Donna Ong and Robert Zhao @APT9

Donna Ong and Robert Zhao @APT9

24 November 2018 - 29 April 2019

Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art presso QAGOMA, Queensland, Australia

The 9th Asia-Pacific Triennial defies comprehension — which is part of its charm, and one of the key reasons this exhibition has stayed exciting and relevant over its 25 years at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).
Across more than 400 works by 80 artists from a region that spans roughly from Iran to New Zealand, APT9 is complex and multivalent, resisting attempts to break it down into themes.


Cabinets of curiosity
Reuben Keehan, curator of contemporary Asian art, says he only recently identified a seam of "cabinet of curiosity" (or wunderkammer) works that runs throughout the exhibition — works that, subconsciously or deliberately, riff on the Renaissance-era mode of presenting objects within purpose-built cabinets.

"What does that say about the present moment, that so many artists are doing that [kind of work]?"
Keehan ponders.

"You could argue that it's got something to do with trying to make sense of the sheer amount of information we're surrounded by.

"Or is it that artists are curating their own mini spaces, by bringing these different objects together and constructing relationships between them?"

My Forest Is Not Your Garden, by Singaporean artists Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui, mimics the museum display using kitsch bric-a-brac and scientific objects alongside archival printed materials, photography and exuberant arrangements of plastic tropical plants and animals.

Their installation pokes and picks away at the fraught history of the Cabinet of Curiosity, which was used by the European elite to present objects brought back from imperial assignments abroad. It questions the fantasy of the "tropical forest" (What is it? Who constructs it, why, and how?), particularly in relation to the concrete jungle of contemporary Singapore.



PHOTO: My Forest Is Not Your Garden by Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui, at Queensland Art Gallery. (Supplied: QAGOMA/Chloë Callistemon)

PHOTO: Curator Zara Stanhope says Donna Ong and Robert Zhao Renhui's collaboration "explores early imperial ideas of Singapore and its landscape and its tropicality". (Supplied: QAGOMA/Natasha Harth)