Lisa Reihana’s Cinemania – exquisite immersive experience is a must-see
Source:The Guardian Author:Andrew Frost Date: 2018-01-19 Size:
It’s rare to be in the presence of a work of contemporary art ……

It’s rare to be in the presence of a work of contemporary art that transcends itself; that stops being about a thing and instead becomes that thing. Context of course is inescapable – and when artists and audience share a cultural history, memory or knowledge, it can be vital to the back story of a piece. But I’m more interested these days in art that creates an experience that doesn’t first require an explanation.

International artists such as Olafur Eliasson, AES&F, Ann Lislegaard and Tacita Dean combine their interests and fascinations into works that are stunning visual experiences in and of themselves. Their works have depth too – there is a wealth of research and thinking that went into the creation – but the experience of the piece rises above it, in contrast to the over-conceptualised and aesthetically dead contemporary art that litters galleries around the world.

Aotearoa New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana, whose career survey exhibition Cinemania has just opened at Campbelltown Arts Centre (CAC) as part of Sydney festival, is another artist whose work, at its best, produces exquisite experience.

Curated by the CAC director, Michael Dagostino, Cinemania includes early experimental film and video works from the 1990s, through to the final iteration of what has become Reihana’s signature piece: the massive single-screen In Pursuit of Venus [Infected] (2015-17).

That work, which was screened at the Venice Biennale last year to critical acclaim, occupies CAC’s largest room. It is a sweep of an immense screen featuring a 16k resolution image that quotes from Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, a neo-classical style wallpaper popular in France at the turn of the 19th century.

Lisa Reihana with In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], which was shown at the Venice Biennale last year to critical acclaim. Photograph: Michael C Hall

The image moves slowly from right to left, revealing new landscapes and colonial-era encounters between English soldiers, sailors and traders, and the Indigenous people of the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. Some moments seem benign, others heavy with the expectation of violence. There is no dialogue and no score – only occasional sounds, voice or effects.

In the introduction to his exhibition catalogue, Dagostino writes that Reihana’s preoccupations include “identity, life and death, conflation of time, interest in fictional and non-fictional characters, and the creation of compelling ‘other worlds’”.

Indeed, In Pursuit of Venus is an “other world” made possible through digital technology. The effect on the viewer is the sense that you’re actually floating through time and space, viewing a panorama of imperial antipodean conquest, the first nations people the Europeans found there and the cultures that remain.

Reihana’s Native Portraits N.19897 (1998) is a testament to the artist’s interest in the way technologies such as photography and video can produce a sense of a shift in time, as though the subject of a still image can transcend western technology’s application as a method of capture, classification and ownership.

The video work – a large rectangular screen reminiscent of a European history painting – instead gives voice and autonomy to the subjects of 19th century postcards, men cast as noble warriors and women depicted as “Māori belles”.

As an artist of Māori and English heritage, Reihana draws on the rich histories of both cultures and uses them as the basis of her more subtle, compelling and less-didactic later pieces.

Screened in a darkened room, Tai Whetuki – House of Death Redux is ‘a powerful experience’. Photograph: Supplied by CAC

The two-screen video Tai Whetuki – House of Death Redux (2015-16) depicts a crossing over of the spirit from life into the land of the dead, a ghost figure both beckoning but seemingly also protecting the passage. Watching the video in the gallery’s darkened room is a powerful experience.

This blend of fantasy and reality threads through all of Reihana’s works. Some are playfully inexplicable, such as Colour of Sin: Headcase Version (2005) in which the viewer must insert his head into the shell of a vintage hairdryer to hear a mix of voice and sound; the installation PELT (2009), meanwhile, is perhaps too small in scale to be as immersive as the artist intends.

Cinemania offers the visitor an immersive and seductive experience. While not all the works are equally effective, at their best, such as in In Pursuit of Venus and Tai Whetuki, we have a chance to experience a kind of contemporary art that’s unencumbered by conceptual cliché but open instead to the possibility of being.

• Lisa Reihana: Cinemania is open at Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney until 29 March

[Editor] 姜鑫