Australian artists reach audiences in Japan, through remote instruction and collaboration

    01 October 2020

    Image caption: Make or Break, Care for Bridges, 2020, Installation view of Yokohama Triennale 2020. ©Make or Break. Photo: KATO Hajime. Photo courtesy of the organising committee for the Yokohama Triennale.

    ‘Acts that bridge vast distances have enormous and lasting significances.’ – Raqs Media Collective, Artistic Directors, Yokohama Triennale 2020.

    The 7th Yokohama Triennale Afterglow was the first major international contemporary art exhibition to launch following the outbreak of the global pandemic, opening its doors to Japanese audiences in July, shortly after the re-opening of the Biennale of Sydney, NIRIN in June.

    As Sydney audiences learnt about Sinuye, the traditional tattooing practice for Ainu women through the work of Hokkaido-based artist Mayunkiki in NIRIN, in Yokohama, Brisbane-based artist Robert Andrew’s kinetic installation A Connective Reveal–Nagula (2020) draws attention to the importance of the revival of First Nations languages.

    Nagula means saltwater in the Yawuru language, spoken by the traditional owners of the lands and waters around Broome, Western Australia. The word also encompasses ideas of culture, people and time.

    Image caption: Robert Andrew, A Connective Reveal - Nagula, 2020. Installation view of Yokohama Triennale 2020. Photo: Otsuka Keita. Photo courtesy of the organising committee for the Yokohama Triennale.

    Andrew’s practice integrates open-source technologies with Indigenous materials and storytelling.


    “My work combines highly refined, programmable technological machinery that erodes, exposes substrates, builds stories and creates residues.”

    “Split between old and new I explore my identity and history with the use of contemporary technology. I use earth pigments, ochres, rocks and soil to build stories of relationship to land and culture and to mine historical, cultural, political and personal events that have been ignored, buried and distanced by the dominant paradigms of our western culture.”


    Also in Afterglow alongside Robert Andrew are Elena Knox, Make or Break (Rebecca Gallo & Connie Anthes) and Tina Havelock Stevens, representing the largest Australian presence at the Yokohama Triennale since its inauguration in 2001.

    “After weeks of staying home and watching images of hospitals and deserted city centres on two dimensional screens, our audience genuinely appreciates what the artists offer through the physical presence of their art works: joy, hope, empathy, anxiety, complexity, and many more” says a Yokohama Triennale spokesperson on the audience reception.

    The Yokohama Triennale’s mission is to address the relationships between Japan and the world, the individual and society, and to re-examine the social role of art from a variety of perspectives, in response to a world in constant flux.

    Afterglow is the first edition of the Yokohama Triennale led by non-Japanese curators, under the artistic directorship of New Delhi-based artists Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula Shuddhabrata Sengupta). The Collective’s curatorial Sourcebook reveals acts of care in contemporary culture as central to their rationale.

    Make or Break’s project Care for Bridges (2020), a participatory installation at the Yokohama Museum of Art, and online collection of actions and stories, responds directly to the theme – luminosity of care.


    Image caption: Tina Havelock Stevens, Ghost Class (video still) 2015, HD Video with sound, 10 minutes 59 second. Camera: Oscar Sanabria. Courtesy the artist. 

    Through image, storytelling and instruction, Make or Break have developed a series of six actions for people to try on the bridges where they live. “The actions aim to reshape the relations of bodies and worlds and the water that passes between, beneath and through,” the artists explain.

    “By collecting participants responses to the call-to-action, Make or Break hopes to understand how our relations with the world are unfolding and changing at this moment in time.”


    The role artists play in our daily lives, for our communities and our national identity, is valued in both Australia and Japan; museums and galleries are essential interfaces between artists, their ideas and the public.

    Both visitation to museums and galleries, and cultural exchange projects involving mobility of people, have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 restrictions globally.

    Museum directors in Australia and Japan have taken leadership roles in creating COVID-safe protocols for the global museums and galleries sector, published via CIMAM – the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art.

    While institutions can adapt, it's artists who innovate: embracing new technologies, exporting creative intellectual property (IP) to international markets, and engaging in cultural mobility, through mobility of practices and ideas, not just objects.

    Image caption: Elena Knox, Volcana Brainstorm (hot lava version), 2019, 2020. Installation view of Yokohama Triennale 2020. Photo: Otsuka Keita. Photo courtesy of the organising committee for the Yokohama Triennale.

    Australian artists based in the Asia-Pacific are also vital interlocuters for international engagement with Australia during this time of disruption.

    In the Yokohama Triennale’s offsite location, PLOT 48, Volcana Brainstorm (hot lava version) (2019, 2020) by Tokyo-based Australian artist Elena Knox, explores interspecies relationships between humans and animals, in an immersive installation created with Japanese collaborators.

    Australian artists at home and abroad, continue to showcase Australia’s vibrant culture to the world, not just streaming work online, but working with international partners to deliver in-person art experiences, through creative instruction, call-to-action and collaboration.


    Make or Break and Robert Andrew’s projects for the Yokohama Triennale are supported by the Australia Council through the International Arts Strategy Outcomes Fund.

    Raqs Media Collective’s Shuddhabrata Sengupta visited Australia in 2019 as part of the Australia Council’s Visiting International Curators program.

    Yokohoma Triennale continues to 11 October 2020. Virtual tour available here.

    Exit off canvas