Artistfacts: Lisa Reihana

Artistfacts: Lisa Reihana

 Lisa Reihana Video - 1

One of the pleasures of a mega-show like the Venice Biennale is the encounter with artists from countries other than Europe or the United States in the national pavilions, artists that may never be shown at a gallery or fair in the United States. In 2017, New Zealand was represented by such an artist, Lisa Reihana, born in 1964, a multi disciplinary artist of Maori descent with a wonderful work, ” Emissaries”.

“Emissaries”  includes a 32 minutes entrancing  and immersive video titled  “Pursuit of Venus (infected)” that deals with issues of colonization, identity and ownership of history and was accompanied by photographs and sculptures. I am including a link to a short part of the video from the Alberton House website as it is worth watching, although unfortunately the small screen does not have the same immersive effect as the 23.5m long by 3.3m (77 feet by 10.8 feet) projection in Venice did and I could not find a link to the entire work,  It took the artist 10 years to complete.

The setting of the video is a panoramic view of a well known 19th century wallpaper ” Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique” or “The Savages of the Pacific Ocean”  made by the french firm Joseph Dufour and Cie. that depicts a romanticized and idealic Pacific Island. Lisa Reihana added live action scenes to the film to portray a more realistic and historically accurate view of colonization. Easily recognized figures within are Tupaia, a gifted Tahitian navigator, the botanist Joseph Banks and the explorer Captain Cook.





We live in a time when historical narratives are being tested and challenged be it:

  • who is represented in the monuments and the appropriateness of monuments to confederate generals or Christopher Columbus as a few examples;
  • the way museums present ethnographic artifacts that were taken from third world countries;
  • the issue of the repatriation of artifacts and artworks to their places of origins;
  • the issue of reparations to be paid to African Americans for slavery or
  • the way colonial history is taught in schools to name but a few.

History as they say is written by the victors and our knowledge of history is shaped and influenced in a political process that has presented a narrative of progress emanating from Europe to civilize the “primitives” and ignored how this history allowed for the exploitation if not decimation of the colonized countries and people. Continuing to learn the colonial past without looking at it based on the fact and evidence of the colonized, plays on exoticism but continues a legacy of discrimination and racism.

In 1769, Captain James Cook berthed the Endeavour in Tahiti and observed and recorded the astronomical phenomenon known as “the transit of Venus”. He then continued on a secret mission to find and claim a hopefully rich southern continent in the name of King George III. First landfall on the Australian continent was at Botany Bay. The arrival of the Europeans in Australia and New Zealand had terrible effects on the Maori population as did most colonizations of indigenous people.

Lisa Reihana’s work unfolds slowly with a muted sound track and no dialogue an, as we watch, what appears to be an ideal island paradise, evolves into clashes of cultures, growing moments of tension and then violence.


Pursuit of Venus (infected) is unfortunately the only work by Lisa Reihana I have had the pleasure of seeing live, though she is well known in New Zealand for other video installations such as:

Native Portraits n 19987 an ongoing project is started as a multimedia installation using video and sound that reconceptualizes historic photographs, and continues with a series of color photographic prints on aluminum dealing with issues of  identity, dignity (or the lack thereof) and representation. Dandy (2007) borrows the trappings of a british gentleman. Diva explores ideas associated with sexuality and gender in a 1930s way, in the vein of singer Billy Holiday.


Tai Whetuki / House of Death from 2015 is a two-screen video that depicts the crossing over of the spirit from life into the land of the dead with a ghost figure that beckons and protects the passage. Lisa Reihana uses rituals from various traditions and times to merge and lure the viewer into the mythology.  It was inspired by a historic collection piece at the Bishop Museum.


Lisa Reihana, Tai Whetuki – House of Death, 2014. Dead Ringer(installation view, PICA), 2015. Photo by Alessandro Bianchetti.

Discussing Tai Whetuki- House of Death which unfortunately I have not seen in an article for Heart of the City in Auckland, Lisa Reihana mentions how costume was historically an important element of the mourning process. Tai Whetuki- House of Death  features an intricately and beautifully handmade 8ft tall traditional Tahitian mourning costume which was in use at the time that Captain Cook visited Tahiti and that the artist recreated for the piece.

Tai Whetuki1-2





Lisa Reihana’s talent is to draw the viewer into her video works in such a way that instead of the cursory, 2 minute max viewing of a video one often observes I hate to admit, the viewer sits/stands rapt watching for the entire time or, in the case of “Pursuit of Venus (infected) re-watching so as not to miss the details, drawn into the history, the mythology and the tale, almost like a full length commercial movie. I look forward to her video works coming to museums here for us all to enjoy.





Artistfacts: Lara Schnitger

Artistfacts: Lara Schnitger

lara schnitger

Contemporary sculpture is a wasteland. Not as a result of a dearth of extremely talented artists but because most galleries only give lip service to showing works by young, emerging sculptors.  Thus I was very excited to get to see works by Lara Schnitger recently. These works intrigue and disturb, draw in, disquiet and are very much part of the zeitgeist of the time.

Lara Schnitger is a Dutch artist, born in 1969, currently living in Los Angeles and Amsterdam whose work is boldly feminist, full of humor and anger, politically charged and at times semi- pornographic. She is best known for giant fabric sculptures, many of which with catchy names, such as Pas de Deux, We Are Sexy, Beijing Bitch, Proud Slut. Although originally her works focused on the misfits and outliers of society:  I Want Kids (2005) deals with pedophilia, Grim Boy (2005) with the angst ridden teenager, she tends to be best known for the works that explore female representation, female protest, female identity, women’s ownership of their bodies, and sexuality, women’s desire for motherhood.


Other works are massive, totem like, dancing figures. The “Mothership” in the Rubell collection is a massive tower (108″x120″x130″) of a cow patterned fabric stretched over joined sticks of wood, and culminating in a canvas representation of a nipple, referencing the act of breast-feeding made shortly after the Lara became a mother.

lara schnitger 12 - 1

” Icebergs” incorporates fur and “126 inches of Fun” is made of silky fabric and black lace. All appear ready to move around the galley with effortless grace, like dancers in voluminous ball gowns.


Her style and process is on the surface firmly craft based, often a derogatory term in the art world. She starts with fabric, knitting, quilting or dyeing it, then assembling it    into sculptures, puppet like, anthropomorphic forms or large banners.  One piece, “Vanity Man”, is made out of dozens of old neckties.” Rabble Rouser” is composed of scarves, political protest T-shirts and bumper stickers with slogans such as “Wearing buttons is not enough”.  The materials used and stylistic elements are influenced by her time in China and Japan and explore the push and pull of cultures. The faces of the women often have a wistful, romantic, old-fashioned air. The pureness of vision, the visceral honesty of the emotions and the strong sculptural forms empower the pieces.


The fabrics do not blend seamlessly together but rather clash, with plaids, dots, checks, discordant colors. The armature of lightweight wood is left plainly visible. At time,  the materials are like clothing, at others translucent they appear to stand alone   with the works more vulnerable.

She has stated:” Sculpture was always something very exciting for me. I wanted to get it off the pedestal; let it walk, talk, move around; play with the space. I always like to see things get made in new ways. I feel myself more a sculptor than an object-maker: I definitely deal with gravity and space and materials”

Her collages depict strong women, often in sexy if not lascivious poses. The narrative is explicit. Schnitger ’s pictorial sensibility is sexually charged and feminist. There is no question as to the fact that it is the woman who controls, who desires, who owns the space. Suggestive text clarifies any misconceptions the viewer might have about it such as” It ain’t Gonna Lick Itself” or “I at least had fun”, “Milk Pistols”or “My Other Car is a Broom”.

In 2013 she developed a line of couture clothing, “Sister of Arp” and began a traveling hybrid procession-protest piece “Suffragette City” that draws inspiration from occult rituals to champion performance based explorations of what it means to be a woman, irrespective of your physique, race, sexuality or sexual proclivity. The processions and protests include tapestries, banners and sculptures. The name,  Suffragette City harks back to the beginning of the feminist movement, when women fought for the right to vote and considers how much further we have to go. At the same time it creates a community of protesters. Suffragette City is often shown alongside a work called  Slut Parade that was inspired by the marches that happened internationally where women dress in lingerie, asserting their right to wear what they want without being harassed. This work strongly ties into the women marches and #metoomovement currently occurring.

Anton Kern Gallery in New York recently released a call for volunteers  for an upcoming performance by artist Lara Schnitger during Frieze New York on Randalls Island in May 2018. I look forward to seeing it as well as more of her work.

It is exciting to view works that engage with such dry wit some of the important issues of today and makes work you recall and engage with.