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Q&A with Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport

Published: 26 June 2017

Rhana Devenport lives and works in the Auckland CBD and is the curator of the New Zealand at Venice project.

What is the Venice Biennale?

La Biennale di Venezia, founded in 1895, is the oldest arts festival on the planet. It celebrates art, architecture, dance, music, theatre and cinema. The Biennale Arte 2017 is the visual art festival and occurs every two years in this magical city, bringing together art, artists and the wider community from across the world.

Why is it important?

“The Biennale Arte is the most prestigious event of its type in the world and New Zealand’s participation indicates that we are a recognised contributor to the contemporary art world,” said the Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy. New Zealand has been present at the Venice Biennale since 2001 and these exhibitions by artists such as Peter Robinson, Bill Culbert, Michael Parekowhai, Judy Millar and Simon Denny have been hugely popular and critically acclaimed. This is one of the rare opportunities for New Zealand art and culture to be experienced, celebrated and discussed on the international stage.

Who is Lisa Reihana? Where does she live in Auckland?

Lisa Reihana is a highly respected and influential artist of Māori (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tu) and English descent. She is at the forefront of experimental media art in Aotearoa and her work spans film, digital video, photography, performance, costume, body adornment, public art and spatial design. She lives in Freemans Bay and has a studio in Henderson.

Tell us about her artwork being exhibited there and how you’re involved

The key artwork in the exhibition is In Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17, a cinematic reimagining of the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, 1804–05, also known as ‘Captain Cook’s voyages’. Two centuries later, and almost 250 years after the original voyages, Reihana has used twenty-first century audio-visual technology to animate the wallpaper with real and invented narratives. Aucklanders will remember an earlier version of the work from when it was presented at Auckland Art Gallery in 2015. I am the curator of the project.

How long is it on for?

The Biennale Arte 2017 exhibition is presented throughout Venice. For the first time the New Zealand Pavilion, ‘Lisa Reihana: Emissaries’, is located in the Arsenale which is a cluster of naval buildings from the 13th century and one of two central sites for the exhibition. Specifically, Lisa’s exhibition is installed in Tese dell'Isolotto, a magnificent 500 year old naval warehouse. The exhibition opened in May and continues until 26 November.