Venice Biennale postponed: what does it mean for the artist?

New Zealand’s artist at the next Venice Biennale, Yuki Kihara, says having the event postponed until 2022 has provided her with a “gift of time”.

Yuki Kihara

Artist Yuki Kihara will represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale, now pushed back to 2022 due to the pandemic. Photo: Scott Lowe

The biennale, which was set down for 2021 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, is one of the biggest events in the arts world, featuring works from more than 80 countries.

Kihara, who has Samoan and Japanese heritage, is the first artist of Pacific descent to represent New Zealand at the event, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Venice Art Biennale

Works from the Venice Biennale in 2017. Photo: RNZ / Lynn Freeman

Her work uses visual arts, dance, and curatorial practice to examine the complexities of postcolonial histories in the Pacific.
She is known for interrogating Western misinterpretations of the fa’afafine community, which she belongs to in Sāmoa.

Kihara supports the postponement decision made by the organisers of the biennale in Italy, saying people’s health is top priority.

Dane Mitchell has spent more than 18 months researching and compiling a List of Lists of the lost that make up Post hoc, his sonic and sculptural contribution to the Venice Art Biennale. This machine reads out the names of New Zealand's extinct species.

Dane Mitchell’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2019 listed New Zealand’s extinct species. Photo: Lynn Freeman / RNZ

She has made good progress with her own work exploring exclusion and diversity and said its “timeless” quality meant it would still be relevant for the biennale in 2022.

Plans for solo shows in Copenhagen and Amsterdam have also been derailed by the pandemic, but Kihara remains philosophical about the setbacks.

Lisa Reihana's work at the Venice Biennale.

Lisa Reihana represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2017. Photo: RNZ / Lynn Freeman

“The health and wellbeing and safety of the audience has to come first… you don’t really want audiences to drop like flies while they’re encountering the work..

“The museum environment is actually making a slow transition now with more emphasis into the online environment and reconstructing sociality in a very different way. It’s something I’m currently discussing with the curators in Europe as we speak.

“I’m looking for a variety of different ways I can engage my work with people and one of them is the digital medium.”

Arts Council chairperson and biennale commissioner Michael Moynahan agreed the postponement was a good call.

“Having a biennale which is full and… easy to travel to and with all the countries there etc is what we’re all looking for,” he said.

Creative New Zealand’s financial commitment for the 2021 presentation is expected to be $800,000.

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