May 8, 2017
Now boarding!

The Contemporary HUM team is in Venice this week, attending the vernissage of the Venice Biennale 2017 and bringing you on-the-ground interviews, images, news and more! Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and this page for all the latest. AND if there are things you'd like to know or questions you'd like to ask, let us know!! 

May 9, 2017
Encountering Simon Denny's work...

As we arrived in Venice, we found traces of the last New Zealand project for the Art Biennale - Simon Denny's Secret Power installation at the Marco Polo International Airport.

In 2015, Denny had scored not one but two venues, including the renown Marciana library on Piazza San Marco, of which he reproduced the ornate interior decor to plaster the international arrivals terminal of the airport. In this way, Denny ingeniously brought into contact the allegorical depictions of power and knowledge of the 16th century with the current prevalence of mass surveillance and data collection at national borders. With projects normally exisiting from May to November, the airport has clearly decided to not only retain but also preserve the installation.

The ceiling of the Marciana antichambre, with Titian's painting of Wisdom, is actually awaiting restoration as evidenced by the white tape holding it together - which is particularly visible in the closeup provided by Denny's reproduction on the floor of the airport. This apparent fragility of Venice's exceptional cultural heritage made us pick our way very carefully as we approached security. 

May 9, 2017
Kāryn Taylor at Personal Structures

Today we had the chance to preview this year's Personal Structures show Open Borders, organised by Global Art Affairs and hosted by the European Cultural Centre across three Venetian venues: Palazzo Mora, Palazzo Bembo and the Giardini Marinaressa.

As in previous years, artists from around the world were invited to take part, including three New Zealanders in 2017 - Bruce Barber, Paul Handley and Kāryn Taylor. We met up with Taylor to ask her about Field Notations (2017), a multimedia installation she produced for the show. The work, in line with the artist's broader practice, is inspired by ongoing research into quantum physics and the relationship between the nature of consciousness and reality. 

Installed in situ at Palazzo Mora, the work exists as three drawings in space, comprised of physical, painted and projected lines. The resulting geometrical shapes play with the viewer's perception of what is real and illusory, physical or virtual, light or shadow. 

We'll be featuring a full interview with Kāryn Taylor in the coming weeks. 

May 10, 2017
Half of New Zealand present for opening of national pavilion

Living in Europe, we haven't encountered that many New Zealanders in one place in a long time. It started this morning in the vaporetto, where we bumped into writer Anthony Byrt, artist Steve Carr and curator Aaron Kreisler on our way to the launch of the New Zealand exhibition for the 2017 Venice Biennale.

Once inside the Arsenale, we made our way to the NZ pavilion and as the room quickly filled up, it became evident just how many people and institutions have been involved in making this happen. In the midst of sponsors, organisers, officials, supporters and press, we spoke with senior curators from Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery, as well as some of the 150 patrons who have made the trip to be here.

In the absence of a waka, Lisa Reihana and the New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy arrived outside the venue on Venice’s largest gondola, helmed by 18 rowers. The historic boat, which has carried previous national emissaries through Venetian waterways, was intended to reference the voyaging themes depicted in Reihana's panoramic video work in Pursuit of Venus [infected].

The crowd was ushered indoors before Reihana walked in, accompanied by a karanga. Official speeches were given by Dame Patsy Reddy, who opened the pavilion, commissioner Alastair Carruthers and Arts Council Chairman Michael Moynahan. Highlight of the proceedings, artistic director of the Royal Academy of Arts, Tim Marlow, delivered a concise yet humorous speech in which he addressed the elephant in the room saying, "I'm not just a post-colonial guilt figure here". Marlow then announced that in Pursuit of Venus will be included in a major Oceanic art exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2018 and at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in 2019.

May 12, 2017
Francis Upritchard in Viva Arte Viva curated section

After representing New Zealand in 2009, Francis Upritchard is back in the 57th Venice Biennale, having been invited by curator Christine Macel to take part in the curated exhibition. 

We spoke with Upritchard this week, after she participated in a Tavola Aperta, a special feature of this Biennale in which artists meet visitors over lunch to engage in discussion about their practice. 

Upritchard's installation consists of seven new figures made in the last six months, drawn from both human and marine life. Continuing to work with balata rubber, Upritchard has included two works cast in bronze contrasting with the colourful figures that are so characteristic of her practice. 

The artist talked to us about the differences between exhibiting in the context of a national pavilion and the international group show, the process of being selected this year, and about what's coming up next for her. 

Our full interview with Francis Upritchard will be published in coming weeks.

May 13, 2017
Paul Handley brings smuggling pod to Venice

In our mission to document New Zealand artists' projects in Venice, we visited Déplacement (Smuggling Pod), 2017, a work by Melbourne-based artist Paul Handley. Déplacement is installed outdoors in Giardini Marinaressa, on Venice's main waterfront, as part of the international exhibition Open Borders, organised by Personal Structures and running from May to November this year. 

As a result of the time he has spent in Europe and more particularly in Greece, Handley has become increasingly concerned with issues surrounding the political climate and refugee situation in Europe. Wanting to bring greater attention to the scale of the issue and the perilous journey undertaken by thousands of people, Handley has created a work made from 30 children's life jackets installed in a circle.

Upon hearing about the accumulation of dumped life jackets on the beaches of Lesvos, Handley decided to investigate it for himself and travelled to the island in search of the reject piles he had seen in the media. This investigation initially inspired a series of photographs before plans were drawn up for a sculptural piece. 

Our full interview with Paul Handley will be published in coming weeks.

May 14, 2017
Speaking to Lisa Reihana about being a Venice artist

Lisa Reihana talks representation, shifting perspectives and new ways of seeing the world in her exhibition for the 57th Venice Biennale: Emissaries.

We caught up with Lisa Reihana the day after the official launch of the New Zealand Pavilion, to discuss her panoramic video work in Pursuit of Venus (or is that Venice?) [infected], and to hear more about the experience of representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale 2017.

Reihana was upfront in discussing the challenges involved in presenting a Biennale project through a national exhibition, commenting that the extent of work required (over the two years leading up to the exhibition) shouldn’t be underestimated, and is a factor for artists to consider.

In 2007, Reihana was part of the New Zealand committee that visited Venice to assess the country’s participation in the Biennale, and this experience offered her an excellent insight into the nature of national pavilions, and the type of projects presented in this context. When the artist developed in Pursuit of Venus for another project, she thought it would make a great work for Venice.

We talked with Reihana about the exhibition, and in particular the new elements that were added to the video work after it was shown at the Auckland Art Gallery. We spoke about the sheer technological feat of producing the film, the process of finding the venue in Venice, and about the relationship between the work, and the 19th century wallpaper which inspired it.

This relationship, and the way that Reihana plays with representation of Pacific peoples, is often humourous, and at times ambiguous. It lies at the heart of the work and arguably, its reception.

Our full interview with Lisa Reihana will be published in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read Rhana Devenport's essay, curator of the NZ pavilion 2017. 

Click here to read our coverage of the opening week of May You Live In Interesting Times, The 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 7 - 12 May 2019.