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New Zealand presents multi-media artist Lisa Reihana at the 57th International Art Exhibition
in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17, Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, Biennale Arte 2017. Photo: Michael Hall. Image courtesy of New Zealand at Venice.

VENICE.- Lisa Reihana: Emissaries features the artist’s vast panoramic video in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015—17, alongside interrelated photo-based and sculptural works. The exhibition is presented at Tese dell’Isolotto, one of the oldest and most expansive maritime buildings in the Arsenale. This is the first time the New Zealand pavilion has been located within the Biennale’s central exhibition area.

Lisa Reihana’s (b.1964) technically ambitious and poetically nuanced practice draws on fiction, historical evidence, mythology and kinship to disrupt notions of truth, gender and modes of representation. In Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, curated by Rhana Devenport, imperialism’s glare is returned with a speculative twist and the exhibition aims to unravel Enlightenment ideals and philosophy, the colonial impulse, and the pervasive gaze of power and desire.

in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015—17, is a cinematic reimagining of the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1804—1805, also known as ‘Captain Cook’s voyages’. Two centuries later – and almost 250 years after the original voyages that inspired them – Reihana employs complex twenty-first century audio-visual technologies to animate the wallpaper with real and invented narratives in a cultural endeavour of reclamation and reimagining. The artist re-casts this original European fabrication of the Pacific to suggest a more complex story.

The expansive video panorama is populated by characters drawn from across Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pacific and Europe to create a compelling and mesmerising experience. Reihana intensifies the death of Cook in Hawai’i as the dramatic moment of rupture. This and other narratives play out within a looping visual and sonic world where time is cyclical. Heightening the emotional arc of the work, an integrated soundscape weaves together live capture of performances, the winding of an original clock used on Cook’s voyages, and rare recordings of the taonga pūoro (Māori instruments) that he collected.

The title in Pursuit of Venus [infected] consciously references the artist’s ‘point of view’ or ‘POV’. The ‘Venus’ alludes to the worldwide international scientific mission to measure the heavens by documenting the 1769 Transit of Venus, in order to determine the distance between Earth and the Sun. Arcadian conceptions of the South Seas

are also alluded to, with Bougainville having named Tahiti ‘New Cythera’ in reference to the birthplace of the goddess of love. The ‘infection’ reveals itself through the slippages of encounter as Pacific peoples and the English sailors, artists, scientists and astronomers share this heightened phantasmic zone.

A constellation of five sculptural Perspectival Tubes feature transparencies that reference one's POV (point of view) and literally 'telescope in' on certain moments associated with in Pursuit of Venus [infected]. Featured are a Nootka Sound figurine (an ancestor from the northern hemisphere), the Tahitian Omai's calling card that he used in London, a powerful headdress from Cook Islands worn by a senior performer from Rarotonga, an eighteenth century universal compass that tracks colonisation, as well as the artist's text 'Because we are From the Future'. These words allude to Māori and Pacific concepts of time (Tā-Vā) where past, present and future are embodied in the same moment.

Flanking in Pursuit of Venus [infected] are two emissaries, at the close of the exhibition is Joseph Banks, the ambitious English naturalist and explorer who was an eighteenth century emissarial figure of expanding knowledge, at the entrance of the exhibition appears the elaborately costumed Tahitian Chief Mourner who led customary rituals transiting between death and life.

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