We look back at all the Queensland Art Gallery’s Watermall installations from 1993 — ten memorable Asia Pacific artist projects encompassing almost three decades.
The Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) was designed around the Brisbane River and the Watermall within the Gallery runs parallel to the waterway threading its way through the river city. This grand water feature is the Gallery’s most striking feature and a visitor favourite — the perfect backdrop for these spectacular installations. Always surprising, always inviting, what has been your most-loved Asia Pacific Triennial?
APT1 | 17 September 1993 – 5 December 1993
Tradition and Change
‘The First Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT1) focused exclusively on the contemporary art of Asia and the Pacific. Originally intended as the first of three exhibitions in the series, APT1 brought together nearly 200 works by 76 artists from 13 countries and territories, informed by concepts of tradition and change in the region. The overwhelmingly positive international reaction to APT1 paved the way for future major exhibitions of contemporary Asian and Pacific art.
APT2 | 22 September 1996 – 19 January 1997
The Waka Collective
While the first Triennial looked at bringing the past into the now — ‘The Second Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT2) focused on the time at hand. The exhibition concept of ‘present encounters’ meant engaging the immediate present in the works themselves.
The Watermall featured the Waka Collective, a collective of New Zealand/Polynesian artists located within the concept of two wakas (Maori canoes), one containing five men (Chris Booth, Brett Graham, John Pule, Peter Robinson and Ben Webb) and the other six women (Bronwynne Cornish, Judy Millar, Ani O’Neill, Lisa Reihana, Marie Shannon, and Yuk King Tan). Together, they create one Pacific narrative.
APT3 | 9 September 1999 – 26 January 2000
‘Beyond the Future: The Third Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT3) emphasised artists whose works cross boundaries between past and future, and between traditional and contemporary life, with many works inviting audience interaction.
Cai Guo-Qiang explored the meeting of cultures with his narrow bamboo suspension bridge Bridge Crossing. Spanning the Watermall, the crossing made you consider whether to back up and make way for the other to cross, or consider how to allow each other to pass, eventually enchanting visitors with a spritz of fine mist who successfully made it past the central meeting point.
APT4 | 12 September 2002 – 27 January 2003
The installation of the Gallery’s Narcissus garden is an incarnation of the reflective work that has held the artist’s attention for many years. Kusama creates a floating carpet of mirrored spheres, the balls reflecting the building’s architecture back onto itself from an infinite number of angles, creating a world that is both trapped and indefinite.
Comprised of approximately 2,000 mirrored balls, the spectacular and mesmerising Narcissus garden was conceived especially for installation in the Watermall during ‘The 4th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT4), the work shaped by both the currents and the limits of the water.
APT5 | 2 December 2006 – 27 May 2007
Composed of 270,000 crystal pieces, Boomerang is a site specific work created for ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT5), an imposing example of Ai Weiwei’s strategy of working playfully across cultural contexts. Shaped after the iconic Australian Aboriginal throwing tool, this oversized, intensely lit, waterfall-style chandelier fills the soaring space above the Watermall as if it were in a hotel’s grand foyer.
Ai Weiwei has a history of bringing everyday things into art museum settings. He has long acknowledged the influence of early-twentieth-century artist Marcel Duchamp, who famously brought otherwise banal objects into a gallery and declared them art, thereby creating the ‘readymade’. Accordingly, Boomerang takes the chandelier, with its connotations of wealth and opulence, and enlarges it to absurd scale, shaping it into the motif of an object associated with exotic conceptions of Australia.
APT6 | 5 December 2009 – 5 April 2010
a thousand doors and windows too…
Some of the artists in ‘The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT6) explored elements of architecture in their work. Ayaz Jokhio’s major architectural Watermall project, entitled a thousand doors and windows too… takes the form of an octagonal building, with each wall containing a mihrab, or niche, which in a mosque points toward Mecca.
The soaring structure takes its inspiration from the verse by Bhittai, the great Sindhi Sufi poet of the late Mughal era. Jokhio considers the work a piece of ‘conceptual architecture’; a physical translation of Bhittai’s expression of the omnipresence of God. As in the Islamic tradition of ‘hidden architecture’, its focus is on an internal, enclosed space, in which the work truly exists ‘only when entered, penetrated and experienced from within’.
APT7 | 8 December 2012 – 14 April 2013
The Gallery commissioned Ressort by Huang Yong Ping, one of the signature works of ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT7). The gigantic aluminium snake skeleton dominated the Watermall as it spiraled 53 metres from the ceiling to the floor, as if coming down from the sky with its skull floating just above the water, metaphorically linking sky and water.
Part of a series of large-scale sculptures that depict a snake or dragon, a central symbol in Chinese culture, as well as in many other countries around the world, the work plays on different interpretations of the snake, from creation and temptation to wisdom and deception.
APT8 | 21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016
Sol LeWitt Upside Down – Open Modular Cubes (Small), Expanded 958 Times
Haegue Yang transforms spaces through light, colour, objects and movement to ensure a constant shift in perception and experience. Sol LeWitt Upside Down — Open Modular Cubes (Small), Expanded 958 Times consists of 1,012 white Venetian blinds, arranged into grids and suspended from the Watermall ceiling in an inverted and expanded rendition of the ‘open modular cube’ structures, signature works of American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928-2007).
Yang appropriates, up-scales and upturns this classic motif. Where LeWitt’s cubes were solid-edged, open-sided and made-to-order from industrial producers, Yang’s are impressionistic, created by arrangements of ready-made household blinds whose overlapping slats may be read as either open or closed, depending on the position of the viewer.
APT9 | 24 November 2018 – 28 April 2019
My forest is not your garden
My forest is not your garden is a collaborative installation by Singaporean artists Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui. A critical take on attitudes towards the natural world of the tropics, the installation integrates Ong’s evocative arrangements of artificial flora and tropical exotica — titled From the tropics with love — with Zhao’s The Nature Museum, an archival display narrating aspects of Singapore’s natural history, both authentic and fabricated.
APT10 | 4 December 2021 – 25 April 2022
The fibrous souls
Over more than 20 years, Kamruzzaman Shadhin has developed new possibilities for contemporary art in Bangladesh, based on the communities of his home village, Balia, in the far north-western state of Thakurgaon. Suspended over the Watermall The fibrous souls is a collaborative installation by Kamruzzaman Shadhin and the Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts.
Constructed with 70 giant shikas — embroidered, reticulated bags typically made of jute strings that are tied to an exposed beam — The fibrous souls explores part of Bengal’s colonial history, inspired by the families that followed the railway tracks after the British East India Company established the Eastern Bengal Railway. Working with 13 women from jute-making families to construct the shikas, along with a handful of local craftspeople to create the pots and connecting jute ropes laid out as a map of the historic railway.
Elliott Murray is Senior Digital Marketing Officer, QAGOMA
Featured image detail: Kamruzzaman Shadhin / Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts Bangladesh, est. 2001 The fibrous souls 2018–21