Campbelltown Arts Centre
12 January to 29 March 2018.
10 to 4pm daily, Free.
Cine-mania is a survey of thirty years of Maori video and photographic artist Lisa Reihana’s work. Its centrepiece is In pursuit of Venus [infected], a 64 minute super-wide screen film about the three Pacific voyages of English navigator and explorer James Cook’s (1768 to 1779).
In pursuit of Venus is a cinematic reimagining of Joseph Dufour’s scenic wallpaper, Le Sauvages del la Mer Pacifique (1804-1805). Inspired by Cook’s journals, the wallpaper portrays European Enlightenment imaginings of a second Eden in the Pacific – odd vegetation and noble Grecian savages dancing about on lawns.
Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique’, panels 1-10 of woodblock printed wallpaper designed by Jean-Gabriel Charvet and manufactured by Joseph Dufour, image Wikipedia.
Two-hundred years later, Reihana’s piece, which featured at the 2017 Venice Biennale, animates this utopian landscape with historical meetings between Pacific Islander, Maori and First Australians and the European scientists and soldiers.
‘Reihana has returned the gaze of imperialism with a speculative twist that disrupts notions of beauty, authenticity, history and myth. James Cook, his cohorts and an array of costumed characters re-enact narratives to remind us that history is a construction.’ (1)
The imagery scrolls slowly revealing different encounters which play out as the vision moves from right to left across the walls.
For me, this immersive style risks being didactic: as a viewer you are invited to suspend your critical faculties and just let it flow over you. Thankfully, Reihana displays comedic touches – some male islanders playing at giving birth, the lecherous Joseph Banks, the expedition’s chief scientist ‘intrigued’ by a Maori woman’s luxuriant hair – as well as rough justice, boozing and the murder of Cook in Hawaii.
These encounters were a disaster for the Pacific. What followed was European colonisation, dispossession and wars but these early scenes are played out with a simple almost playful naivety.
Reihana is a major artist, and her earlier works are also brilliant. For those who can, this is an important exhibition, well worth seeing before it closes at the end of March (…and Campbelltown Arts Centre is delightful with a great cafe, not that that should influence you at all).
(1) Cine-mania, Lisa Reihana, room guide, Campbelltown Arts Centre. And in 1770, while Cook was off the East Coast of Australia, Joseph Haydn premiered his Symphony No. 94 (the Surprise) – which really woke everyone up. Here’s Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic