International artist Lisa Reihana brings hi-tech projection to Norval Foundation

4 Oct
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Immersive video artwork ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’ (2015-17) by Lisa Reihana (born Aotearoa New Zealand, 1964)

Hailed a hi-tech marvel for this century, Norval Foundation presents New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s immersive video artwork ‘In Pursuit of Venus [Infected]’. This projection is the result of a 10-year labour of love, at 22.5 metres wide, lasting 64 minutes and with 1,500 digital layers made up of more than three trillion pixels.

Housed in Gallery 1 at Norval Foundation, in a dedicated exhibition space, it’s an epic piece of living, moving, animated wallpaper which brought Reihana international recognition and eventually led to her representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, where it was described as the best exhibit by critics including those from the Spectator and the Sunday Times. Integrating hand-painted landscape with live action figures and a densely layered soundtrack, ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’ invites viewers to observe a series of restaged historical events, both real and imagined, of the first contact between British and Pacific peoples. Rather than replicating a European perspective, which dominates the majority of accounts of this moment, Reihana integrates Māori forms of knowledge and social practices into how the work is structured, offering a sophisticated counternarrative. Simultaneously, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] draws upon traditions of popular culture and theatre, including the moving panorama, a type of rotating panoramic history painting that was popular in the 1800s, and pantomime, a form of musical comedy.

This is the Auckland-based Māori First Nation artist’s most ambitious project to date involving a decade of research, filming, production and post-production. This is reinforced with the use of cutting-edge digital technologies, including the work being shot in 15k resolution, placing Reihana’s practice within a lineage of video and installation-based artists such as Nam June Paik, Isaac Julien and Pipolotti Rist.

A key reference for ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’ is a decorative wallpaper titled ‘Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique’ (1804-06), designed by French artist Jean-Gabriel Charvet and produced by Joseph Dufour et Cie, a French company that specialised in luxury wallpapers and textiles in the late 1700s and 1800s. Popular among affluent Europeans and Americans at the time, the wallpaper, formed of twenty separate sheets or ‘drops’, depicts the different peoples that British explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook encountered on his three journeys across the Pacific from 1768 until his death in 1779. Behind the figures is an Arcadian landscape, amalgamations of Hawai’i, Tahiti, Aotearoa New Zealand and other locations in the vast Pacific region. This imaginary space is more reflective of how the British viewed the peoples they encountered, and therefore the British, rather than the peoples and cultures themselves. Indeed, when Reihana first encountered ‘Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique’ at the National Gallery of Australia (Sydney), she was struck by how the representations of Māori peoples in this work were removed from her own experience as a Māori person. In response she created a ‘counter archive’, as scholar Nikos Papastergiadis has characterised it, presenting a complex series of encounters and a nuanced understanding of Māori peoples. Cook’s three voyages to the Pacific, as historical events, also feature directly in Reihana’s work. In particular, the title refers to both the transit of Venus that Cook observed in 1769 in Tahiti, and the beginning of the British colonial project in the Pacific. The observation of this remarkable astronomical event was a milestone in astronomy, facilitating an accurate calculation of the Earth’s distance not only to the planet Venus, but also Earth’s distance to the sun. In a sequence of ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’, a British astronomer, presumably Cook, discusses the use of a telescope with a group of Māoris, and later on a telescope is again visible in the background. Yet, however remarkable this scientific achievement was, advancing our understanding of Earth’s place within the solar system, the arrival of the British in the Pacific marked the beginning of a devastating period of European colonialisation, the consequences of which are still being dealt with. Be sure not to miss this hi-tech masterpiece and plan a visit to Norval Foundation in Steenberg, Tokai.

This renowned international art work, curated by Owen Martin, will be on display in Gallery 1 until 20 January 2020. Media queries: Norval Foundation Lucienne van Pul Avenue Communications +27 (0) 76 566 2651

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