On the Frontier


Frontiers are pervasive and can take many different forms on many different levels. They inhabit not only economic and political systems, but also social and cultural systems and peoples’ personal lives.

For a roaming project called Frontier Imaginaries, Australian-born, Holland-based curator Vivian Ziherl is asking artists to mine these fields in order to imagine beyond what has been traditionally thought of as a frontier. The project, initiated by the Institute of Modern Art’s new Curatorial Fellowship program, will take place across the IMA and QUT Art Museum, the work at the IMA looking domestically while QUT Art Museum looks out.

“The thing with the term ‘frontier’,” Ziherl says, “is its troubling persistence. Properly, it’s an idea that belongs to the 18th and 19th century, and yet, certainly at present within the news services in Europe, the frontier is being daily invoked, particularly around Europe’s current attempts to come to terms with its refugee populations. And there’s this very slippery presence of the term of the frontier coming up in some cases, taking the place of the border and, in others, gesturing to something else.

“So it’s a term that’s pretty self-evident, but what does it actually mean to draw upon this idea within an era that’s long after ‘the West’ was apparently won?”

Brisbane is a particularly appropriate place for this. There’s the hangover of its role as a secondary penal colony – a “penal colony within a colony” – as well as its frontier wars, which lasted late into the 19th century. Ziherl alludes to its history as a kind of abandoned space, marked by General MacArthur’s “Brisbane Line”, which proposed the succession of the top half of Australia to the Japanese during World War II should there be an invasion. All this continues to linger in Brisbane’s air, its frontiers still not fully resolved.

516 Rachel O'Reilly. Horizontal Rev.46
Horizontal Rev, from Rachel O’Reilly, The Gas Imaginary, iteration #2, (2014), with Rodrigo Hernandez and Pa.La.C.e. (Valle Medina and Benjamin Reynolds). Limited edition series of 9 x 3d drawings, risograph on paper, ink, pencil. Courtesy the artist.

Gladstone-born, Berlin-based Rachel O’Reilly’s work at the IMA is part of a larger project called the “gas imaginary”, which considers not only the environmental impacts of mining, fracking and dredging in Australia, but also how these environmental concerns affect peoples’ livelihoods and the politics of the local. Having already displayed her work at the IMA’s Frontier Imaginaries primer in 2014, the artist will also show a second series of drawings about the dredging of the harbour around Gladstone.

Gordon Hookey (Waanyi / Cloncurry) is continuing an ongoing project that takes the work of 1970s Zairean genre painter Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu as its starting point. Matulu – who also perceived himself as a historian, much like Hookey does – produced a series of 100 canvases that told the story of Congolese histories and revolutions, its colonial and decolonial periods. Through a series of 10 x 2 metre canvases that will be on display a the IMA, Hookey tells the story of Queensland.

“There’s something that’s interesting about looking towards a Zairean history from Brisbane,” Ziherl says.

“It’s not the sort of comparative gaze that is the habituated one.”

This jamming continues throughout Frontier Imaginaries: it’s not so much about place as it is about our perception of boundaries.

Melbourne-based artist Tom Nicholson has completed a project that sees him start from a monument – a common motif of his – and cut through its histories. Scenes from an Archipelago begins with Indonesia’s national monument Monas (or Monument Nasional) in Jakarta and follows through the construction of a national identity in the work of state artist Edhi Sunarso. For this project, Nicholson worked with Hazara refugees, who live in a small village north of Jakarta and were prevented from arrival by the Australian Government. Showing at the QUT Art Museum, Nicholson’s series of non-compartmentalised dioramas offer a glimpse into statelessness and at the construction of another frontier that currently pervades global politics.

For a prelude at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s Australian Cinémathèque before the oficial opening of Frontier Imaginaries, Singaporean artist Ho Rui An will present a film performance that explores how the dashcam imagines a loss of the horizons associated with the imperialist mapping of the world. Artists also showing in Brisbane include Megan Cope, Alice Cresicher and Wendelein Van Oldenborgh.

In a way, the frontier can be thought of as more insidious than pure colonialism, operating under many guises and infiltrating our everyday. Frontier Imaginaries encourages artists, audiences and the art world at large to reconsider the notion of the frontier as one that is not only relevant, but also necessary in coming to terms with conditions past, present and future.


Frontier Imaginaries
Institute of Modern Art
14 May – 16 July 

QUT Art Museum
14 May – 14 August



Feature Words by Sarah Werkmeister