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Venice diary: New Zealand’s Lisa Reihana makes a grand Biennale entrance

by Louisa Buck  |  11.05.2017
Venice diary: New Zealand’s Lisa Reihana makes a grand Biennale entrance
Lisa Reihana's grand entrance (Photo: Michael Hall)
New Zealand celebrated the integration of its pavilion into the main body of the Venice Biennale in grand style. The participating artist Lisa Reihana made a dramatic waterborne entrance at the new Tese dell’Isolotto Arsenale location yesterday (10 May). She arrived not just in any old gondola, but in the historic Disdotona, the largest vessel in Venice, which is only used for the most important civic occasions and requires 18 specialist rowers. Reihana, who is of Maori and British descent, was accompanied by the governor-general of New Zealand Patsy Reddy, and both were resplendently decked out in ceremonial Maori cloaks. 

Upon disembarking they were greeted by the president of the Biennale Paolo Baratta,  and welcomed into the new pavilion by a traditional Maori Waiata welcoming song. Once inside there was much praise for Reihana’s dramatic video panorama that takes a piece of early 19th-century wallpaper as the starting point to depict a dramatic animated blend of true and imagined narratives. These range from the first meeting of the Polynesian peoples with Europeans, to the death of Captain Cook and the measuring of the cosmos. 

Among the speakers was the Tim Marlow, the artistic director of the Royal Academy of Arts (RA), who paid tribute to the technologically complex work’s 3.168 trillion pixels. He also revealed that his presence at the gathering was “not just as a post-colonial guilt figure” but to announce that Reihana’s magnum opus would be travelling to London in September 2018 when it would form the “contemporary finale” to the RA’s survey of Oceanic art, which in turn will be the culmination of the academy’s 250th birthday celebrations. But how will the RA better the Venetians when it comes to celebrate this grand finale to its grand finale? Maybe Her Royal Highness, who is the royal patron of the academy, might agree to lend her carriage…

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