11 May 2017

NZ pavillion opens at Venice Biennale

From Morning Report, 8:55 am on 11 May 2017

New Zealand's Pavillion at the Venice Biennale has officially opened at the Biennale hub, the Arsenale.

In a first for New Zealand, our artist Lisa Reihana, arrived at the opening in Venice’s biggest gondola.

Lisa Reihana and Dame Patsy Reddy arrive on the gondola

Lisa Reihana and Dame Patsy Reddy arrive on the gondola Photo: RNZ / Lynn Freeman

Lisa Reihana and Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy

Lisa Reihana and Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy Photo: RNZ / Lynn Freeman

New Zealand's Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy opened the event which was also attended by the head of the Biennale.

"I am in awe of what Lisa has achieved and I'm delighted that an international audience will now have access to work that is both technically brilliant and utterly profound," Dame Reddy says.

She describes Lisa Reihana's panoramic video in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015—17 as "prestigious' and says "I'm sure it will make her famous and hopefully make New Zealand famous in the art world."

Dame Reddy says she wanted to attend the opening because she is an art lover and because she acknowledges the importance for New Zealand of having artists at the Biennale.

Lisa Reihana’s massive audio visual work Emissaries - is already making waves. At the opening it was announced that it will be shown in both London and Paris.

Well wishers and officials attend the opening of Lisa Reihana's Venice exhibition.

Well wishers and officials attend the opening of Lisa Reihana's Venice exhibition. Photo: RNZ / Lynn Freeman

The Chair Of The Arts Council, Michael Moynihan, was also at the opening. He says this year's entry recognised a number of firsts.

"The first time we've been in the Arsenale, the first time the Governor General has been here."

The Arts Council puts up most of the money for New Zealand to take part in the Biennale, but Mr Moynihan says the project has also been supported by record levels of private patronage, sponsorship and partnerships.

Lisa Reihana’s work involves a 23.5 metre long video, with live action scenes against a painted backdrop.

It 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.

The artistic director of the Royal Academy of Art in London, Tim Marlow, says the origins of the work are complex.

"It starts with an early nineteenth century piece of wallpaper and then through an enormously rigorous process of research and artistic imagination, that Lisa Reihana has in abundance, it then charts everything from the first meeting of Polynesian people with Europeans, to the mapping of the celestial and terrestrial realms."

There are several hundred formal and associated shows in the Biennale and hundreds of the world’s toughest art critics will be assessing the work this week before the public is allowed in on Friday.

Rhana Devenport, the exhibition’s curator and Director of Auckland Art Gallery, which first showed the video, says she is not worried that people will not have the time to spend 32 minutes watching the exhibition.

"What happened in Auckland, and I think what's going to happen here, is that people just stay with it, with a vague sense that it has a loop because it goes through such an emotional arch as the events take place," she says.

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Photo: RNZ Lynn Freeman

Lynn's time in Venice is supported by Creative New Zealand.