Qiu Zhijie, Map of Technological Ethics (detail), 2018, site-specific mural. Installation view. From the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Photo: Chloe Callistemon.

Qiu Zhijie, Map of Technological Ethics (detail), 2018, site-specific mural. Installation view. From the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Photo: Chloe Callistemon.

9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art

To simply say that the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) is an event that showcases contemporary art from Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands would fail to convey the sheer vitality of its many iterations since 1993, which, more than any other recurring exhibition, have shaped Australia’s cultural identity in the digital age. Its ninth installment, led by Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s director Chris Saines and Asia-Pacific curatorial manager Zara Stanhope, appears more assured than ever. In this outing, which includes more than eighty artists and collectives from thirty different countries (and, notably, offers nearly equal gender representation), art-historical continuity is favored over disruption, and nuanced engagements with the particularities of artistic practice supplant prior emphases on multiculturalism.

I hesitate to call this the “budget APT,” but, in comparison with works in previous years, big-impact sculptures are markedly absent in the main foyers of QAGOMA. Instead, the two venues’ feature statements, are, respectively, My forest is not your garden, 2015–18, by Singaporean artists Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui, consisting of low-key floral arrangements adjacent to archival displays; and, from China, Qiu Zhijie’s wall painting Map of Technological Ethics, 2018, which is, admittedly, enormous, but whose impact is softened by the difficulty one has apprehending it from a single vantage point. Qiu’s work—installed opposite cartoonish portraits of business, political and indigenous leaders by the Western Arrernte painter Vincent Namatjira—is an imagined topography of islands, archipelagoes, and cities with morally contemplative yet seemingly spontaneous labels in English and Chinese, such as PLASMA STEALTH and FACIAL RECOGNITION BULLET, many of which can only be discerned from the Gallery of Modern Art’s upper levels.

The inclusion of artists such as Anne Noble and Shinro Ohtake, both involved in APT1, underscores the historical impulse at the heart of APT9. Their works complement an excellent selection of abstract and conceptual works by two elders: the eighty-four-year-old London-based Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, and a key instigator of Philippine conceptual art, Roberto Chabet (1937–2013). Chabet’s Waves, 1975, is one of only a few surviving works by the artist from the 1970s. It comprises twenty-one blue plywood panels suspended from the ceiling in a row, requiring a push from gallery staff every thirty minutes to sway like elegant Minimalist waves.

One reason why this APT works so well is its willingness to engage history without polemicizing it. Another is its embrace of eccentricity without exoticization. South Korean artists are well represented in this regard: The exhibition includes Kim Beom’s sophisticated blueprints for fantastical public structures; Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ suspended crucifix—shaped flat-screen TV sculpture CRUCIFIED TVS—NOT A PRAYER IN HEAVEN, 2018 (evoking the French electronic duo Justice as much as Nam June Paik); and Jeong Geumhyung’s eerie Private Collection: Rearranged objects, 2018, which displays an array of rehabilitation implements and sex devices alongside novelty hipster beards, medical infomercials, and videos of her physically demanding, often uncannily erotic performances.

The Japanese sound artist Yuko Mohri and the New Zealand video artist Gavin Hipkins both lend an element of site-specificity to the exhibition, reinforcing Saines’ directive in the catalogue to examine how qagoma itself figures in the region. Although there are too few Brisbane-based artists in the show to support such self-reflexivity, APT9 makes up for it with a back-to-basics curatorial approach, one that is less preoccupied with public expectation than with drawing out the multiple formal, political, and ethical concerns of its artists. If this show is any indication, the APT might be moving toward its thirty-year anniversary finally free from the anxieties of its own hype.

Wes Hill