Venice Biennale: New Zealand's emissary
Nearly 250 years since Captain James Cook travelled to the Pacific on his voyages of geographic and scientific discovery, a Kiwi emissary, Lisa Reihana, has returned to Europe in 2017 on a mission.
Like Cook's trip, it combines art, culture and science, but is based on 21st century digital technologies, used to challenge preconceptions and to chart new ideas.
Reihana is New Zealand's representative at the 57th Venice Biennale, the prestigious biennial gathering of international art with her work Lisa Reihana: Emissaries. Her work will reside in the New Zealand pavilion, open until November, which is housed in Tese dell'Isolotto, the oldest building in Venice's historic Arsenale district. The feature is Reihana's sublime 23.5 x 3.3 metre digital panorama in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (iPOVi, for short). The panorama, comprising 3.168 trillion pixels, sits alongside interrelated photo-based and sculptural works.
In her work, Reihana navigates the Enlightenment ideas that propelled Captain Cook's endeavours and the colonial vision represented in the French scenic wallpaper from 1804-5 entitled Les Sauvages De La Mer Pacifique. The wallpaper, which presents an anodyne Europeanised landscape which bears little resemblance to the real Pacific, is the backdrop against which classically idealised figures cavort.
Reihana reclaims and recasts the European fabrication and digitally populates her cinematic landscape with scenes of contact from the first interactions between different peoples from across the Pacific and Captain Cook and his men. The filmed vignettes show trade, ritual, and chilling conflict resulting from misunderstanding. The scenes and stories are drawn from across the Pacific, and are represented from a post-colonial point of view. iPOVi is that rare breed, a rigorous intellectual effort that says something important about our part of the world, and which is also an exhilarating, captivating and vivid piece of epic filmic story-telling.
Reihana has been supported in her opening week at Venice, the Vernissage, by a further 150 odd Kiwis, patrons who have formed the private part of what is a proud public private partnership. The patrons have have participated in a five day programme of events. I was lucky to be one of their number and will return in November to play a front-of-house role as the last of six gallery attendants at the Tese dell'Isolotto.
Reihana and Governor-General Patsy Reddy were rowed down Venice's Grand Canal to the Arsenale in the Disdotona, Venice's largest gondola (which has previously carried the Pope and the Queen). 18 rowers brought the Disdotona alongside at Tese dell'Isolotto where the Kiwi contingent were waiting and the official party were welcomed into the pavilion by the keening cries of a karanga. Tim Marlow, the artistic director of the Royal Academy, London, delivered a welcoming speech.
In 2015, more than 50,000 visitors saw iPOVi at the Auckland Art Gallery, making it the institution's most visited exhibition. With the exhibition now open in Venice, it's estimated that a half-million visitors will meet our emissary over the course of the 2017 Biennale.
- Sunday Star Times