Kiwi artist Lisa Reihana adds Aboriginal stories to artwork for Venice Biennale

Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] 2015, multi-channel video, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of Auckland Art Gallery.

A brief clip of the original version of Lisa Reihana's artwork On Pursuit of Venus [infected] displayed at the Auckland Art Gallery last year.

New Zealand's artist for the 2017 Venice Biennale talks to CHARLIE GATES about adapting and renaming her hit artwork for the world's largest art fair.

It took six years to create before its debut in Auckland last year, but New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana only feels like her epic video artwork will be complete when it appears at the world's largest art fair next year.

Reihana is expanding and revamping her artwork about Pacific cultures meeting European explorers to include Aboriginal stories for next year's Venice Biennale.

The artwork is the largest video work the Auckland Art Gallery has ever exhibited. Each frame of the 32-minute film ...
Supplied

The artwork is the largest video work the Auckland Art Gallery has ever exhibited. Each frame of the 32-minute film contains more than eight million pixels.

She was selected last October to represent New Zealand at the world's largest art fair with a work that first debuted at the Auckland Art Gallery in May 2015.

Pursuit of Venus [infected] was a critical and popular hit, becoming the most popular solo show by a Kiwi artist at the gallery since 1997, with 49,000 visitors.

The large video artwork is an animated adaptation of 19th century scenic wallpaper depicting encounters between Europeans and indigenous Pacific cultures. Actors bring to life encounters between Polynesians and European explorers like Captain Cook, subverting and questioning the romanticised version of events in the original wallpaper design.

Artist Lisa Reihana is ten months into preparation for representing New Zealand at next year's Venice Biennale.
Bevan Read

Artist Lisa Reihana is ten months into preparation for representing New Zealand at next year's Venice Biennale.

Reihana is extending the work for Venice to include Aboriginal experiences and plans to film new segments with performers in Australia this month. She said the inclusion of Aboriginal stories would complete the work.

"I originally wanted First Australians to be in the work, but that was very hard from a funding perspective. 

"It's really important for me to give that voice to Aboriginal people. ... That will for me be a really nice completion. It feels like a completion of thinking through those ideas."

Lisa Reihana's 25-metre wide by four-metre high panoramic video and sound work animates a 19th-century scenic wallpaper ...
Supplied

Lisa Reihana's 25-metre wide by four-metre high panoramic video and sound work animates a 19th-century scenic wallpaper from 1804.

The five new Aboriginal scenes being shot for Venice will be integrated into the 32-minute video artwork.

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"I don't want to extend the length of the work. I will have to find a way to fit them in," she said.

"At 32 minutes long it worked really well. If you have a lunchtime you could see it twice in a lunchtime. People could put that time aside. If it ain't broke don't fix it."

The work will be renamed Emissaries and include new photographic portraits of historic figures.

"I really wanted to signify a shift from what we did at the Auckland Art Gallery. It means Venice is separate and has its own distinct name and moment and presentation. It's a little extension of the work."

She wants to bring to life Aboriginal stories like a cave painting by the Dharawal people near Campbelltown in New South Wales. The painting depicts a bull that escaped from one of the early settler ships and went on to sire a wild herd in the bush.

She wants to include the story of Cooma, a Gweagal warrior who encountered Europeans in Botany Bay and got a musket hole in his shield. The shield is in the collection of the British Museum, with some First Australians campaigning for its return.

Reihana sometimes feels daunted by the challenge of preparing a Venice Biennale show.

"There is such a focus on Venice and it is a really big and difficult place to go into. It is like the art Olympics, but they get four years and we only get two.

"It's quite confronting. Sometimes I have some very sleepless nights.

"It's frightening. It's good to feel scared and then have to dive in and do it."

 - Stuff

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