ASSEMBLY Primary Learning Resource
This Learning Resource supports Primary teachers and students to engage with the work ASSEMBLY by Angelica Mesiti. Learners are supported to think deeply about the artist’s process and inspiration, and what democracy means, while reflecting on their own lived experiences through a series of prompts.
About the artist
Angelica Mesiti is one of Australia's most significant contemporary artists. Her work has been collected and exhibited throughout Australia and internationally.
Born in Sydney, Mesiti trained in classical and modern dance, establishing a reputation in Australia during the early 2000’s as a performance artist. Mesiti is currently based in Paris, where she lives and works. Over the last decade, Mesiti has made video-based art works that consider how communities are formed through shared movement and communication. Mesiti's video works focus on performance as an artistic gesture, as part of everyday life, as cultural practice and communication.
In a democracy we have the power to decide who represents us, what issues are really important to us and how we can have our individual voices as well as our collective community concerns heard.
About the work of art
ASSEMBLY is a three-channel video installation, produced for the 58th Venice Biennale, exploring the ways that communication – the nature of connection – can be expressed through a variety of forms and might enable and support democracy. This work encourages us to consider the importance of individuals coming together to participate in democracy.
‘In ASSEMBLY, I explore the space where communication moves from verbal and written forms to non-verbal, gestural and musical forms. The latter creates a sort of code upon which meaning, memory and imagination can be overlaid’. Angelica Mesiti
ASSEMBLY features historic and contemporary places, events and objects with strong connections to democratic processes and aspirations including Australia's Old Parliament House and Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian Senate in Rome. The work involves over 40 artists, performers and musicians of multiple ancestries to demonstrate the power of people coming together with a shared purpose. ASSEMBLY uses the Michela’ machine, a 19th century stenographic machine modeled on a piano keyboard, which is used in the Italian Senate for official parliamentary reporting to ensure that the action of the parliament is recorded and accessible to the public. The inventor of the ‘Michela’ was originally inspired by musical notation as a universal language – a language that can be read and understood by people across the world.
The artist used this machine to translate a poem by Australian writer David Malouf into a shorthand code. The poem, ‘To be written in another tongue’, 1976, details an imaginary conversation David Malouf has with a Lebanese ancestor.
"It immediately struck a personal chord with me ... there's an imaginary conversation going on with an ancestor with whom the writer no longer has a linguistic link. It's about the impossibility of translation and the distance between one language and another." Angelica Mesiti
The translation became the basis of a musical score by Australian composer Max Lyandvert and a dance performance by the First Nations choreographer Deborah Brown and Mesiti. The score is performed by musicians and dancers who represent the many ancestries that make up contemporary Australia.
“ASSEMBLY seeks to create a new space for those who want to speak differently, hear alternatively, and act together to form a new translation of the democratic process”.
Looking at the still images from ASSEMBLY, what do you notice? What can you see? What can you imagine that you could hear?
Is anything familiar to you? Is anything unfamiliar to you?
Take a moment for deeper looking.
What unifies the performers? Consider the similarities that connect the performers in their different groups. Next, what similarities connect the performers in Mesiti’s work as a whole? How do you identify them as a group, as collaborators?
Spend a few moments writing or drawing a list of ways the performers are unified – in what ways are they similar or connected?
Come together as a whole class; rearrange your seats and desks or move to the floor so that you are sitting in a circle. Make sure you are seated so that you can see each other's faces. If you are doing the activity from home with a small group or a member of your family, come together in a way that means you are seated at an equal level, facing each other.
As a group, discuss your list of the similarities that connect the performers in the work . Before you begin, decide how you will discuss your lists in the group in a democratic way. For example, will you look to your teacher to lead the group? Is there another nominated leader who will choose each speaker and in what order they speak? Do you select a number card if you want to share your ideas? Will you go around the room sharing one thing each? Or maybe you will break into small groups and then come back together as a whole? You all need to decide.
Make a list of how the different performers communicate. What do they use to communicate? What is their process?
How many ways of communicating can you identify in ASSEMBLY?
What happens when individuals collaborate to share or express information through song, music, or performance?
How might you come together as a class to share or express a story, making sure that everyone is equal and unified- working together?
If you are working from home, how might you and those around you come together to share or express a story where everyone sharing is equal and unified?
In a non-verbal way, communicate with the group how you are feeling today. Go around the circle, making sure everyone has a turn. This may be through a gesture, a sound, a movement. Your movement might be as small as wiggling your finger, or you might wave your whole body around with an intentional gesture.
Read the school anthem or song, or the National Anthem. As a member of your school community or as a member of the Australian community, these texts were written for you. (You might like to research who wrote it and when). You didn’t get to write or choose them, but they were written with the intention of representing you.
As a group, identify what you commonly agree are the important lines or ideas within the anthem. What is important to you as an individual? What is missing for you? What can you bring to it to make it more relevant to you personally?
Are there values that are important to you that are not in the anthem? What are they? How can you work collaboratively with your group so that you can share what is important to you and feel represented? As a group write a list that represents you as an individual and as a whole group.
From this list, collaborate with your group to create a new verse of the anthem that is representative of this.
As a group, read or sing your new and revised anthem. What are a series of gestures, or movements that represent the words, tone and feeling of the new anthem?
Translate your anthem into a nonverbal work. You might like to take some time with this. Use gestures, movements, dance or any combination of these. When you all agree and feel that it is ready, practice performing it together.
You might also like to perform it for your school assembly or for your friends and family.
There a many ways citizens can communicate our rights and freedoms, including voting when you turn 18, writing a letter to parliament or holding a peaceful protest. In 2018, young protesters in Paris created a series of gestures to communicate with each other in a nonverbal way. First Nations choreographer Deborah Brown performs some of these gesture in ASSEMBLY.
Discuss as a class why you think Angelica Mesiti invited Deborah Brown to recreate and perform these gestures from a protest in Paris, within Australia’s Old Parliament House.
What are some other ways citizens can communicate our rights and freedoms?
As a class, create a simple gesture that you all agree will identify your class. Once you have your gesture, share it with another class and invite this new group to follow a similar process, so they may create their own – teaching you their gesture in return.
This might be something that happens across all classes in your grade or even your whole school. Through your gestures, you are creating your own ways to communicate with each other in a non-verbal way.
If you are doing this activity from home, you might like to try this activity on your own, or invite your friends or family to take part. This activity is about community, communication and unity. It is about coming together; finding friends and family you can work and collaborate with.
Assembly Learning Resource
Visual Arts, Civics and Citizenship, General capabilities and Cross-curriculum priorities
Visual arts: AC9AVA6E01 and AC9AVA8E01
Civics and Citizenship: HAC9HS5K07and AC9HS6K06
• Literacy: Speaking and listening: Interacting
• Critical and Creative Thinking: Generating: Consider alternatives
• Critical and Creative Thinking: Analysing: Interpret concepts and problems
• Personal and Social capability: Self-awareness: Community awareness
• Personal and Social capability: Social management: Decision-making