Kiwi artist Dane Mitchell's show Post hoc has opened to rave reviews at the 58th Venice Biennale with an installation listing the thousands of things forever gone from the world.

The Auckland-based artist, who worked with a team of researchers for close to two years compiling some 260 lists of what once existed, has been tipped by art critics as one of the must-sees at this year's Biennale Arte 2019.

Mitchell's final installation is seen and heard in seven cell-phone tree towers spread across five sites in the Italian city - including the New Zealand pavilion at the Palazzina Canonica. At these sites, the public are presented audible and visual lists of all the things that are no more: extinct species, lost languages, ghost towns, abandoned airports and many, many more.

In their entirety the lists will, if played eight hours a day, take the whole seven months of the exhibition's duration to be heard. Meanwhile, each word is printed line by line on to paper which will slowly fill the empty library at the Palazzina - the former base of exhibition partner Istituto di Scienze Marine which conducts research into the world's oceans.


Lead curator Dr Zara Stanhope said Mitchell's work gives off a sense of what the world has lost while simultaneously raising questions of the future.

"This point of loss that Dane has recorded and researched himself is reflected by the title Post hoc - after this," says Stanhope. "Maybe we are in this world of artificial intelligence ... a post nature world ... it asks the question of where to from here?"

As New Zealand's representative at the biennial exhibition, Mitchell developed his initial idea for Post hoc alongside Stanhope and project curator Chris Sharp. He drew on his past work framing the world by exploring ideas about unseen substances, such as fragrances, with thoughts about vanished things and how speech could make them real once more.

His work appears alongside that of artists from the 89 countries represented at the exhibition which opens on Saturday and goes through to November 24. It slots appropriately into the wider theme of the Biennale - May You Live In Interesting Times, which organisers say invokes the period of "uncertainty, crisis and turmoil" of today's world.

Mitchell said his intent was not necessarily to make a moral statement to the public: "I'm not interested in making a statement, but I am interested in those things circling the work. I understood the work would impinge or touch on topical notions, such as climate change and mass extinction. I like that the work negotiates all of these different realms but it is up to the viewer what they take from it."

Dame Jenny Gibbs, part of the selection panel that chose Mitchell as New Zealand's representative, said his work is particularly relevant at a time of growing concern around issues of climate change and species' extinction.

"When artists make a presentation, most of them try to make something that has some relevance," she said. "When we selected this piece we knew the world was worried about such issues such as extinctions."

Gibbs said the final project exceeds expectations with its complexity and technical sophistication.

"It gives me a great thrill to watch all these people walking past, being intrigued and talking about the project."