gallery. My supervisor had received a fax (!) about a brand new exhibition of Asian and Oceanic art being launched at the Queensland Art Gallery, and for some inexplicable reason I was put in charge of taking a group of volunteers up to see the show. God knows why they thought I was responsible enough to get 22 octogenarians there and back safely, but as one of the volunteers said to me on the day “at least you’re young enough to remember where the bus is parked.” Obviously I survived the experience, as did the volunteers, but boy was it a birth of fire. Forget my first APT? I couldn’t if I tried!

It’s extraordinary to think how much the Asia Pacific Triennial has grown in the last 23 years. Back then there was no GOMA, and Queensland Art Gallery was a very somber sort of place. Beautiful, with its watermall and cascading indoor garden, but quiet and controlled, and interminably solemn. To see it full of experimental Asian art and tribal motifs was a challenge for some people I think. I certainly remember the conversation on the way home getting rather heated when it came to what constituted art. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone really knew what to make of it in those early years. I think perhaps there was a certain level of resentment that the Gallery was being given over to artwork from other countries. I mean, why take the Charles Blackmans off the walls to make way for Asian artists, or even worse, New Zealanders? Weren’t our artists good enough? It’s a cringe worthy memory, but one I remember pretty clearly.

Reflecting on all the APTs I’ve seen since, it’s occurred to me that each iteration has been as much an indication of how society was maturing as it was an example of the changing face of contemporary art from the region. As QAGOMA has widened the scope of inclusion, so too has the APT widened the audiences’ perspective on the world. From 13 countries in 1993, to 36 nations in 2016, many of them places we don’t often include in our imagining of the Asia Pacific region – places like Iran, the UAE and Georgia – all brought together to share their cultures, celebrate their connections and consider their influence on each other. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for Australia, when you think about it.

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This year, particularly, I have been delighted by the intimacy of the works included, and the sheer beauty with which some pretty confrontational concepts have been presented. Where previous years have featured big, bold statements that scream their message across the Gallery, APT8 is more restrained and introspective, forcing audiences to get up close to the artworks to appreciate their content, or sit in darkened rooms and wait as the artist slowly reveals their intent. It is an APT that rewards the audience by revealing itself a little more with each visit. What it lacks in Instagram-friendly exhibits it makes up for in contemplative moments, and I for one don’t mind the chance to lose myself in its meditations.  

Carrie McCarthy | Cultural Flanerie

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

Delve into QAGOMA TV for all our APT8 videos and more
Explore APT8 with artist and TV chef Poh Ling Yeow

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Buy Draw, Make, Create the APT8 Kids activity book
Flip through our sneak peek of Draw, Make, Create
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Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia