Created over six years, the immersive 32-minute multi-screen panoramic video animates and reclaims the widely distributed 19th-century scenic wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique by Jean Gabriel Charvet for Joseph Dufour et Cie.
Leading film and multi-media artist Reihana garners the technical and cultural skills gained through her works Native Portraits n.19897, 1999 and Digital Marae, 2007 taking them to a yet more ambitious level. Through in Pursuit of Venus [infected] Reihana engages with Pacific peoples to examine migratory and colonial histories of the Pacific, while interrogating issues of representation.
Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport says Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] challenges stereotypes and ‘the rampant exoticisation’ of the Pacific created by the neo-classical gaze and European colonialism.
‘Through Reihana’s indigenous reclamation, the work reconsiders popular representations of the Pacific from that period and disrupts historical European notions of beauty, authenticity, history and truth. She has restaged and reimagined these ideas from a Pacific perspective using the latest digital technologies to create a stunning and unforgettable contemporary work,’ says Devenport.
Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique features European impressions of indigenous South Pacific people, as well as the death of Captain Cook. Its illustrations were based on accounts from the journals of James Cook and Louis de Bougainville, and reworked engravings by Webber and Hodges.
Now, 200 years later, Reihana animates the wallpaper’s characters and scenery using green screen techniques and multiple video channels. Populated by people drawn from across the Pacific, it is enlivened with the sights and sounds of dance and cultural ceremonies. Each character comes alive with remarkable precision through a series of scenes informed by Māori and Pacific cultural practices and embodied knowledge.
Against the utopian Tahitian background from the Dufour wallpaper, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] activates traditional performance, dance, detailed costumes and imagined events while enveloping the viewer in a multi-channel soundscape that includes languages of the Pacific, music, chants and song.
Artist Lisa Reihana says the wallpaper is a rich document embodying knowledge systems that ‘begged examination’.
‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected] investigates those ruptures of visible truths and provides sideline glances that are absent from the original work,’ she says.
Devenport says the piece encompasses multiple and egalitarian interests.
‘It will provide a touchstone for productive dialogue on topics such as post-colonial studies, coded language of performance, indigenous practices and gender politics.’
She says in Pursuit of Venus [infected] is a powerful and technologically advanced artwork of cultural importance for New Zealand.
‘The artwork is a singular and significant project set and developed regionally, yet should be of great interest to our international audiences.’
- ‘It demonstrates thought leadership from Auckland Art Gallery as it will expand awareness and understanding of historical European perceptions of the Pacific at the height of colonialism, and how contemporary artists challenge these assumptions through cultural practice,’ says Devenport.
The multi-faceted work involves more than 100 specialist contributors from across the Pacific, including animators, technicians, costume makers, and PIPA – Pacific Institute of Performing Art students and performers.
The presentation of the video work is scheduled to coincide with the exhibition Printing the Pacific at the Gallery, which runs at the Gallery until 26 July 2015. Printing the Pacific includes work of direct relevance to in Pursuit of Venus [infected], most especially the multiple-drop version of the Dufour wallpaper, on woodblock and gouache on paper, which is on loan from the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
To complement the project, the Gallery will also print a major publication Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus, generously supported by Creative New Zealand. Rhana Devenport is commissioning Editor with 13 New Zealand and international writers including Dr Patu Hohepa, Professor Dame Anne Salmond, Professor Nicholas Thomas, Professor Sean Cubitt, Dr Deidre Brown and Dr Caroline Vercoe.