Anna Harrison goes to Brisbane to critique an important exhibition and finds herself embracing its playful side.

"Take your shoes off." It was the last thing I expected in this polished, slick art gallery. I was checking out the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8), an exhibition that is a pretty big deal in the art scene.

Every three years artists from all over the region converge on Brisbane and this year's show features some from as far afield as Mongolia and the Solomon Islands. So when I came to a doorway that had jandals outside it and a sign saying to remove your shoes, I was stopped in my sophisticated, art critic tracks.

Trying to remember whether I had put on matching socks that morning, I hovered around the doorway and peered past the Pacific-print curtains into the room. It was beautiful. There were tapa and murals on the walls and a bright blue colonial-era couch in the middle.

Those inside were lounging on flax mats, talking, joking and singing along to the stereo. So I tentatively removed my shoes and, relieved to see my feet were the same shade of grey, went in.


Auckland artist Rosanna Raymond has created SaVAge K'lub, a Pacific take on the 19th century gentlemen's club. I was delighted and slightly disturbed to see familiar things on display: a korowai and a New Zealand flag, a painted wheelbarrow and even one of those old Manu dolls.

Up on the wall where paintings of English old boys might have hung, were portraits of Polynesian faces staring right at you, dressed in vivid versions of traditional clothes. It was arresting - this exhibition was going to be fun.

On the next level was a huge video display. It featured Cambodian artist Anida Yoeu Ali enveloped in a giant orange caterpillar suit draped around a fairground.

I was intrigued. Watching close-up shots of smiling plastic ducks, women applying bright lipstick, deep-fried delights sizzling in street stalls and the woman-bug wrapped around a tuktuk, I felt like one of the crowd, enjoying the market atmosphere and bemused by this woman wearing a big orange bug suit.

Precious by Eric Bridgenar is on show at APT8. Photo / Supplied
Precious by Eric Bridgenar is on show at APT8. Photo / Supplied

Just along from there was David Medalla's Cloud Canyons No 25. Huge glass tubes rose out of the ground, exuding cylinders of suds that climbed up and spiralled down again. It looked like a giant abandoned science experiment. I spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out whether it was in fact moving - it was - and how it worked. I'm still puzzled.

Then I came across what looked like a time-travelling taniwha from the 80s. It had scales and a long tail made out of fishing net, but its head was a boombox with whirling LED eyes.

And it was singing OMI's Cheerleader in a muted electric voice to a one-eyed mermaid. At first I just found it bizarre. But then, to my surprise, I was moved by the performance of Australian duo Justin Shoulder and Bhenji Ra - I felt for the seemingly forlorn dragon.

By this time, I was feeling much more relaxed. But the piece that led to all-resistance-gone was designed for children as part of the APT8 Kids programme.


South Korea's Choi Jeong Hwa filled a room with strings of beads hanging from the ceiling above a huge play area filled with thousands of coloured bottle caps. That was invitation enough for me. I plonked myself down and started picking out the best colours, designing patterns on the floor around me.

APT8 is an important exhibition and many of the works prompted me to reflect on significant political and social themes. But its focus on performance and interactivity this year also chipped away at my Kiwi reserve " and I had a ball.

Checklist - Brisbane

Details: The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) is on at QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art), Brisbane, until April 10. Also check out APT8 Kids.