by Diana Looser.  Full article in print edition and on Project MUSE

This essay analyzes the multi-channel, synchronized video installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-17) by Māori visual artist, filmmaker, and performance artist Lisa Reihana. The work was created as an indigenous response to the nineteenth-century French panoramic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean, 1804-05), designed by Jean-Gabriel Charvet and manufactured by Joseph Dufour et Cie. Inspired by European exploration of the Pacific Islands region in the late eighteenth century, Les Sauvages presented consumers with a neo-classical pageant of newly-encountered Pacific peoples existing in a utopian state of harmony with nature, but it also contained the incongruous depiction of the violent death of British explorer Captain Cook. Reihana’s contemporary revision proceeds from this rupture, critically recomposing and enlivening the wallpaper’s vignettes with actors and dancers to restage moments of cross-cultural interaction and conflict. Taking a dialogic approach that interleaves Western and Pacific theories and philosophies, this essay explores selected ways in which visual images are deployed within Reihana’s epic performance work. Key foci are how Reihana tackles the biases of colonial imaging by exposing the indigenous possibilities encrypted within colonial visual texts, and her use of digital technology to visualize a Māori concept of time as a spiral that dilates with the viewer’s durational experience. in Pursuit of Venus [infected] furthers timely discussions about the role of digital technology and aesthetics in visual and performing art historiography, and suggests how critical reconfigurations of the past through visual and performative representations might stimulate indigenous self-determination. 

Jean Gabriel Charvet (designer), French, 1750-1829; Joseph Dufour (printer), French, 1742-1827. Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, ca. 1804-1806. Three of twenty panels of wallpaper (drops 8-10), one of which is a modern reproduction (77.6.8). Block-printed watercolor on paper, 99 x 21 1/4 in. (251.5 x 54 cm) each panel. Museum purchase, gift of Georgia M. Worthington and The Fine Arts Museums Trustees Fund, 77.6.8 –10. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

 

Gallery view, Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] in Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, New Zealand Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale Arte (2017), Isolotto, Arsenale, Venice, Italy. Multi-channel HD digital video, color, sound, 64 min. Author’s photo.
Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected]. Still, detail. 2015-2017, multi-channel video, HD, color, sound. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2014.

 

Tupaia, “A Chief Mourner of Tahiti”(1769), pencil and watercolor, detail. Image courtesy of the British Library.

 

P. J. de Loutherbourg, “Chief Mourner Otaheite”(stage costume for the pantomime Omai, or A Trip Round the World, 1785), watercolor. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

 

Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected]. Still, detail. 2015-2017, multi-channel video, HD, color, sound. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2014.