Lisa Reihana talks to Dionne Christian about unveiling her latest video art ahead of one the most unusual projects of her life
She's earned the respect and admiration of people around the world, so what does it take for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to have her own "fan girl" moment?
Being asked to launch the latest art work by world-renowed New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana. Ardern this week unveiled Reihana's Ihi, a giant 12-minute digital artwork, which tells the story of Ranginui and Papatūānuku and plays out on two floor-to-ceiling 65sq m screens at the Aotea Centre. Its size makes Ihi one of the largest and most significant works of any contemporary public art in Aotearoa New Zealand.
"Public art is a platform to reflect who we are, who we want to be and who we should aspire to be," says Ardern, who admitted being asked to launch Ihi left her feeling thrilled. She was equally as excited when Reihana, in a short speech, referred to her as "Jacinda", like the two were old friends.
Ardern says Reihana is a daughter of Auckland and an artist she has long admired for her incredible way of bringing stories to life through art. In Ihi, a spectacular, haunting and hopeful work, dancers Taane Mete and Nancy Wijohn tell the creation story of Tāne, who used his powerful legs to force apart his parents Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (Earth mother), letting in light between the pair and life to flourish. The relationship between Tāne and Papatūānuku is central to the work.
But large-scale as it is, it is not the only momentous project Reihana has been focusing on since her return from the Venice Biennale at the end of 2017. As Ihi - two years in the making - was unveiled to an enthralled audience, Reihana was thinking about getting back to the editing suite, where she spends "hours and hours" to put the finishing touches to the most unusual collaboration she's produced.
She has joined forces with world-renowned French footwear designer Christian Louboutin for an eagerly-awaited show at the Palais de la Porte Doree, one of Paris' most famous exhibition halls, which opens on February 25.
As well as Reihana, Louboutin has collaborated with US film-maker David Lynch, English design duo Whitaker Malem, Spanish choreographer Blanca Li and Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi to produce works that honour his career and the many locations, settings and objects that inspire him. Reihana has made video artwork, which uses the ultra-high resolution video and surround-sound that she has become internationally famous for.
The commission was a direct result of representing New Zealand at the Venice Biennale. She says Louboutin approached her after seeing in Pursuit of Venus [infected] in Italy and she and her New Zealand-based team have since travelled to Egypt, Portugal and Louboutin's home in the south of France to capture images for the new work.
Asked if she's living her best life, Reihana says it's a very busy one, where she's had six projects on the go simultaneously. As well as Ihi and the Louboutin art, iPovi is due to open in Germany and Holland while she is also making new art for the 22nd Sydney Biennale, which starts on March 14, as well as for a dealer show there.
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"So many opportunities have come up post-Venice and it really hasn't stopped," she says. "I was representing New Zealand in Venice and public money did go toward that so I wanted to make the most of every opportunity that came my way because it was – is – a real honour to be chosen for something like Venice. I feel like I have been so well-supported and I want to work hard to feel like I earned that. You also never know when it's all going to stop."
Feeling "wonderful" to see Ihi come to life, Reihana says digital story-telling and art are powerful ways to bring stories to a wide audience especially younger people because it conjures up such rich imagery.
"Screen time is fine as long as it's teaching something. We're taking traditional ideas and stories, giving them a contemporary edge, and helping them to continue to resonate."