In Pursuit Of Venus (Infected) – Lisa Reihana

At Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

I’ve been looking forward to seeing a full presentation of this work since I heard Lisa Reihana talk about it last year. At the time I had no idea that I would start working with video as a medium but somehow I was drawn in and deeply engaged by the work and the process she was navigating. As it has turned out this work is very relevant and inspiring for me through it’s presentation, medium, technique and narrative.

Walking into the gallery space one is immediately struck by the size of the work; both it’s physical presence and the scope of the content. The work appears as a moving tableau, a static painting brought to life. The painted landscapes and flora are beautifully ‘turn of the century’ in their style and manage to avoid any of the cgi cliches of digitally composited pieces. The human aspects of the painting merge wonderfully into their painted landscape, both blending in and jumping out of the scenes; they can move from being at one moment static painted figures to be fully ‘alive’ and moving almost seamlessly.

The slow scrolling of the scene reveals the narrative in the work. At first sitting it appears to be a tableau of little vignettes (much like the 200-year-old French wallpaper depicting a Pacific utopia that helped inspire this work, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique). After observing for a time the viewer starts to notice recurring characters and sequential scenes that unfold into the narrative of Captain Cook, Tupaia and Joseph Bank’s travels and travails in the Pacific. I watched the full 30 minutes and found that there was no obvious ‘join’ in the work where the narrative started and finished, it was a continual loop, the Pacific islands be colonised over and over ad infinitum. Lisa Reihana talks about the wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique and how this hand-blocked panoramic paper was the only one of it’s kind to depict a death – the death of Captain CookShe talks also about the huge technical undertaking that it took to create this kind of wallpaper which is definitely reflected in the huge undertaking to create In Pursuit of Venus (Infected).
(Cicuit Cast Episode 23: Interview with Lisa Reihana. (2015)


I’m inspired by Reihana’s use of a fixed camera and the illusion of a static image to produce a moving narrative. With my work “Hive Oracle” I wanted to create the effect of a moving painting, a fixed image brought to life, rather than editing camera angles and shots as you usually would if making a film. I’m also extremely impressed by her attention to colour and texture; the interplay between the real people and the painted scenery is so seductive, it draws the viewer right into the world of the artwork and allows him/her to forget the technical aspects involved in the construction of the work.

Another aspect of the production of the work that I was very interested in (and I remember Reihana talking about last year at Whitecliffe) was the collaboration between the artist and the performers. Being members of each cultural group they must have a lot of their own personal experience to bring to their performances. That creates a very different work than a piece that is solely or mostly directed by the artist.

Part of the work that had a huge impact on me personally was the soundtrack. The use of audio in artworks is so powerful and can create instant engagement, emotional texture, drama, narrative. The soundtrack that Reihana has created for In Pursuit of Venus was stunning. Not only did it follow the narrative of the piece but it seemed to give the work a physical depth, in that the layered sounds within the soundtrack actually created dimension within the flat painting. You could hear the people who were meant to be in the distance and they sounded further away than those who were in the foreground meaning that both the visual and audio parts of the experience opened out.



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