I wish everyone could watch this film, sitting alone in the empty gallery, as I did this afternoon. On the other hand, I want everyone in the state to go and experience this gorgeous and provocative animated painting. The exhibition runs through May 29. Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] is mesmerizing. Projected across the Bell’s seventy-foot wall, this sixty-four minute film is on a continual loop.
Lisa Reihana’s immersive installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-17) transforms the Bell into a lush land and soundscape, one that reimagines 18th century European exploration of the Pacific as a cycle of colonial reinfection and Indigenous recuperation rather than singular moments of contact. Emerging from her encounter with the 19th century French wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean), 1804-5 by Joseph Dufour et Cie, Reihana has transformed these utopian depictions of Captain James Cook’s voyages into surreal vignettes of curiosity, caution, desire, and predation. By unfixing the Indigenous peoples of the original wallpaper from Eurocentric neoclassical fantasy, Reihana–who is Māori–allows for Indigenous agency both within the film and through her practice of “agreed representation” with actors and performers.
Just go and give yourself some time. Be prepared: Every so often you will find one of the people staring right at you. There is something of the uncanny valley effect in this animation; it is unsettling, which serves the piece perfectly. (I was also reminded of that 19th-century whaling panorama that was also scrolled past the viewer.)
As to how this film was made:
Initiated in 2007, iPOVi is a massive technological undertaking. Shot on green screen, dozens of actors and performers are superimposed onto a scrolling, hand-painted landscape, including Indigenous Australians originally omitted from Dafour’s imagery. A soundtrack incorporates dialogue in various Pacific languages alongside instruments such as the Māori taongo-pūoro and Hawaiian pahu drums, as well as the sounds of waves and animals native to regions visited by Cook. Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue” played on a harpsichord wafts in and out, as does the ominous ticking of the clock from Cook’s cabin on the second and third voyages, which was recorded by Reihana in London.
In the film, Cook’s famous ship HMB Endeavor can be seen anchored off shore. By an extraordinary coincidence, it was just last month that the Australian National Maritime Museum declared that a wreck on the bottom of Newport Harbor had been confirmed as this ship. (Guardian, 2.3.22)
One way into the Captain Cook saga is through “Blue Latitudes” by Brown alum Tony Horwitz.
A public reception and celebration of Lisa Reihana: in Pursuit of Venus [infected] will be held 6pm, Friday, April 29.
Gallery hours: Mon – Fri, 11am to 5pm/ Thurs, 11am to 8pm.
Free and open to the public, runs through May 29, Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, (directions)