News

Visual artist Angelica Mesiti puts unity into art for her Venice debut

From The Age
by Linda Morris

Browsing a flea market in Rome artist Angelica Mesiti came across the 19th-century stenographic machine modelled on a piano keyboard.

A lawyer friend informed her that newer versions of the Michela machine, which had been inspired by musical notation as a universal language, were still in use in the Italian Senate for official parliamentary reporting.

“I was fascinated that I was looking at a typewriter as well as a musical instrument,” she said. “My first thought when I saw it was, you could translate text into music, you just have to simply decode the musical notes while you were writing text.”

A flea market find inspired artist Angelica Mesiti to create a "monumental" new work for the Venice Biennale.
A flea market find inspired artist Angelica Mesiti to create a “monumental” new work for the Venice Biennale. CREDIT:STEVEN SIEWERT

Mesiti, who lives and works between Paris and Sydney, sat on the idea for a couple of years and then revived it as she considered making a proposal for a new work to be shown for the 58th Biennale di Venezia.

It was 2017 and the “world seemed to be in crisis mode and I thought about this little machine and how it sort of [had] been witness to the democratic process for more than a century and how … historical events have passed over the keyboard, and it recorded every utterance in the democratic process. And I thought what a timely little device to be thinking about as we are considering the state democracy is in now.”

ASSEMBLY is the result, a multimedia and multi-layered visual work that uses metaphor, music, poetry and performance to suggest ways communities can come together rather than pull apart.

As is traditional, parts of the three-channel video and installation at the Australian Pavilion will be kept secret until the Venice “reveal” in seven weeks time but it pivots around the metaphor of “translation”.

Mesiti uses the Michela machine to encode David Malouf’s poem To Be Written in Another Tongue, an imaginary conversation between Malouf and an ancestor with whom he doesn’t share a linguistic link.

The Michela machine that drives Mesiti's exhibition work, ASSEMBLY.
The Michela machine that drives Mesiti’s exhibition work, ASSEMBLY.CREDIT:BONNIE ELLIOT

Composer Max Lyandvert has “massaged” the dissonant code into a music score played by an ensemble of musicians while performers from different cultures that make up cosmopolitan Australia dissemble and then come together. During the 25-minute video, musical responses move from a classical to a cacophonous interpretation, and in performance from the traditional dance to improvisation and gesture.

The work’s nuanced message is timely given the events of Christchurch work. Says Mesiti: ”ASSEMBLY for me is this human necessity to come together at various points whether it is to memorialise, whether it is to act in solidarity, whether it is to come together and say that is not us and I think that’s what I’m interested in in this work and that’s some of the things we’ve been seeing in Christchurch,  we’ve been seeing in France, people coming together in solidarity against anti-Semitism. We see it in the women marches, we see it in our students taking to the streets to voice their concern about climate change.”

Unlike the “silent gesture” egging of Senator Fraser Anning, pavilion curator Juliana Engberg said the project was not a political statement. “This is a much more nuanced, a much more poetic, metaphorical response to the larger atmosphere, that is the need to come together to reconfirm a people.”