Thursday, 17 January 2013

Seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

Happy New Year! Did you have an excellent holiday? Me too. I spent some time in Brisbane and had the chance to visit the Seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial at GOMA, now in its 20th year. I've been to the APT once before (the previous edition), and as usual the work was captivating. 

On entering the gallery the first room you encounter is the large hall, which is filled with imposing masks, costumes and decorative arts from Papua New Guinea. I found the dancing costumes particularly intriguing: Mavetgowi (Saltwater Crocodile) (below) by the Yenchen collaborative group of Iatmul artists in Papua New Guinea is worn by means of a harness hidden beneath the crocodile's fringe of sago leaves, and is used in traditional dances telling the stories of crocodiles as ancestral beings. 

Inspired by the ceremonial masks of the Pomio people of Papua New Guinea, Damien Gulkledep's Avalau (below) draws on a tradition where the mask plays a significant role in traditional ceremonies: the brilliant underside is revealed for only a few seconds at a designated point during the dance, conferring a transcendental power. This piece was commissioned by the Queensland Art Gallery for the exhibition, but the traditional masks are destroyed following the ritual, to keep secret the spirit the mask embodies.

The wild banana, croton and tanget leaves that make up the massive skirts of these costumes contrast with the restrained palette of the masks. These costumes entitled Tabuan Kamut Mut by Bruno Akau and Alfred Sapu of the Arawe people of Papua New Guinea are as imposing in the gallery as you could imagine them being in a traditional ceremony.

These incredible masks are towering bark-cloth creations that sit over the face and atop the head in a ceremonial dance of the feminine. The men who wear these mandas masks are believed to take on feminine identities for the duration of the ceremony. The title of the work, Guaramgi nimenenga, is translated as Male and Female Spires. Guaramgi refers to the two outer spires of the mask in the foreground, representing the female, and nimenenga is the male entity, embodied by the mask's central spire. The work is by Katnanat Elison of the Baining people of Papua New Guinea.

Melbourne-based Indonesian-Australian artist Tintin Wulia's new work in the APT is a continuation of her ongoing series using the imagery of passports to explore issues of migration, borders and identity. Eeney, Meeny, Miney, Moe is an interactive series of four claw vending game machines filled with passports of various nationalities. The viewer is invited to play the game and try to win a passport from one of the machines. Like the efforts of many would-be migrants, it is a game that cannot be won.

Tiffany Chung's sprawling table of marching animals was commissioned by the artist and completed by an unnamed glass artisan of her hometown Ho Chi Minh City. roaming with the dawn - snow drifts, rain falls, desert wind blows is a sweeping wave of mass migration that questions the safety of an environment of rapid change and uncertainty, yet it is made up of delightfully detailed individuals, each unique.  

Takahiro Iwasaki's meticulously detailed Reflection Model (Perfect Bliss) is a perfect reflected copy of the Japanese Hoo-do (Phoenix Pavilion), part of the Byodo-in Temple near Kyoto. The model miniaturises the temple in Japanese cyprus (hinoki), a traditional building material. There is no seam between the model and its "reflection", questioning the borders between reality and illusion.

I couldn't help bringing a jeweller's perspective and likening this last work to mammoth neckpieces, but in fact artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey is capturing the essence of traditional woven narbong hanging vessels of the Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) country of her mother. Made of recycled mattress springs, chicken wire, and other cast-off steel and iron, these huge reinterpretations of traditionally crafted string bags celebrate the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people, retaining to the beauty of these traditional designs through the use of unexpected detritus materials.

The Asia-Pacific Triennial is on at GOMA (the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane) until 14 April 2013. Many of the works, or details of works, can be seen online, but if you're anywhere near Brisbane, this is a must-see!

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