This Learning Resource supports Secondary students to engage with the work ASSEMBLY by Angelica Mesiti. Learners are supported to look and think deeply about the artist’s process and inspiration, 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’s work has moved into 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, and 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 in collaboration with 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”. Angelica Mesiti
Looking at the still images from Assembly, what do you notice, what can you see, and what can you imagine you can hear?
What is familiar and what are you curious about?
What unifies the performers? What connects the performers in their different groups and what unifies the performers in Mesiti’s work as a whole? How do you identify them as a collective or as collaborators?
Spend a few moments writing or drawing a list of ways the performers are unified.
Come together as a whole class; rearrange your seats and desks or move to the floor to create circular seating. Make sure you are all 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 so that you are seated at an equal level, facing each other.
Prepare to discuss your list as a group.
Before you begin, decide the process of how you are going to democratically discuss your list. For example, are you looking to your teacher to lead the group? Is there another nominated leader who chooses 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.
- Pick a scribe for the session, or a couple of scribes.
- Discuss your lists as a group, using the lists to respond to the following questions:
- How many ways of sharing and communicating can you identify in ASSEMBLY?
- How are the different performers communicating, what tools are they using, what is their process?
- What happens when individuals collaborate to share through song, music or performance?
- Why might Mesiti have used so many forms to communicate? What does this do to the message? How does this transform our understanding of inclusivity, the individual and the collective?
Moving on from what you have just discussed, bring this conversation back to the democracy of your classroom or your home:
- What are the similarities and differences between individuals in your classroom or home?
- How can you come together as a whole group so that everyone feels safe, represented and heard?
- How can you amplify your voices as a collective?
- How are you contributing to your school community, as individuals and collectively? What are some ways you go about creating change for the greater good of your community?
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 Mesiti invited Deborah Brown to recreate and perform within Australia’s Old Parliament House, the gestures from a protest in Paris?
Communicate with the group how you are feeling today. Describe how you are feeling by naming this feeling with a colour. Be as descriptive and poetic as you can be. For example, 'I feel blue like the sky on a clear sunny day' or, 'I feel light pink like fairy floss'.
Once everyone has had a turn to share, go around the circle again. This time, share how you feel in a nonverbal way. This may be through a gesture, a sound, a movement. Your movement might be as small as wiggling your finger or waving your whole body around with an intentional gesture.
From your lists, collective brainstorming and responses, spend some time writing a class manifesto, or document stating what you think creates a space where everyone is seen and heard. This manifesto or document might list the things that make this space safe for you as an individual and as a group.
What might be the outcomes of making a document like this moving onto the future? Put this manifesto or document in a location that everyone can see. How will your group ensure that everyone is participating in accordance with the values identified in the manifesto.
From this document – translate the written words to create two new collaborative works of art.
Firstly, identify the key words, themes, tone of the manifesto/document.
Intuitively create a series of movements that express and communicate the key themes of your manifesto.
Brainstorm ways in which this process and outcome can take place.
Choreograph and perform this new translation of the manifesto. Around 3-4 minutes is plenty of time.
The collaborative artwork might be a large-scale drawing or painting.
You can start this activity individually with your own piece of paper or as a whole group by laying out a large sheet of paper or connecting several smaller pieces of paper together.
Draw a gesture for each of the key themes and words in your manifesto - don’t think about your drawing too much but use a variety of mark-making techniques.
Brainstorm ways in which this process and outcome can take place. This might start with you sharing what you have created as individuals using a large wall or floor space to arrange and rearrange until it communicates your class's manifesto. If starting as a whole class, how do you negotiate this process?
Think big about the scale of this work.
Visual arts, Civics and Citizenship
Visual arts: AC9AVA6C01 and AC9AVA8C01
Civics and Citizenship: AC9HC7K02 and AC9HC8K01
• 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