Lisa Reihana / Courage of the Artist

We’ve always had a huge amount of respect for the arts at Allpress. Art to us is vulnerable, curious and it’s courageous. All things we aspire to be. One artist in particular who embodies this exact philosophy is Lisa Reihana. An artist we’re extremely proud to support on her journey to the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Or, as Lisa describes it, the art Olympics.

Lisa Reihana grew up in Auckland’s Blockhouse Bay and has been at the forefront of artistic experimentation in New Zealand since her days at the Elam School of Fine Arts at Auckland University, which she attended in 1983 before completing a Masters in Design from the School of Visual Art and Design at Unitec in Auckland in 2014.

But Lisa hasn’t just been leading the New Zealand art scene, she’s been forming it. Her work spans film, photography, sculptural form, spatial design and live action. Through her fearless artistic experimentation, Lisa has helped introduce time-based and media art in New Zealand and has pushed the boundaries of gender, power, race, time and social norms.

Lisa’s most well-known multi-channel work which has been in development for almost 10 years, is in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17. This project is a cinematic re-imagining of Joseph Dufour’s Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean) (1804-05), a 20-panel French wallpaper referencing illustrations created on voyages to the Pacific by Captain James Cook and Louis de Bougainville. More than two hundred years later, Lisa’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17 animates this wallpaper in the form of a panoramic video spanning 25 metres. Reihana’s version challenges both historical and contemporary stereotypes and reinvents the narrative to include encounters between Europeans and Polynesians, recognising the complexities of cultural identity and colonisation.

It’s this powerful and complex work which has led to Lisa’s selection as the New Zealand artist for the 2017 Biennale Arte where she will show Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, presenting this powerful video alongside new sculptural and photo-based works.

Holding the title as the world’s most prestigious international contemporary art exhibition, an official presence at the Biennale Arte puts New Zealand contemporary art on the map. The exhibition brings global media attention to artists and their team members as well as exposing their works to experts and art institutions all over the world.

Lisa Reihana: Emissaries seven-month long position in the Tese dell’Isolotto will be the first New Zealand exhibition to be within the Arsenale, which is one of La Biennale di Venezia’s official exhibition areas. Tese dell’Isolotto itself has a history of emissarial activity, making it the perfect spot for the beautiful Lisa Reihana: Emissaries to be presented.

In February we were lucky enough to host Lisa and Director of the Auckland Art Gallery and curator, Rhana Devonport at our Auckland Allpress Studio to hear about Lisa Reihana: Emissaries and the journey to Venice. While sipping espresso martinis, we listened to Rhana and Lisa discuss the new additions which make up Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, and what the exhibition means to Lisa.

“For me, Emissaries evokes interesting emotion. I liken it to a liminal space, it’s the people in between and it’s the encounters that happen as a result of people putting themselves into an uncomfortable setting. Sometimes the encounters end up well, sometimes they don’t. I think Emissaries have the courage that sits behind that political involvement.” And it’s clear that courage has enabled Lisa to get to where she is today. Courage to break barriers surrounding racial stereotyping, courage to disrupt norms of power, gender and time. And courage to take this powerful work to Venice.

"Sometimes the encounters end up well, sometimes they don’t. I think Emissaries have the courage that sits behind that political involvement."