Boomerang: Ai Weiwei’s waterfall-style chandelier


Composed of 270 000 crystal pieces, Boomerang is an imposing example of internationally renowned Chinese-born artist Ai Weiwei’s strategy of working playfully across cultural contexts. Shaped after the iconic Aboriginal throwing tool, this oversized, intensely lit, waterfall-style chandelier fills the soaring space above the water in the Queensland Art Gallery Watermall as if it were in a hotel’s grand foyer.

Ai Weiwei, China b.1957 / Boomerang 2006 / Glass lustres, plated steel, electric cables, LED lamps / 700 x 860 x 290cm / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2007 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ai Weiwei / Photographs: Natasha Harth & Joe Ruuckli © QAGOMA

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 – including a men’s urinal and an upturned bicycle wheel – into a gallery and declared them art, thereby creating the ‘readymade’.

Duchamp’s challenges to convention opened up new possibilities for art, highlighting the ways in which an object’s value and meaning can shift when it changes context. 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.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, QAGOMA

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Boomerang was the centrepiece of Ai Weiwei’s participation in ‘The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT5) in 2006–07, and he gifted the work to the Collection.

The World Turns: A warm, witty outdoor sculpture


Michael Parekowhai is known for the use of wry humour and his skilful combination of popular culture, art, literature and history. If you haven’t already, visit his public sculpture The World Turns 2011–12 next time you explore the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) or Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). 

The warm and witty bronze sculpture comprises a five-metre elephant bookend turned on its side, attended by a nonchalant kuril, the native marsupial water rat so significant to the dreaming of local Aboriginal people, and, at the periphery of the stretch of lawn that the sculpture occupies between GOMA, the State Library of Queensland, and the mangroves lining the Brisbane River, a solitary chair.

In Western culture, the traditional ordering of the arts and senses proposes painting as the art for sight, music as the art for hearing, cuisine for taste and perfumery for smell. Sculpture, it is said, is the art of touch, though most often this touch is experienced at a distance, such that the skill of the sculptor lies in marshalling the other senses to emulate the experience of contact.

Registers of tactility and physical presence, such as texture, solidity, mass, inertia and torsion, are often evoked through the careful construction of oppositions. Levity plays against gravity, volume against emptiness, light against darkness, the location and constituent forces of other bodies against those of our own. In visual analysis, these oppositions are often described as contrasts or tensions, and they become a certain measure of the success of a given work of sculpture.

RELATED: The World Turns: How often do you see a five tonne sculpture float down the river?

Michael Parekowhai, Ngāti Whakarongo, New Zealand b.1968 The World Turns 2011-12 / Bronze / 488 x 456 x 293cm (approx.) / Commissioned 2011 to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006 and twenty years of The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art / This project has received financial assistance from the Queensland Government through art+place Queensland Public Art Fund, and from the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Michael Parekowhai

Beyond its participation in dialogues surrounding the profound historical and cultural significance of the site on which the Cultural Precinct now sits, the work can certainly be admired. But it could also be argued that slightly more technical sculptural terms add another layer of judgment and interpretation. For the visual tension in The World Turns is indeed impressive, its play of mass and line, of spatial enclosure, and the way the eye is guided so smoothly over the sculpture’s contours amidst a catalogue of contrasts — of scale and disposition, of positive and negative space, of the work’s constituent bronze against its verdant ground. The elephant’s forehead appears to be pressing obstinately into the earth, not only because of the direction of its gait, but also because of the weight that the structure implies.

The significance of this technical assessment is not merely formal; it provides a way of reading the relationship between the work’s protagonists. The elephant, a symbol of Afro–Asian exoticism in the European imagination, continues its useless labour, while the Indigenous kuril grooms itself nearby. It is possible to see their contrasting attitudes as repeating the rhythm of oppositions constructed by traditional sculptural criticism.

But a third figure haunts the scene: the empty chair at the edge of the green. This marks the place of the viewer, the third party who complicates binary views of the world, whose acts of sensing and thinking ensure that the relationship has a witness, and that in bearing witness it becomes public. The world may turn, but so do the dynamics of our interactions, our ways of being in the world. In public space, the meanings we draw from experience and our judgments of the actions of others will shift and change with time and discussion.

The World Turns has already provoked much conversation. May it continue to do so.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, QAGOMA

The World Turns by Michael Parekowhai, was commissioned in 2011 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and the twentieth anniversary of ‘The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT).


Ai Weiwei’s chandelier & other errant objects


Boomerang 2006 was originally the centrepiece of Ai Weiwei’s participation in ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT5). An extravagant, tiered, waterfall-style chandelier shaped after the titular throwing tool, with a span of more than eight metres and a drop of seven, it had an imposing presence as it hung above the water in the Queensland Art Gallery, anchoring a display of some of the artist’s most iconic works.

Ai Weiwei Boomerang’

Ai Weiwei, China b.1957 / Boomerang 2006 / Glass lustres, plated steel, electric cables, LED lamps / 700 x 860 x 290cm / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2007 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has long acknowledged the influence of Marcel Duchamp, a key figure in the Dada and surrealist movements of the early twentieth century. Ai encountered Duchamp’s work first-hand after arriving in New York in 1981 as a young artist, and he was deeply impressed with the wit and irreverence of the Dadaist’s ‘ready-mades’.

Challenges to convention like Duchamp’s iconic Fountain 1917 opened up new possibilities for art, while highlighting the ways in which an object’s value and meaning can shift when it changes context. Accordingly, Boomerang takes the chandelier, with its connotations of wealth and opulence, and enlarges it to absurd scale, shaping it into the form of an object associated with exotic conceptions of Australia.

 Zico Albaiquni ‘The Imbroglio Tropical Paradise’

Zico Albaiquni, Indonesia b.1987 / The Imbroglio Tropical Paradise 2018 / Oil, synthetic polymer paint and giclée on canvas / 120 x 80cm / Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Zico Albaiquni

Complementing Ai Weiwei’s extravagant gesture are works by Asian artists who similarly alter and re-contextualise objects and images between different frameworks. Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s painting series ‘Proposal for a Vietnamese landscape’ depicts the profusion of visual information filling city walls and public spaces in Vietnam, where officially sanctioned propaganda murals sit side by side with consumer advertising, stencilling and graffiti.

Zico Albaiquni’s canvases similarly borrow imagery from disparate sources; from the acclaimed nineteenth-century Indonesian painter Raden Saleh, to museum dioramas, tourist art, signature works by contemporary Indonesian artists and installation views from international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale or Indonesian works at the inaugural Asia Pacific Triennial in 1993. Though pictorially fictive, Nguyen and Albaiquini’s multilayered compositions reflect real-world complexities, be they ideological systems or artistic inheritance.

Teppei Kaneuji ‘White discharge (Built-up objects #24)’

Teppei Kaneuji, Japan b.1978 / White discharge (Built-up objects #24) 2013 / Found objects, resin, glue / 128 x 110 x 40cm / Purchased 2013. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Teppei Kaneuji

Erbossyn Meldibekov ‘Seasons in the Hindu Kush – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’

Erbossyn Meldibekov, Kazakhstan b.1964 / Seasons in the Hindu Kush – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter 2009–11 / Metal, enamel / Spring: 32 x 39 x 31.5cm; Summer: 20 x 35 x 29cm; Autumn: 31.5 x 39.5 x 31.5cm; Winter: 16 x 50.5cm (diam.) / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Erbossyn Meldibekov

Teppei Kaneuji’s semi-abstract assemblages also reflect the abundance of imagery and consumer products in contemporary life. Kaneuji’s wall-mounted sculpture White discharge (Built-up objects #24) 2013 consists of a host of low-cost plastic objects arranged with careful attention to shape and colour under a unifying layer of lumpy white resin. The components, designed for very practical purposes, have been stripped of their function in this new configuration, foregrounding their formal characteristics.

In contrast, Erbossyn Meldibekov’s Seasons in the Hindu Kush – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter 2009 repurposes functional objects into a figurative landscape. In this work, four Soviet-era cooking pots are battered and crushed to create shifting views of the great mountain system of Central Asia. The mountainous setting inspiring the work remains a site of military and social significance. Though the work has an element of Duchampian drollness, these pots bear the traces of a powerful force, implying a manifestation of violence.

Rudi Mantofani ‘Nada yang hilang (The lost note)’

Rudi Mantofani, Indonesia b.1973 / Nada yang hilang (The lost note) 2008 / Wood, metal, leather and oil / 80 x 120 x 119cm / The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 2010 with funds from Michael Sidney Myer through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Rudi Mantofani

Nada yang hilang (The lost note) 2008 by Yogyakarta-based Rudi Mantofani is not actually a readymade, but rather a meticulously crafted, horseshoe-shaped melding of nine electric guitars. An absurdist parody of the multi-necked instruments of classic rock indulgence, it is arranged in such a way as to be physically unplayable. Nevertheless, its slick finish and clean lines suggest a degree of homage for the guitar as a highly fetishised pop-cultural symbol. Considered in the context contemporary Indonesia, it evokes further tensions between imported consumer culture and traditional social values.

Luyan Wang ‘Bicycle (20) – 1996 no.15/20’

Luyan Wang, China b.1956 / Bicycle (20) – 1996 no.15/20 1996 / Enamel paint on bicycle / 97 x 168 x 58cm / Gift of Gordon Craig through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © Luyan Wang

Bicycle (20) – 1996 no. 15/20 1996 is one of the 20 ‘post-reform’ bicycles that were included in Wang Luyan’s installation Bicycle (20) – 1996 in the second Asia Pacific Triennial in 1996–97. Sourced in Brisbane from members of the public, the bikes were ‘reformed’ with a coat of red paint covering every component, including their tyres, and the addition of a second rear flywheel that caused them to travel backwards when pedalled forwards. They were examples of the artist’s predilection for creating paradoxical machines, altering the inner workings of common machinery so that internal forces would cancel each other out. For Wang, this negation of purpose and utility expresses his deeply held suspicion toward established ideas and systems, a sensibility common to the selection of errant objects assembled for this exhibition.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, QAGOMA


Canine Construction


South Korean artist Gimhongsok’s Canine Construction 2009 brings me a lot of joy. This is one of Gimhongsok’s proposals for public monuments, recognising that no-one ever seems to agree on public art. It’s cast from resin but looks like it’s made out of garbage bags. Sure, there’s an art world in-joke here, looking like a shabby take on Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs, but there’s also something eminently likeable about the dog shape. When it first arrived, one of the staff unpacking it said they had to do everything in their power not to hug it. 

The artist’s work is characterised by a deadpan humour, his references to art history and contemporary culture collide with political and ethical questions, visual gags, and sophisticated ruminations on artistic materials.

’Canine Construction’ 2009

Gimhongsok, South Korea b.1964 / Canine Construction 2009 / Resin / 162 x 235 x 88cm / Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Gimhongsok

This work is one of a series of sculptures typically composed of garbage bags, cardboard boxes and balloons and cast in expensive materials such as bronze or resin. The series stems from the artist’s long-held fascination with the foibles of public art and the difficulty of achieving consensus about objects placed in a public space.

Gimhongsok often refers to major works by prominent international artists in his own creations. Canine Construction mimics the sleek, colourful balloon-dog sculptures of Jeff Koons. However, the peppy stance, aerodynamic curves and anodised hues of the latter are replaced with doughy, slumping garbage bags, an unwieldy mass of flat, uninspiring black. Haphazard binding compresses the rearmost bag into a tail, while an easy-carry tie atop the head furnishes the dog with a quirky pair of ears.

That Canine Construction might be read as a poor man’s Koons suggests that questions of artistic originality have been subsumed under the broader category of value, of what provides a work of art with its venerated status. On the other hand, this resin cast of a garbage bag remains a copy, and it is in this that new notions of authorship, creativity and value may be found.

For Gimhongsok, garbage offers the key to consensus precisely because it has been cast aside: freed from aesthetic proscription, he proposes that garbage is ‘a kind of collaborative project by the public’; embracing spontaneity and chance.

A strict reading of Canine Construction remains elusive, that, however, is part of the sculpture’s broader appeal: it is at once visually striking, instantly likeable and interpretatively open-ended.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, QAGOMA


Idas Losin’s paintings are notable for their fine brushwork


Idas Losin’s paintings are characterised by their fine brushwork and stark composition, typically foregrounding their subject matter on a flat, open pictorial plane. A Taiwanese artist of Truku and Atayal heritage, her works range from expressions of aboriginal identity — incorporating tattoos, woven patterns and other cultural objects — to dreamlike renderings of island settings and seascapes. Losin’s tatara fishing canoes are of the Tao people and from their home of Lanyu (Orchid Island), off the south-east coast of Taiwan.

Waiting to sail 2016

Idas Losin, Taiwan b.1976 / Waiting to sail 2016 / Oil on canvas / 80 x 105cm / Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Idas Losin

With limited opportunities for aboriginal contemporary artists in Taiwan until the late 2000s,1 Losin came to painting relatively late. Prior to her work as an artist, she spent several years working on documentary films of Taiwanese tribes, focusing on the stories of elders. When she saw ‘The Native Born: Objects and Representations from Ramingining, Arnhem Land’ at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003, Losin was inspired to travel to Australia.2 With further exposure to Australian Indigenous art, she had the opportunity to reflect on the status of Taiwan’s aboriginal people, and became determined to explore her own heritage and tell the stories of her community through painting.

Following a joint residency with leading Māori artists George Nuku and Tracey Tawhiao, Losin also took an interest in the notion of Austronesian migration and the potential for dialogue with cultures from South-East Asia, Oceania and Madagascar, which linguistic and anthropological evidence links to Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes. Curiosity has since driven her to travel further to study the artistic expression of indigenous and First Nation perspectives in North America and around the Pacific, including Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Hawai’i, Guam and Aotearoa New Zealand, in what she describes as her Island Hopping Art Project. Losin draws creative energy from the diversity of indigenous Asian and Pacific cultures, their harmonious mixing of old and new, and the ways in which they negotiate the influence of Westernisation, while maintaining local culture.

Floating 2017 

Idas Losin, Taiwan b.1976 / Floating 2017 / Oil on canvas / 135 x 179cm / Purchased 2019. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Idas Losin

Tatara 2018 

Idas Losin, Taiwan b.1976 / Tatara 2018 / Oil on canvas / 180 x 135 x 5cm / Courtesy: Idas Losin

Losin’s ‘Orchid Island’ paintings reflect the significance of fishing in Tao life, centring on the form of the tatara at rest, preparing to launch, and afloat in calm waters. These symmetrical vessels, with their distinctively upturned bow and stern, are typically decorated with carved and painted geometric emblems representing the sea, ancestral beings and the flying fish that play a major role in ceremonial cycles. With eyes at both ends, the boats are regarded as extensions of the human body, linking heaven and earth. Other paintings show topographic renderings of Jimagaod (Lesser Orchid Island), an uninhabited volcanic islet to the island’s south. In addition to their subject matter, Losin’s works are notable for their painterly range, the artist varying her approach between photorealism and flatter, stylised representations. At times, she playfully exploits the texture of her brushstrokes, as in the alternating golden waves that form the ground of the tatara in Floating 2017.

Idas Losin describes her engagement with Austronesia as a learning process, one that offers new perspectives on creativity and identity. For Losin, participation in this broader cultural community forges a deeper personal connection with her home of Taiwan.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art. QAGOMA

1 Though two indigenous artists were included in the 1996 Taipei Biennial, the words ‘aboriginal’ and ‘contemporary’ were not used together until 1999, and dedicated collection and exhibition programs did not exist until 2006, when the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts initiated its significant Austronesian art program. On the role of Austronesian art in Taiwanese cultural policy, see Sophie McIntyre, ‘Navigating “Austronesia”: Contemporary indigenous art from Taiwan and the Pacific’, Art Monthly, no.232, August 2010, pp.45–8.
2 The exhibition was a touring project of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, curated by Djon Mundine

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Featured image detail: Idas Losin Waiting to sail 2016


Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s paintings incorporate a range of media


Enkhbold Togmidshiirev is a painter and performance and installation artist best known for his large-scale, monochromatic canvases executed in materials derived from his nomadic culture, and improvised performances using the ger, the traditional Mongolian home.1

Created in parallel to his performance work, Enkhbold’s restrained colour-field paintings incorporate unusual media — horse dung, felt, shrubs, ash, rust, sheep skin and tripe — which are either laid over the canvas or worked into its fibres.

These materials are sourced from the countryside, when the artist returns to his homeland, and undergo extensive preparation before he uses them in his paintings. The dung, for instance, is dried and crumbled, and sifted three times to ensure a fine consistency. It is then applied over a base of gelatine and gel, or mixed into the base directly, after which it is covered in acrylic paint. Horse dung can differ in colour and texture depending on the season and the specific environmental conditions of the animals, and so the material provides the artist with a shifting palette.

Occasionally, Enkhbold incorporates collage into his paintings, and fabrics such as cotton, silk and hessian vary the surfaces of his works, introducing formal devices like Rothko-esque horizontal fields through stitching and textural contrast.

Enkhbold’s vast planes of colour and tone are determined exercises in abstraction, an abstraction that the artist also emphasises in the form of his performative ger. It is the materiality of his works, like the performances they complement, that preserves a strong connection with both traditional and contemporary Mongolian life.

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Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Mongolia b.1978 / Benevolence 2013 / Silk, cotton thread, rust and gel medium on canvas / Diptych: 200 x 400cm (overall) / Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Enkhbold Togmidshiirev

Benevolence 2013

Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s Benevolence (Detail) 2013 highlighting the blue silk ‘khadag’

Born and raised in rural Mongolia, Enkhbold was taught traditional woodcarving by his parents, and studied art at a private technical college in Ulaanbaatar as a young adult. His later studies at the Institute of Fine Art saw him tutored by Enkhbat Lantuu, one of the few Mongolian artists working with abstraction at the time. Lantuu encouraged Enkhbold’s conceptual bent, which developed further on contact with the Blue Sun Contemporary Art Group, and its founder Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai, an important interpreter of the work of postwar German artist Joseph Beuys, whose persona and use of unconventional materials are an abiding influence on contemporary art in post-Soviet Mongolia.

Watch Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s performance

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Arguably, Enkhbold has attained his greatest visibility through his performances, most notably his Ger Project. The ger is at once robust and eminently portable, highly suited both to a nomadic lifestyle and to low-cost living in Mongolia’s crowded capital.

Since 2008, Enkhbold has created a number of personalised structures derived from the form — the bowed, wooden latticework of Blue sentient 2015, for example, takes on a spherical shape — in order to forge a connection with his surroundings. Setting up a ger creates a temporary home that Enkhbold equates to a spiritual space. His improvised performances have taken place on the frozen steppes (plains) of Mongolia, in the desert, at the edge of the sea, by the side of a highway — sometimes in visual harmony with their surroundings, and in apparent contrast at others.

Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art. QAGOMA

1 A traditional ger or yurt (from the Turkic languages) is a portable, round tent with a collapsible wooden infrastructure, covered with skins or felt, used as a dwelling by nomadic peoples in Central Asia.

The spherical Blue Sentient 2015 featured in the APT9 opening weekend performance, and as a sculptural installation.

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Feature image detail: Enkhbold Togmidshiirev Benevolence (Detail) 2013

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