John Curtin Gallery
Building 200, Curtin University, Kent Street
February 3 - April 29
“Emissaries,” Lisa Reihana’s New Zealand pavilion at the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale, is a poetic, provocative exhibition centered on the clash between two cultures. Its monumental centerpiece, in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17, is a mesmerizing panorama of a video installation that marshals film, digital tableau vivant, and ethnographic documentary to question stories authored by the country’s white colonizers. The work is inspired by Les sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1804–1805, better known as Captain Cook’s Voyages: a French Neoclassical wallpaper designed by Jean-Gabriel Charvet that alludes to stories and illustrations that seized the public imagination at the time.
Reihana, an artist of Māori and British descent, subverts Charvet’s Eurocentric narrative with a different perspective. Through an act of conscious reappropriation, she manipulates the original to suggest a more complex view—one beheld by the Polynesian, Maori, and Aboriginal First Nations people of the Pacific. This apparently Edenic vision, where reality is governed by tā and vā (time and space as described by Pacific philosophy) depicts initial contact and cultural ceremonies between the British and indigenous people, mixing known and invented narratives between the British navigators and people from across New Zealand and the Pacific area. The show is made complete by an installation of sculptural works that take the form of antique telescopes trained on moments of “encounter” (Perspectival Tubes, 2017), as well as photographic portraits of key figures in the video. In addition to the Venetian presentation, some historical materials have been borrowed from the Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth. These works on paper, which date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and trace Captain Cook’s voyage through the South Pacific, provide historical background for the original wallpaper and emphasize an uncanny situation suspended between real and fiction, history and anecdote.