QAGOMA"S flagship exhibition, the Asia Pacific Triennial is in its 8th iteration. Commissioned Indian artist Waqif discusses his response to architectural space.

When Delhi-based artist Asim Waqif was commissioned to design an installation for QAGOMA’s APT8, his long term interests in waste and vernacular architecture combined to create a playful structure, built in a spirit of collaboration.

“I’m very interested in waste,” says Waqif. “I’ve investigated the phenomenon in a lot of countries, but it’s often difficult to find the information, which is very protected. The segregation of waste seems to be a mechanism for taking care of the guilt of consumption. The consumer feels he/she has done the right thing by putting trash in the right coloured bin and feels ready to consume more. However more often than not most municipal trash (except glass and paper which is easy to recycle) is recombined and either put into landfills or incinerated. The information about the treatment of waste is protected so as to not reveal actually what happens to trash. 

“Here in Brisbane I considered the huge transformation of the city over the last couple of decades, and I am also intrigued by the ‘Queenslander’ houses.

“I tracked what happened to some of these old buildings, and soon discovered the Deen Brothers [a demolition firm known for the controversial destruction of some key historic buildings since the 1970s]. I also discovered a phenomenal haul of old timbers in Kennedy’s Timbers salvage yards.”

Today timber is poisoned rather than seasoned….In the late 1800s it spent 15 years in the timber yards after cutting and transporting on rivers before it was used…

Using the Deen Brother’s motto as the title of his artwork, “All we leave behind are the memories”, Waqif used the monumental timbers of old Queenslanders, mills and factories, a Sydney wharf, and the deconstructed Shorncliffe Pier in Brisbane to build an intriguing maze-like scaffold that inhabits the airy space of GOMA’s Long Gallery. Children (and adults) can climb through, up and around the timbers, engaging in serendipitous activities along the way — pressing buttons to release air, sounds and vibrations. “The interactive electronics provide other levels of experience, and viewers adopting a curious or irreverent attitude are rewarded by the interactions,” says Waqif. “I didn’t want that ‘nobody touches’ barrier you see so often in museums.”

After initial sketches for the work and a 3D model, which were soon abandoned, Waqif was keen to grant the building team a degree of freedom in how to let the structure ramble through the space. “I didn’t want it too slick and designed, and decided to mess it up a bit,” he says.”My initial idea was to have it growing through and outside the building like some sort of disease.” The collaborative building process is also central to his philosophy, and derived from his earlier professional ventures as an architect. “Design studios don’t usually allow for creativity and collaboration between the architect and the construction team.” Also, as an architectural educator in earlier times, he values investigation and subjective education over the rote learning methods he bucked against.

“I didn’t want it too slick and designed, and decided to mess it up a bit…”

The appeal of the materials was strong. “These are good straight timbers. You can see the cut marks from the wide axe of the 1880s. Band saws and circular saws came later. The metal hardware is also retained in these timbers — with drop-forged bolts and nuts rather than machine-made ones. Today, timber is poisoned rather than seasoned. In the late 1800s the timber was left for 15 years before use. Now it is cut and pumped with poison and used immediately.”

Waqif’s Delhi studio, which he describes as ‘on the border of legality’, sits in a zone where clothes factories abound and recycling is in evidence all around. While the title of this commissioned work adopts the tongue-in-cheek Deen Brothers motto, “All we leave behind are the memories”, it also aligns with the artist’s ambition to create ephemeral projects and eschew documentation. In Waqif’s own words, “It’s about being left with just the memory of the experience.”

ASIM WAQIF (India b.1978)

All we leave behind are the memories 2015

Installation of reclaimed timber from demolition sites around Brisbane,interactive electronic and acoustic system, and metal hardware

Site-specific work developed for ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’

This project has been supported by Kennedy’s Timbers, Brisbane

Courtesy: The artist

Photography: QAGOMA