Brisbane: the new world city. It’s a clever marketing tag, pivoting the Queensland capital away from the southern states towards Asia and the Pacific. But how true is it?
Reuben Keehan, curator of contemporary Asian art at QAGOMA, is a believer. “One of the more problematic perceptions is that we’re removed from these regions, when in fact we have really internalised these regions,” he explains. “Looking at that internal diversity and our connectedness to Asia and the Pacific, we have an opportunity to create a dynamic cultural hub.”
Tomorrow the gallery launches Time of Others, an exhibition exploring the cultural idiosyncrasies that exist in the Asia-Pacific region.
It continues the conversation started by the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial (APT8) over the summer, but where APT exhibitions tend to survey the region’s cultural production, Time of Others takes a very human approach to understanding the contemporary nature of the Asia-Pacific and our role within it.
“We hear endlessly in the news about the need to engage more closely on a trade and diplomatic level,” Keehan says. “We learn a lot about the growth of economies and cultures, but it’s good for people to have a slightly more personal experience with these things.”
The exhibition itself was born out of such ideals. A collaboration between QAGOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Osaka’s National Museum of Art and the Singapore Art Museum, the GOMA instalment is the final leg of its tour around the region. Keehan hopes it will encourage visitors to question their own cultural assumptions on a very local level.
“Being a city that hasn’t been particularly visible, Brisbane doesn’t have some of the cultural hang-ups of Sydney and Melbourne,” Keehan says. “They have very clear identities that I think are kind of limiting, whereas Brisbane is in a position where it can really invent itself.”
Fostering these conversations comes at a time when Brisbane’s cultural map is changing rapidly, yet Keehan reckons there’s a measure of reluctance to embrace the Asia-Pacific because of the media’s tendency to focus on the economic and political dimensions of the region. Without any other cultural bearings, these bigger signals become our only way of relating to our neighbours. “Even having a personal reaction or affection to a work of art is a start,” he says of the importance of breaking down cultural assumptions.
On the exhibition’s Japanese leg, it was the first time many gallery-goers had been exposed to contemporary art from South-East Asia. “[Audiences] realised how little they know about cultures and social issues within Asia,” says Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo curator Che Kyongfa. “It was quite a fresh response in how similar the issues are that the artists are thinking about.”
The pieces featured in Time of Others are based on the themes of time and points of encounter and exchange. The question at its heart: how can we start to look at each other without bias?
Take Basir Mahmood’s Manmade (2010). A film of a man awkwardly dressing in a suit for the first time, it highlights the flaws of our presumptions of globalisation, which is commonly perceived to be deeply unifying.
While Time of Others doesn’t pack APT’s scale, Keehan sees it as an opportunity to drill down into a discourse Brisbane audiences are familiar with thanks to APT: “The fact that the gallery has been dealing with this material for so long provides us with a really good opportunity to think about what our future in the Asia-Pacific might look like.”
Time of Others runs from June 11 to September 18, 2016, at GOMA.