Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art an outlet

By Tonya Turner

LONG before television, newspapers and universities, artists around the world were unknowingly expressing themselves in similar ways.Cave paintings of animals and ancient fertility sculptures were created simultaneously in distant lands, showing remarkable similarities.

Today, artists worldwide continue to be drawn to similar modes of practice, as shown in works to go on display at the sixth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery opening December 5."With every APT there are themes that emerge and it reflects an interest that is happening across the region," Suhanya Raffel, curatorial manager of Asian and Pacific art at QAG says."They're like energy threads, like a nervous system within a body. They're intangible on one hand but tangible when you step back."

All 100 artists from some 28 countries were announced on July 29 for the gallery's flagship international contemporary art event.The massive exhibition of 420 works to go on display reveal two key trends – drawing and collaboration."Drawing is very strong this time as a discipline," Raffel says. "I think that's happening globally in international contemporary art, that people are going back to the basics."A three-channel video installation by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong using elaborate drawings and animation, and the One Year Drawing Project comprising 208 drawings by four Sri Lankan artists, are but two examples.

"Another idea is collaboration, which has popped up again and again without us particularly going to search for it," Raffel says.

"I think what's happening is it's a busier world. It's a world that's so full of speed, the world itself is getting more complex that the artists are seeking each other, and they're working across disciplines to make their own communities as well."One collective included in the exhibition hails from the Mansudae Art Studio in North Korea. In the first Australian display of North Korean contemporary art, the presentation will feature 45 wood and lino-cuts, oil and ink paintings and mosaics."It is the hermit country – it's very closed and very very difficult to get access but the artists are known for their technical virtuosity," Raffel says.

The QAG collaborated with Beijing-based British filmmaker Nicholas Bonner, who has been working in North Korea for almost 20 years, to make the project happen. "We had a discussion with him which is over five years old – it's taken all that time," Raffel says.

APT6 will also include artists from Tibet, Turkey, Iran, Cambodia and Burma for the first time.

"To get access to artists from some of those parts of the world has been difficult," Raffel says.

"It's taken us time to find people who can work with us and to gain their trust. That's one thing the APT has always done, is work with advisers, co-curators . . . those networks have been embedded and now we're able to bring them to the table."

The first APT took place in 1993 when the QAG barely had a collection of Asian and Pacific art.

The first acquisitions came from the 1989 exhibition of contemporary Japanese art, Japanese Ways, Western Means, but it wasn't until the first APT in 1993, when Asian art was up and coming and inexpensive, that the collection started to grow roots. Today it comprises 1300 works and is considered the best of its kind.

"We've gone from a blank page to the fantastic beginnings of a book that is starting to have chapters," says Raffel, who joined QAG in 1994.

"In those first APTs what was very important was to show our audiences that Asia and the Pacific were not two entities, but very complex regions with different histories and languages and cultures.

"There's an entire generation that has grown up with an APT in their horizon, and it makes a big difference to deeper understandings about cultural difference and dynamism."

Brisbane artists Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan represented the Philippines in APT3 in 1999, moving to Brisbane with their five children in 2006. They work with local communities creating small works for large-scale installations that have been displayed in galleries across the world including Italy, Lithuania, Austria, Japan, Cuba, Singapore and India.

"Working with different communities and involving them in the art making demystifies the very idea of art," Isabel says. "You connect with people and it's wonderful. That process is very important to us."

Their site-specific installation, In-flight (Project: Another Country), will be included in APT6, taking the shape of an aeroplane constructed from hundreds of smaller planes made by children and adults in community workshops.

"People are so used to the easiest way, so we don't allow sticky tape. We're using string to put everything together so there's problem-solving involved. People are more creative than they think," she says.

Other Australian artists in APT6 include Tracey Moffatt, based between the Sunshine Coast and New York, and Melbourne's Raafat Ishak and the art collective, DAMP.

The exhibition runs for four months until April 5 and will occupy the entire Gallery of Modern Art, as well as spaces in the Queensland Art Gallery and Watermall.

A public program of events will include performances, artist talks, lectures, a symposium, children's activities and a summer festival.
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