Māori artist's work opens prestigious art exhibition in Venice

Māori artist Lisa Reihana's panoramic video In Pursuit of Venus was opened at the 57th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia by Governor General, Her Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy.  

The artwork is a cinematic reimagining of the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1804—1805, also known as ‘Captain Cook’s voyages’. Reihana has used twenty-first century audio-visual technology to animate the wallpaper with real and invented narratives.

Characters are drawn from across New Zealand, the Pacific and Europe with the death of Cook in Hawai’i as a dramatic moment of “rupture” in the video.

The exhibition Lisa Reihana: Emissaries is housed in the Tese dell’Isolotto, one of the oldest and most expansive maritime buildings in the Arsenale, the biennale’s central exhibition area. 

Dame Patsy Reddy says, “The Biennale Arte is the most prestigious event of its type in the world and New Zealand’s participation indicates that we are a recognised contributor to the contemporary art world,” 

New Zealanders can be extremely proud of Lisa Reihana’s work. Emissaries is both technically brilliant and profound and I expect it to be a huge drawcard for visitors to the biennale.”

Lisa Reihana: Emissaries has been curated for Venice by Auckland Art Gallery director Rhana Devenport.

“Venice influenced maritime trade and exploration throughout most of the last millennium.  The islands of Aotearoa / New Zealand were among the last to be discovered by humans, and it is hard to think of a better place to exhibit such a mighty artistic contemplation on the impact of contact across the oceans," said Commissioner Alastair Carruthers.

Arts Council Chairman Michael Moynahan congratulated Reihana on creating such a spectacular exhibition, the first time New Zealand had presented such an ambitious digital work at the biennale.

“We’re delighted with this wonderful work and acknowledge the enormous amount of effort Lisa has put in and the support she has received to create it.”

After the exhibition in Venice, In Pursuit of Venus, will be shown at the Campbelltown Art Centre in Sydney from January 2018. New scenes in the work featuring dancers and weavers from the Aboriginal Koomurri community were shot with the support from the centre.

In 2018 the work will also be exhibited by the Royal Academy of Arts in London as part of a major survey of the arts of Oceania marking its 250th anniversary. 

In a special cultural exchange between tangata whenua, Lisa Reihana and the Governor General arrived at pavilion on the Disdotona, Venice’s largest gondola, with 18 rowers from the Canottieri Querini Rowing Club. The historic vessel has carried previous national emissaries through Venetian waterways and compliments references to the Nookta, Māori, Hawai’ian, Tahitian and English vessels that appear in work.

Each waka referenced in the work hails from island nations whose existence and philosophies relate to Te Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Great Ocean), which connects us all.

Creative New Zealand funds and manages New Zealand’s presence at the Biennale Arte for the almost seven month duration and is pleased to again be working with Te Papa as key partner and for the first time with Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as presenting partner.

The initiative has also been generously supported by New Zealand at Venice patrons and sponsors.

For more information on New Zealand’s presentation at the Biennale Arte 2017, click here