The Australia Pacific Triennial and other Brisbane things

It can’t be! Two full weeks since I blogged! I must have been busy.

On the weekend Penny and I went to Brisbane for my brother’s seventieth birthday party, and had a fabulous time renewing contact with my family: brother and sisters and their spouses, nieces and nephews, grand nephews and nieces, cousins, sundry dogs, as well as a number of my brother’s old friends I hadn’t seen since I was 13, who have grown astonishingly old. The highlight of the party was a video created by two of my brother’s children, featuring many interviews and greetings from Innisfail, and a performance of ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ (a song that featured in one of my brother’s colourful adolescent brushes with the law escapades) in which an extraordinary range of people each sang a single phrase.

On Saturday we went to the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art (Qag and Goma) to have a look at the Australia Pacific Triennial. Unlike the National Art Gallery current blockbuster, this fabulous exhibition was easy to get into and there was no admission charge. I say it was a fabulous exhibition, but in fact I only saw a tiny fraction of it. I spent most of my time in the galleries sitting with pen and pad sweating over a writing task with a tight deadline. This was an astonishingly pleasant experience. The galleries are high-ceilinged and full of natural light, and quiet exuberance of the punters made for a buoyant environment.

Really I only saw three pieces. The first was ‘In Flight‘ by Alfredo and Isabel Aqulizan. The artists are immigrants to Australia from the Philippines, this information may have influenced my response to their work: it’s a huge pile of recycling material, that is to say junk, reminiscent of those vast garbage heaps near Manila, but rising from it are not toxic fumes or scavenging birds but a host of model aeroplanes made by young people in a series of workshops before the exhibition. The planes – zappy little plastic creations, shaggy monsters, a couple of balloons, flappable egg-cartons, brightly coloured paddlepop sticks bound into shapes that might be aerodynamic in another universe – adorn the wall near the garbage pile, hang from the ceiling  above it, and then lead the viewer down the nearby corridor to the exit that leads to the main exhibition in the Goma building. Around the base of the pile the creativity continues, as my phone bears witness:

I also spent time in front of Reuben Paterson’s eight-metre-sqare ‘Whakapapa: Get Down on Your Knees‘. The image at the link give you no idea of the effect of the work, especially its effect on little girls. The whole vast surface of the painting is done with glitter, which clearly hit a significant nerve. One little girl in particular – I’d guess she was five or six years old – tried to take a photo. She laughed with delight for a full minute as she tried to get far enough away to fit the whole image into her viewfinder (unsuccessfully, thanks to a facing wall).

And then there was ‘Lightning for Neda‘  by Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Again, the link gives only a faint indication of the work itself. It’s an intricate mosaic – or rather six of them, each three metres tall by two metres wide – made of slivers of mirrored glass, not a piece of art that conceals the amount of work that has gone into its making. As I sat pen in hand, I felt I was beginning to know the work by seeing it interact with scores of people, remarkably free of the solemnity that often prevails in galleries, but there was an awful lot of awe just the same. Only one child couldn’t resist touching, and I wished I was her (at least, I wished I was her until her father moved in on her).

It’s a great way to see art: to sit with it while the world goes by, see it reflected in a dozen faces, watch how people respond with their hands and bodies, hear the words it draws from them. Interestingly each of these works, as well as others I saw more cursorily, was accessible to young people. Children seemed to feel at home in these galleries, or on a fun outing, and that’s surely to everyone’s benefit.

Added later:

Here are a couple more photos, these ones taken by Penny (yes the Qag and the Goma allow photos, though not flashes):

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