Irony or full circle?

New Zealand artist's digital tapestry based on Cook's Pacific expedition sponsored by Royal Society UK for Biennale Arte in Venice.

New Zealand artist's digital tapestry based on Cook's Pacific expedition sponsored by Royal Society UK for Biennale Arte in Venice.

DIGITAL TAPESTRY: A still from Lisa Reihana’s multi-channel work, In Pursuit of Venus (infected). Picture from nzatvenice.org
Lisa Reihana's In Pursuit of Venus [infected].

A 32-minute panoramic, dialogue-free digital tapestry made up of tableaux from 18th century Tahiti during explorer Captain James Cook’s scientific expedition has been accepted for the Biennale Arte in Venice.

The Venice Biennale is known for its contemporary works by international artists. But in a twist that could be seen by some as ironic, by others as a full circle, UK scientific academy, the Royal Society, is supporting New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s presentation at the biennale.

Inspired by a 200-year-old French wallpaper depicting a Pacific utopia, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, Reihana’s expansive, multi-channel work In Pursuit of Venus (infected) is the cinematic centrepiece of her exhibition Emissaries.

Real-life actors cast as Cook, Banks, Tupaia and other Endeavour crew members play out mini-scenes that include the scientists’ astronomical observations, drunkenness and theft, Tahitian dancers, food preparation, island healers at work and a fatal shooting against a digitally-produced, wallpaper-like backdrop.

The New Zealand at Venice website (www.nzatvenice.com) describes Emissaries as “a meditation on ideas generated by cartographic endeavours and scientific exploration, unravels Enlightenment ideals and philosophy, the colonial impulse, and the distant gaze of power”.

“Reihana remade the background digitally and replaced the figures by filming live performers in front of a green screen and mixing the results,” writes Adam Gifford in The New Zealand Herald.

Colonisation is a huge project to look at, said Reihana.

“This is the opening, that moment when it first started to happen, we were all travelling about, we were so interested in each other. I got interested in Joseph Banks because he was operating the trading table, he was a linguist, he had wide and varied interests, so I wanted to show him doing some trading, talking to people, and then getting involved with the chief mourner in Tahiti, haunting villages. I wanted to restage that moment because I think of it as the first instance of an Englishman blacking up.

“I grew up with The Black and White Minstrel Show, so the scene of Banks covering up with black ash and going marauding with the chief mourner, there were these strange intercultural encounters that were happening.”

The Royal Society backed the Pacific voyages of English navigator Lieutenant James Cook, including the first voyage of the Endeavour with Joseph Banks — the ambitious global scientist who subsequently presided over the Royal Society for 42 years.

The partnership echoes support for explorations made nearly 250 years ago, says the organisation.

“From the moment it sponsored the measurement of the transit of Venus and the subsequent mapping of our country, with astonishing accuracy, the Royal Society has been connected to New Zealand, Venus, Polynesia, the Pacific Ocean and our tangata whenua,” says New Zealand at Venice Commissioner, Alastair Carruthers CNZM.

The Royal Society has given artist Reihana access to artefacts in its collections. These include observational instruments Cook used during his expeditions into the Pacific.

Cook’s much-travelled John Shelton clock, used on his second and third voyages, has been integrated into the scenes and soundscape of in Pursuit of Venus (infected).

The Biennale Arte in Venice opens in May.

A 32-minute panoramic, dialogue-free digital tapestry made up of tableaux from 18th century Tahiti during explorer Captain James Cook’s scientific expedition has been accepted for the Biennale Arte in Venice.

The Venice Biennale is known for its contemporary works by international artists. But in a twist that could be seen by some as ironic, by others as a full circle, UK scientific academy, the Royal Society, is supporting New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s presentation at the biennale.

Inspired by a 200-year-old French wallpaper depicting a Pacific utopia, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, Reihana’s expansive, multi-channel work In Pursuit of Venus (infected) is the cinematic centrepiece of her exhibition Emissaries.

Real-life actors cast as Cook, Banks, Tupaia and other Endeavour crew members play out mini-scenes that include the scientists’ astronomical observations, drunkenness and theft, Tahitian dancers, food preparation, island healers at work and a fatal shooting against a digitally-produced, wallpaper-like backdrop.

The New Zealand at Venice website (www.nzatvenice.com) describes Emissaries as “a meditation on ideas generated by cartographic endeavours and scientific exploration, unravels Enlightenment ideals and philosophy, the colonial impulse, and the distant gaze of power”.

“Reihana remade the background digitally and replaced the figures by filming live performers in front of a green screen and mixing the results,” writes Adam Gifford in The New Zealand Herald.

Colonisation is a huge project to look at, said Reihana.

“This is the opening, that moment when it first started to happen, we were all travelling about, we were so interested in each other. I got interested in Joseph Banks because he was operating the trading table, he was a linguist, he had wide and varied interests, so I wanted to show him doing some trading, talking to people, and then getting involved with the chief mourner in Tahiti, haunting villages. I wanted to restage that moment because I think of it as the first instance of an Englishman blacking up.

“I grew up with The Black and White Minstrel Show, so the scene of Banks covering up with black ash and going marauding with the chief mourner, there were these strange intercultural encounters that were happening.”

The Royal Society backed the Pacific voyages of English navigator Lieutenant James Cook, including the first voyage of the Endeavour with Joseph Banks — the ambitious global scientist who subsequently presided over the Royal Society for 42 years.

The partnership echoes support for explorations made nearly 250 years ago, says the organisation.

“From the moment it sponsored the measurement of the transit of Venus and the subsequent mapping of our country, with astonishing accuracy, the Royal Society has been connected to New Zealand, Venus, Polynesia, the Pacific Ocean and our tangata whenua,” says New Zealand at Venice Commissioner, Alastair Carruthers CNZM.

The Royal Society has given artist Reihana access to artefacts in its collections. These include observational instruments Cook used during his expeditions into the Pacific.

Cook’s much-travelled John Shelton clock, used on his second and third voyages, has been integrated into the scenes and soundscape of in Pursuit of Venus (infected).

The Biennale Arte in Venice opens in May.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Do you think Wainui and Okitu should be reticulated for water and sewage?