When Art 'Thrills': Notes from a gallery down under


Highlighting the work of over 100 artists from 25 countries to ‘reflect the diversity of practices across Asia, the Pacific and Australia,’ the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art is currently showing at the Queensland Art Gallery of Brisbane, Australia, through April 25, 2010.
After finding an engaging round-up of the gallery’s flagship event, (‘Asia Pacific: a license to thrill,’) in The Age by Gabriella Coslovich, I got in touch with the Australia-based paper’s senior feature and arts writer, to see if she could give me a firsthand insight into the exhibition. Luckily, the show seems to have made quite an impression and she was kind enough to oblige:

What were your overall impressions of this Triennial?

I was enthralled by the exhibition and found it dynamic, thought-provoking.and sometimes very moving. It’s a huge smorgasbord of art from Asia Pacific which shows the great variety of cultures and experiences in the countries and politics of the region. There is so much to learn and know.the exhibition opened up a new world to me–and new stories, which I am still coming to grips with.

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The 6th, and as you termed ‘most ambitious’ triennial, for the first time included art from places like Iran, North Korea, Tibet, Cambodia and Burma. How much did the works from these places impact the show as a whole?

The Iranian and North Korean work for me was especially striking. As far as the latter goes, when I first encountered it I was somewhat skeptical–I thought, does this truly deserve a place in a contemporary art exhibition? Compared to some of the other art work on display it is very traditional, in the social realist style. However, the curators.gently pushed the artists from the Mansudae Art Studio in North Korea beyond their usual boundaries, asking them to try to create more truthful depictions of life there.

For example, Im Hyok’s ‘Breaktime,’ is a fabulous portrait of a North Korean worker having a cigarette and staring straight at the viewer. For a North Korean artist, this is an unprecedented work. And in the show’s catalogue, he states:

‘Perhaps in Australia people should be surprised as they know only their own life–and they are thinking that they have come to a gallery to observe art, but it is in fact a shock for them to be observed by a Korean worker.’

I love this quote, because for me it sums up what this exhibition is also about–the art of looking. We (Australians) are looking at work from the Asia Pacific and trying to understand it, and yet at the same time we are also being looked at–in this case quite literally by a rather tough and defiant looking North Korean worker who seems to be saying, ‘What are you looking at?!’

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