Angelica Mesiti communicates via multiple senses in Relay League


Two young dancers in matching grey singlets sit on a wooden practice room floor, each with their eyes cast forward. It quickly becomes evident he is sight impaired. She is communicating what she can see by leaning across and speaking while rolling his shoulders for him, rubbing his hands, and guiding his palms in graceful gestures. I don’t recognise the language she speaks. Is it Eastern European? Scandinavian?

Sydney-born artist Angelica Mesiti’s Relay League, 2016, is comprised of three video screens, each in its own makeshift room, as well as a sculpture that riffs on the now technically outmoded system of communication known as Morse code. To grasp the narrative flow of the work, this second video screen, featuring dancers Sindri Runudde and Emilia Wibron Vesterlund, is a good place to contemplate the installation in its entirety.

Angelica Mesiti, Relay League (video still), 2016, commissioned by Artspace, Sydney. Courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Galerie Allen, Paris.

From here, I can still hear the drums and percussion being played by Uriel Barthélémi on a Paris rooftop on the first video screen at the far end of the gallery. I may be transferring a host of assumptions about the four characters in these three video channels, of course, even as I find points of empathy. Perhaps there are impairments of sight and sound for any one of them, and I am the privileged outsider with what I assume are all my senses.

In the far room, the third screen reveals bearded dancer Filipe Lourenço, on his bare feet in the studio, in T-shirt and pants, being watched by the two young dancers. He is quiet, reflective, perhaps melancholic with memory. At the end of his dance practice, he looks out the window across the roof tops, possibly towards the sound of Barthélémi’s drums.

Centrally, the brass and steel sculpture Appel a Tous / Calling All hangs from the ceiling, its cylinders and balls representing the Morse system of dots and dashes.

Cross pollination of visual art with rhythmic music brings together a kind of synaesthesia, a mixing of diverse sensory stimuli, even if we might not recognise languages spoken or sung. An artistic director of an orchestra recently explained to me that mixing the music and visual means you might hear with your eyes and see more with your ears. There is colour in sound, perhaps, and I’d like to think the aural hues sharpen the psychological resonance for the dancer who can no longer see his peer.

For Mesiti, blending performance, dance and music is a way of exploring non-verbal communication, which can reinforce community and cultural traditions.

The space is expertly filled; put the three screens closer together and the points of inclusion and connection might not be so easily mulled. The distance between the video channels gives the viewer pause for reflection in attaching their own meanings.

Curiously, the Artspace notes reveal the rhythmic departure point for the work was a Morse code message transmitted by the French navy in 1997. This system for wartime and maritime distress communications was being phased out in favour of digital technology.

But as we all know, bumping into our fellow travellers down the street, the digital revolution has atomised us into our own individuated screens, substituting real for virtual communities. In that sense, Relay League is a romantic work, a call for connection via  sensory stimulation far more primal than words on a screen.

After its Artspace hang, Relay League will tour nationally.

Relay League
The Lock-Up
12 August – 17 September

Griffith University Art Gallery
30 November 2017 – 24 Feb 2018

Orange Regional Gallery
March – April 2019

The Glasshouse
18 May – 21 July 2019

Moree Plains Gallery
2 August – 28 September 2019

Preview Words by Steve Dow