Angel­i­ca Mesiti


National Gallery of Australia

9 Sep­tem­ber 2017 — March 2018 Con­tem­po­rary art gal­leries | Low­er Ground Free entry


Angel­i­ca Mesi­ti has long been fas­ci­nat­ed by per­for­mance: as a mode of sto­ry­telling and a means to express social ideas in phys­i­cal form. In recent years she has been mak­ing refined videos that reveal how cul­ture is man­i­fest­ed through non-lin­guis­tic forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and espe­cial­ly through vocab­u­lar­ies of sound and ges­ture. While bor­row­ing arche­types and styl­is­tic cues from cin­e­ma, and using the visu­al lan­guage of film to present detailed stud­ies of human sub­jects in height­ened states of rever­ie or reflec­tion, Mesiti’s works eschew lin­ear­i­ty. Instead, she uses a rich, aes­thet­ic treat­ment to uncov­er the trans­for­ma­tive poten­tial of all human beings, valu­ing the qual­i­ties of ambi­gu­i­ty and inde­ter­mi­na­cy in their own right. This exhi­bi­tion fea­tures five recent works, offer­ing an expan­sive view of the range of sub­jects with which Mesi­ti has engaged. When con­sid­ered togeth­er, this suite reveals how the artist bears wit­ness to enchant­ed moments of inner life with her cam­era. Inten­si­ty builds through an accu­mu­la­tion of rhythms, sounds and ges­tures, flow­ing back and forth between indi­vid­ual and social space – from per­son to per­son, sit­u­a­tion to sit­u­a­tion, cul­ture to cul­ture. The Gallery has pro­posed an acqui­si­tion of The call­ing 2013 – 14, which reflects Mesiti’s ongo­ing inter­est in non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and adapt­ed forms of expres­sion. To make the work she trav­elled to three regions in Turkey, Greece and The Canary Islands, where, for cen­turies, whis­tled lan­guages have been used to car­ry mes­sages, gos­sip, argue and court, all over great dis­tance. Only a hand­ful have sur­vived the arrival of tele­phones, and the artist met with vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties and schools to study the ways in which these musi­cal tech­niques have been altered and adapt­ed over time; espe­cial­ly in the face of recent, dra­mat­ic change. Tak­ing the appear­ance of a doc­u­men­tary, this project is also an extend­ed explo­ration of how, Mesi­ti says, a cul­tur­al activ­i­ty that is no longer a nec­es­sary part of dai­ly life can be held onto as a cul­tur­al arte­fact, and how that activ­i­ty then enters into anoth­er state. It becomes a tra­di­tion that can be per­formed as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a culture’s iden­ti­ty, shift­ing from some­thing use­ful to some­thing sym­bol­ic’. The reli­gious and sec­u­lar are inter­wo­ven in Rap­ture (silent anthem) 2009, where Mesi­ti uses silence and slow motion to pow­er­ful effect, film­ing fresh-faced teenagers in the mosh pit at a rock con­cert. Shot from a con­cealed loca­tion, we see youths lost in wor­ship and the tight­ly cropped footage sug­gests a scene of col­lec­tive fer­vour and spir­i­tu­al trans­porta­tion. Pre­sent­ed near­by in the exhi­bi­tion space is anoth­er silent work pre­sent­ed in slow motion, the exul­tant Nakh removed 2015, which exam­ines and reimag­ines a Berber rit­u­al – the rite of the nakh, or hair dance – where the repeat­ed rock­ing of the head and body are reput­ed to ele­vate the dancer into a trance state. These hyp­not­ic rhythms would tra­di­tion­al­ly be con­duct­ed by young women dur­ing the wed­ding fes­ti­val sea­son that fol­lows the first har­vest, but here, they take place in the con­tem­po­rary space of the stu­dio. Else­where, Cit­i­zens band 2012 traces unique musi­cal and aur­al lan­guages across time and space. Played in suc­ces­sion as four affect­ing chap­ters, each intro­duces us to an indi­vid­ual per­form­ing a musi­cal tra­di­tion from their home­land, adapt­ed for a new envi­ron­ment. Loïs Geral­dine Zon­go, a Cameroon­ian woman, pounds the chlo­ri­nat­ed waters of a Parisian swim­ming pool, her com­plex per­cus­sive beats picked out using a tech­nique called aku­tuk, or water drumming. 
On the Paris Métro, Alger­ian refugee Mohammed Lam­ourie sings a haunt­ing folk bal­lad; blend­ing pure tones, hum­ming and the rhythms of Raï music – a hybrid Ara­bic-West­ern musi­cal form which has been out­lawed in Alge­ria – he per­forms for an audi­ence of indif­fer­ent com­muters, accom­pa­nied by the plink-plonk of his key­board. We also see Bukchu­lu­un Gan­burged (Bukhu), a Mon­go­lian throat singer, play­ing the morin khu­ur (horse-hair fid­dle) on a street cor­ner in New­town, his razor sharp vocals vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent tonal lev­els. And final­ly, Sudanese-born Asim Gore­shi whis­tles an impro­vised tune, riff­ing on sacred Sufi melodies in the front seat of his Bris­bane cab. Each musi­cian deliv­ers a dis­tinct sound, using a tech­nique that is both par­tic­u­lar to and inflect­ed with its spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al ori­gins. As with Mesiti’s oth­er fea­tured works, The colour of say­ing 2015 explores how the body is used as a ves­sel for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and expres­sion. In this instance, a sign lan­guage choir from Önnes­tad Folk High School per­forms a piece orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for voice, Vaugh­an Williams’ Ser­e­nade to Music (1938). The score is brought to life through hand ges­tures and bod­i­ly move­ments, with the silence even­tu­al­ly bro­ken by two per­cus­sion­ists clap­ping in syn­co­pa­tion. For Mesi­ti, the body serves as both sub­ject and object, a means with which to mark time and an instru­ment for cre­at­ing rhyth­mic beats. Lat­er, form and sound are brought togeth­er when two bal­let dancers, Rolf Hepp and Jette Nej­man, dance’ a pas de deux while lis­ten­ing to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on their head­phones, using only their hands to express the chore­og­ra­phy. This work oper­ates through mul­ti­ple acts of trans­la­tion, cre­at­ing sen­so­ry impres­sions for per­former and view­er alike in its var­i­ous iter­a­tions: as a score, per­for­mance and through a hap­tic exchange. In dif­fer­ent ways each of the works includ­ed in this exhi­bi­tion are expres­sions of being-in-the-world, with Mesiti’s sub­jects offer­ing them­selves to emo­tion, at the same time as they enact it. The arc of each per­for­mance, or series of moments cap­tured on cam­era, cul­ti­vates for the view­er an imag­i­nary of anoth­er place, suf­fus­ing the sens­es. Angel­i­ca Mesiti’s sen­si­bil­i­ty is poet­ic, live­ly and imme­di­ate – attuned to sub­tle rela­tion­ships between musi­cal­i­ty, per­for­mance and the visu­al image – and above all else, alive to the nuances of her sub­ject mat­ter. This project is part of an ongo­ing series focussed on lead­ing con­tem­po­rary prac­ti­tion­ers, and fore­grounds the Gallery’s renewed empha­sis on the mov­ing image, which has con­tin­ued into the 21st cen­tu­ry as a promi­nent mode of artis­tic endeav­our. Bree Richards Cura­tor, Con­tem­po­rary Art Prac­tice – Global 
Pic­tured: ANGEL­I­CA MESI­TI, Nakh Removed, 2015
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