Interview by Nina Strand
For our ‘One Image’ online column, I’ve chosen the work of Angelica Mesiti, some currently on view at Palais de Tokyo in Paris in the exhibition When Doing is Saying, for which Mesiti and curator Daria de Beauvais have made a selection of her works from the period 2012– 17. The reason why I’m still thinking about this exhibition is because, when surrounded by her films, one experiences a feeling of in some way being protected by them, a pleasant sensation in the face of the image tsunami that surrounds us today.
“I was thrilled to be invited”, Mesiti explains. “We started the conversation in June last year, and it was very interesting to plan a big new installation and new arrangement of the work, and also to think about what story we wanted to tell with the selection. It was a different way of preparing an exhibition.”
Mesiti and de Beauvais had a plan.
“As you move through the show, your physical interaction with the works will develop. It’s a full exhibition experience in that way. It was very much a collaborative approach; it was an exchange between the curator and me, and I like to work like that.”
Asked about what she draws her inspiration from, she answers that the streets of Paris are a major source.
“It’s often stuff that happens while I’m on the metro, the bus or just walking around. In this city, there’s always something interesting to look at, and I’m not talking about the typical postcard Paris. I enjoy this environment. There’s so much variation, someone from everywhere, a vast diasporic community all across the city. I’ll see something that will trigger something, and one thing leads to another, to the next. Sometimes it takes you somewhere interesting and sometimes its doesn’t.”
Mesiti couldn’t make new work for Palais de Tokyo, since she’s currently working on her installation for the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, opening on 11 May.
“Here, I’ll show a three-channel installation called Assembly. I found the source for this work while walking through a flea market in Rome some years ago. I discovered a peculiar object, a small machine, which I later discovered is called a Michela machine, a 19th-century stenographic device, modelled on a piano keyboard.”
The machine is an Italian invention, used in the Senate for official parliamentary note-taking.
“When this instrument was invented, it was adopted very quickly by the newly formed Italian parliament. It had won many prizes at the World Fair in Paris in the 1880s and Guiseppe Garibaldi insisted that they used this technology to ensure transparency within the democratic process. It played an important role over the last century.”
In her research, Mesiti discovered that the inventor was inspired by the idea of musical notation as a universal language.
“It interested me, because it looked like an instrument, but is in fact a typewriter of sorts. And I thought it would be really interesting to see what would happen if you translated text into music via this machine.”
For her film, Mesiti chose the poem To Be Written in Another Tongue by David Malouf to be ‘translated’ into music.
“This poem reflects on the difficulty of translation and the linguistic disconnection between the speaker in the poem and an ancestor. I worked with a Sydney-based composer Max Lyandvert to arrange the poem into a musical score. You can have a potential physical experience with this work in the way that wave forms and sound enter the body through vibration. There’s so much work competing for your attention during the Biennale, and I was thinking about what things I responded to in previous events. I’ve seen how other artists work with sound, maybe as an escape from the very image- saturated experience of the world.”
As a last question, I ask Mesiti about what image she has on her mind at the moment.
“One I saw a couple of days ago really stuck with me. It’s from the newspaper The Australian. I ripped it out and kept it. I was in Dubai, transferring from Sydney, and it was just days after the Christchurch massacre. It’s a really great newspaper image – it grabs your attention immediately: the woman with her headscarf, the red rose poked into her vest, and the fact that she’s looking directly at the camera. Having just returned from Australia, where everyone was very shocked by this awful attack, this image spoke to me.”