Post hoc by Dane Mitchell is a multi-site artwork commissioned by the Arts Council of New Zealand
for its 9th national presentation at the International Art Exhibition La biennale di Venezia. Mitchells meditative work resonates with some of our most pressing global concerns, including climate change, technological advancements, the loss of histories and cultures and our shared material history. Comprising a sonic network of sculptural installations, Post hoc broadcasts an elegiac archive to communications towers disguised as pine trees across Venice from the hub of the New Zealand Pavilion. In contrast to the linear history of progress a narrative which underpins so much of Western understandings of the world Post hoc foregrounds histories of extinctions, oversights, obsolescence and absences to raise questions about how we might shape our futures.
In the New Zealand Pavilion, located at the Palazzina Canonica the former headquarters of exhibition partner the Istituto di Scienze Marine (CNR-ISMAR) Mitchell has installed an anechoic chamber an engineered space in which broadcasts are hypothetically infinite, unimpeded by any interference to transmit his broadcast. An electronic voice utters the names of vast lists of bygone phenomena composed of millions of entities which the artist has researched and catalogued.
Ranging from extinct plant species and extinct oceanic mammals, lost islands, former national anthems, forgotten languages, obsolete media formats, impossible colours, lost archives, abandoned laws to disbanded political parties (to name just a few), the colossal inventories revive, if only for a moment, diverse muted histories.
Visitors and residents alike will be able to hear the recordings when they discover Mitchells six-metre tall pine trees installed in various evocative sites across the city. Mass-produced in a factory that artificially camouflages communications technology, these stealth towers poorly resemble nature and suggest we are living in a state of after-nature. In the courtyard of the Palazzina, the trees publicly transmit the broadcast, while beyond the pavilion the towers can be found in the Parco delle Rimembranze at SantElena, the North Arsenale, the Università Iuav di Venezia, and the Ospedale Civile di Venezia, where visitors can tune into the transmission via their phones. Each site resonates with Mitchells poetic inventories in myriad ways and helps to frame his underlying exploration of our relation to the past, and to systems of knowledge and belief.
Mitchell, who was born and lives in Auckland, has spent over two decades creating artwork that often materialises or draws attention to intangible, unseen and concealed phenomena. In this vein, Mitchell has engaged with cultural myths, beliefs, and institutional frameworks, including water vapour, scents, and, more recently, forms of transmission. In Post hoc, his automated incantations are also transformed into material form as, in sync with the transmission, word by word the names of bygone phenomena are printed onto rolls of paper inside the historic (emptied) library of the Palazzina Canonica, gradually filling its space.
The inventory of missing things is so large that Post hoc announces approximately 25,000 words a day throughout the entire duration of the Biennale Arte 2019. Indeed, Mitchells lists are ultimately open-ended and incomplete and will continue to grow beyond the exhibition. Variably meticulous, arbitrary, and subjective, the process of constructing the lists has also relied on the availability and veracity of multiple records; therein Post hoc signals the contingent process of constructing history and knowledge in this post-truth moment. Post hoc, which translates from Latin to after this, decouples any causality between the past events it names and any contemporary responsibility. Instead, it highlights an ever-growing network of environmental, social, political, and cultural narratives which ask how we have reached this critical moment and what is to come.