in Pursuit of Venus is a stunning live-action video by Maori artist Lisa Reihana. The video is inspired by the colonial nineteenth century panoramic wallpaper, Les sauvages de la mer Pacifique (1804-05), produced by Joseph Dufour. Les sauvages presents accounts from Captain Cook’s and Louis de Bougainville’s journals, and reworked engravings by Webber and Hodges from Cook’s publications – bestsellers in their time that had been rapidly translated into other European languages. Reihana explains that, Les sauvages claims to be historical and is presented as such but actually Dufour and his team harvested information from different historical moments and relocated the bodies into a fictional Tahitian landscape, removing these Pacific people from their cultural, historical and political reality. In this work Reihana has re-staged, re-imagined and reclaimed the panoramic wallpaper by altering its original presentation of print form to live-action video. With her embodied knowledge of Maori cultural practices, she has brought each character alive with breath-taking precision. Each person on the screen takes on the colonial misrepresentations of the past and present – encounters shared by Indigenous people across the globe. In the video, the figures “come alive” and begin to articulate their relationship to their own cultural knowledge and space, countering the static representations of Pacific Indigenous people from the colonial past of Dufour’s wallpaper stereotypes. Over the past five hundred years the colonial imagination has continuously placed Indigenous bodies into pleasing, romantic and noble positions with a total disregard for the colonial gaze that debilitates Indigenous relationships to the body, sovereignty and self-determination.
The installation requires the viewer to interrogate the politics of visuality and the systemic political structures that govern Indigenous bodies. Reihana has offered an exchange of cultural knowledge with the audience that does not just respond to the objectification of the colonial gaze, but produces bodies that are culturally engaged with the viewer. Further the work dismantles the highly charged situation of reading and seeing Indigenous bodies in sacred cultural actions, which is articulated through the acute attention to detail Reihana provides for the clothing, the movements, and the audio. The viewer understands that the colonial gaze has been shifted to an inter-subjective exchange of cultural knowledge within the context of both performance and video. As art historian Amelia Jones argues in her book Body Art Performing the Subject, “body art, in all of its permutations (performance, photograph, film, video, text), insists upon subjectivities and identities (gendered, raced, classed, sexed and otherwise) as absolutely central components of any cultural practice”. Reihana has created a live-action video that unbinds the shackles of colonialism by producing a highly refined and dynamic video that brings forth a visual poetics of Maori culture and knowledge. – Julie Nagam (Toronto, fall 2013)
Vtape and imagineNATIVE gratefully acknowledge the support of A Space Gallery in providing the presentation location and installation assistance with this large scale work.
Please join the artist Lisa Reihana and curator Julie Nagam on Friday Oct. 18, 8:00pm in A Space Gallery. Their talk is part of The Uncanny Art Crawl organized by imagineNATIVE and co-presented by 401 Richmond. This event features artist and curators talks from 5:30-8:30pm, followed by a reception at Vtape (#452), 8:30-9:30pm.
Lisa Reihana (Maori) is a leading media artist in New Zealand whose work astutely weaves visual forms of cultural representation from historical and contemporary sources inflected by an urban background. Her work in film, video, installation photography and performance has been exhibited internationally, including two recent Canadian presentations: Home on Native Land (2012) at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto and Close Encounters (2011) at Plug In, Winnipeg.
Julie Nagam holds a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University and is an assistant professor at OCAD University in the Indigenous Visual Culture program. Her research interests include a (re)mapping of the colonial state through creative interventions within concepts of Indigenous space. Nagam co-curated Concealed Geographies for imagineNATIVE in 2012.
Still credit: in Pursuit of Venus, Lisa Reihana.