Asim Waqif: ‘All we leave behind are the memories’




Installation views of All we leave behind are the memories 2015

Through his art practice, Asim Waqif explores the reuse of recycled materials that are often discarded by the ‘development’ of the city into a public space. It is this throwaway society that is represented in his perspective and also in his APT8 installation, All we leave behind are the memories 2015, a sprawling timber installation across two gallery floors. Here, we provide an insight into the exhibition design processes behind the work.

When I met with Asim Waqif, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale and magnitude of his installation proposal for APT8. With an architectural background that complimented his ambition and artistic vision to create this extraordinary and gigantic installation work in GOMA’s Long Gallery, I was a little apprehensive as to how we could facilitate this. It could only be described as a poetic and chaotic blend of architecture and multimedia, bracingly different to anything previously exhibited here.

The artist’s arrival in Brisbane in July 2015 was an opportunity to explore the exhibition space and to investigate the acts of destruction, demolition and discarding. We located businesses that collect abandoned Queenslanders1 for potential material for the project. This in turn led us to timber salvation yards, like Kennedy’s, which have provided us with much of the material in this installation. Large ruin-like slabs of wood, gnarled and greying, were discarded parts of old bridges, wharves and buildings from in and around Brisbane.



The artist explored the possibilities at Kennedy’s Timber, Narangba, July 2015 / Photographs: Mark Sherwood

With the list of materials locked in, it was important that the collaboration between artist, exhibition designer, builder and structural engineer was established and defined. Unlike other installations, the complexity of the build and the great structural loads being placed on the building’s footprint, it was imperative to agree on a workable and realistic scope.

The project presented new challenges to the exhibition team and required the support and knowledge of our resident structural engineer, Paul Callum. These limitations included the capacity of the Long Gallery to accommodate the total mass of the timber structure. Resolving these engineering problems often takes a considerable amount of time and patience. With the artist’s visions for his installation in mind, these fundamentals were being challenged. There is sometimes tension between the realities of exhibition design, what the artist desires and, ultimately, what the building can support. Asim is often reminding me via email correspondence of the installation’s primary role: ‘The installation needs to get so dense as one goes inside that it becomes claustrophobic’.


The language of Asim’s structure is that of a forceful, disease-like intervention within the pristine white walls. It will inhabit the space in a frenzied way, forcing the audience to travel through a complex maze of timber, populated by electronic interactions buried into the timber: he wants to encourage an active approach to his installation, providing a mulititude of light, sound and touch sensors that give back to visitors in a non-traditional way of viewing art. Asim also describes this journey as dangerous, suggesting that the viewer must take care when entering the site as there is no invisible barrier between them and the artwork.

In order to understand the scale relative to the space and to the audience, prototyping is also part of the process. Asim wanted to build a 1:1 scale model to illustrate the height and bulk of the timber. We positioned black plastic sheets in the void to represent the work’s vertical timber elements, the centrepiece of which is a dense, crowded environment that punches through the middle. The main timber structure throughout the Long Gallery reinforces the effect of a ruin, while smaller beams offer support and a decorative richness of density and texture to the overall installation.


A clear set of rules for the work’s installation had to be defined, not only dictated by the building itself but also informed by the Gallery’s workshop team and specialist crane technicians, whose role it was to move lengths of timber that range from 6 to 16 lineal metres, some weighing a staggering three tonnes. Our ‘shopping list’ for Kennedy’s included nearly 400 lengths of large recycled timbers and 1000 square metres of recycled floorboards and cladding. The largest timbers, which had been in the yard for nearly 16 years, were several 300 x 300mm timbers that had been bolted together to form a timber member that was 600 x 300mm and 16 metres long. The rusted bolts and fixings that hold these pieces together formed part of Asim’s recycled aesthetic. The weight of these incredible timbers, coupled with his desire to create a claustrophobic experience, has meant that we’ve pushed the limits of the loading of the building.

Asim’s preferred installation method is organic, as the dense skin to the main structure is applied over the remaining weeks of the build period. Four truckloads of timber have been dropped in the Long Gallery and, over a four-week build, assembled and fixed into positon. An almost corporeal, experimentation approach to the install has challenged the traditional rigours of Warren Watson, the Gallery’s workshop manager.

As exhibition designers we are there to facilitate the artist’s vision in a considered and meaningful way, so that a connection is made between the audience and the art. We also consider the safe design aspect of the installation. Much thought has been given to ensure public safety and accessibility, minimising the permanent impact on the building and the longevity of the structure over the duration of the exhibition. We expect that several bandaids may be handed out, due to nature of the recycled timber, for which we apologise in advance!

1  A highset weatherboard house commonly found in Queensland.

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

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia
Supporter: Australia-India Council

Designing ‘Future Beauty’


In this glimpse behind the scenes, we explain the inspirations that underpin the creative realisation for the exhibition ‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’, from the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Exhibition design plan
Exhibition design model

The ‘Future Beauty’ exhibition is a celebration of simplicity, designed to showcase the garments on display. The result is a landscape of forms and shadows that are poetic, and embrace the Japanese forms of origami. ‘Future Beauty’ is characterised overall by a minimalist white interior. In The Fairfax Gallery 1.1, the exhibition’s five themes — In Praise of Shadows; Flatness; Tradition and Innovation; Cool Japan; and Designer Focus — take on the elements of the featured garment designs. The Long Gallery is defined by the use of black and shadow play. Incorporated across both galleries are the abstracted origami-inspired patterns, present in partitions and wall elements. The division of these spaces and the layout of the garments create a meandering path of travel that conceals the next grouping. The shift and angling of the partitions within these spaces are arranged to enable them to unfold as one moves through the spaces, with contrasting palettes and spatial associations enhancing the individual themes.

The overall design of ‘Future Beauty’ draws parallels with architect Tadao Ando’s purist aesthetic and simple construction techniques. This aesthetic, combined in the Long Gallery with a monochromatic palette, mirrors established aesthetics within the contemporary Japanese fashion scene. The Gallery’s exhibition design team also found inspiration in the Japanese art of origami, seen through the fold and play of angular wall panels, which turn down into key sculptural elements within the space. The principles of origami, also prevalent in Japanese modern art, are expressed in the ‘Tradition and Innovation’ section through Junya Watanabe and Issey Miyake garments. Captured below these folds is one rectilinear plywood box that holds a wealth of rare books, catalogues and magazines highlighting Yamamoto, Miyake and Kawakubo’s collaborations with artists, photographers and designers. Black is used within the Long Gallery, drawing on a cultural sensibility attuned to light and shade and the power of black, prevalent in contemporary Japanese fashion.

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‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’, installation view, GOMA / Photographs: Mark Sherwood, © QAGOMA

The softness of the shadow is critical to the design experience within ‘In Praise of Shadows’, the first section in the exhibition. The tactile nature of the fibre curtains subtly reveals the space through a six-metre-high fabric drop, which evokes a cathedral-like experience. Mannequins are silhouetted in groups between tensioned fabric panels, adding to the layered tones of shadows. The rectilinear plinth design will resonate with the patrons’ sense of drama and the theatre of a catwalk parade. At the end of this section, plays a large-screen projection of a runway show where Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto first introduced some of these concepts to the fashion world.

Flatness’ explores the simple geometries and interplay of flat planes and volume, particularly in the work of Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo). Here, designers reference the Kimono as carrying a defined sense of space. The use of the suspended tactile fibre curtain has been gathered to provide more visual separation between ‘Flatness’ and ‘Tradition and Innovation’.

‘Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion’, installation view, GOMA / Photographs: Mark Sherwood, © QAGOMA

The next section in the lower galleries focuses on the spectacle that is ‘Cool Japan’, allowing a design approach that tends to the outrageous rather than the discreet. The layout of the partitions assists to define this unique and playful collection of garments, accompanied by a selection of films set within this zone. The black wall and plinth provide a strong contrast as a backdrop for the colourful garments.

The final section focuses on each of the exhibition’s principle designers. A key feature within this space is the reproduction of three fabric patterns used as a wallpaper blanket on each display plinth and adjacent wall, emphasising each of the show’s key fashion collections.

Situated within the River Room, adjacent to the exhibition, is a custom-designed seating platform for Up Late, accompanied by a kaleidoscopic backdrop closely connected to the ‘Cool Japan’ theming. The overall graphic style of the surrounding stage has been influenced by J-pop star and model Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s videos, an all-out assault on the senses. The overall effect, we hope, is one of overwhelming cuteness and colour, albeit tinged with a dark twist. Patrons are encouraged to have their photo taken in front of the stage and upload their image to a live feed to be seen on one of the ten screens embedded in the stage backdrop. A cloud of soft toys, inspired by Harajuku fashion styles and the ‘Kawaii’ design leader Sebastian Masuda.

The ‘Future Beauty’ design is a result of both the Project Exhibition Designer Grace Liu and Assistant Exhibition Designer Rebecca Shaw’s collective efforts to nurture the design with a sense of the authenticity it deserved.

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