European artists of the eighteenth century framed an exotic textual and visual narrative of the Pacific, drawing largely on knowledge gained from exploratory journeys of the 1760s and 1770s. Visual representations of the Pacific became socially fashionable and commercially successful. The French wallpaper manufacturer, Dufour, captured this commercial potential in a dramatic, panoramic wallpaper that told stories of European encounters with Pacific peoples: Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (1804). Yet it was selective, defining the Pacific by moments of contact with Cook and other explorers. Lisa Reihana's In Pursuit of Venus [Infected] (2015–17) dramatically interrogates the eighteenth-century narrative of the Pacific, responding to Dufour's wallpaper in a complex, panoramic work. By attending to ways in which the factual and speculative are brought together in Enlightenment artefacts and Reihana's restaging of them, we explore how art might be put to use in the service of historical interpretation.


Lisa Reihana, Emissaries exhibition, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], Captain Cook, Sydney Parkinson, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique

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