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The harmony and cacophony of ‘In the Round’

Sofia Cotrona reviews Talbot Rice Gallery’s new solo exhibition by Angelica Mesiti

Talbot Rice Gallery welcomes the first major UK exhibition of artist Angelica Mesiti, In the Round. It is an immersive show, characterised by video and sound installations that present both past works and new commissions, alongside the inclusion of artefacts from the University of Edinburgh that reflect the artist’s work of excavation within its collections.

Angelica Mesiti Over the Air and Underground, Talbot Rice Gallery installation view.
Image Courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery.

A key theme that emerges within the exhibition is communication and translation. The videos in Over the Air and Underground (2020) are shot under ultra-violet light to reproduce the vision of bees, and aim to explore the theme of forest communication. Through slowly rotating otherworldly macro shots of flowers, plants and mushrooms, the viewer seems to be given a new set of eyes with which to look at nature. The UV light makes pollen appear iridescent and enhances the glistening threads of mycelium that Mesiti grew over the different specimens. The mycelium, or fungal root, is key to Mesiti’s vision for this artwork as it is through this underground network that plants and vast forests are connected and through which they communicate, exchanging or redistributing nutrients for the survival of the community. The sound component of this artwork is also connected to this theme. The ten human voices that make up the soundtrack of this piece are recorded while humming an ‘A’ note at 220hertz, the frequency that researchers believe trees use to communicate through electrical signals and sounds.

A deep fascination with nature’s communication techniques is also key to the recording of the Swarming Song (2021). This is a recorded audio performance of the 17th-Century score by Charles Butler Bee’s Madrigal – part of the University collection – that reproduces with human voices the sound of a queen bee calling and the beehive responding.

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ASSEMBLY (2019) explores communication and translation within a legislative system. This three-channel video’s main protagonist is the Michela machine: a stenographic machine that resembles a small piano keyboard, used to quickly record parliamentary debate. The artist used it to transpose a poem by David Malouf that examines language and cultural heritage, and then transformed the input into performed scores, dances, and other interpretations.

Angelica Mesiti ASSEMBLY, Talbot Rice Gallery installation view.
Image Courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery.

What is striking about this exhibition is the immersive experience that curators Tessa Giblin, James Clegg and artist Angelica Mesiti have created. Through the arrangement of the screens and the speakers, the video and sound installations encourage viewers to engage with the works through a physical experience that is rooted in their body and its movements. Over the Air and Underground pushes the audience to wander around the five different video-channels oriented in different directions. Standing in between the screens, the humming of voices embraces the viewer, coming at them from different directions and resonating through their rib cage.

The setting of ASSEMBLY – three screens placed to form a circle around the viewer – forces the audience to adopt a similarly dynamic attitude during its vision. The screens in fact alternate between synchronous receding shots of different empty corridors, and three separate shots that compose the same scene or multiple ones. The audience is guided through the labyrinthine architectural shots of the Australian Parliament and the Italian Senate by a sense of chasing the music or clicking that reaches them at different volumes to reflect their physical distance from its source. The exhibition thus extends beyond the screens, pushing the viewer to be confronted with their physicality and their body in relation to the space. Angelica Mesiti commented that she was thrilled to be able to encourage a sensorial participation, avoiding a frontal fixed perception of her pieces and instead leading the public to be drawn into the exhibition by the sound of the artworks.

Angelica Mesiti Hum (Black galaxy), Talbot Gallery installation view
Image Courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery

To amplify the immersive experience conveyed by the single artworks, the sounds of each piece accompany the viewers throughout the corridors of the exhibition, mixing together and creating harmonious and cacophonic effects. The polyphony and cacophony of each installation seem to recall the union of single distinctive voices emerging from Citizens Band (2012).

It is also possible to ascribe this concept to the sculpture Hum (Black galaxy) (2021): a series of green circles engraved into a dark granite slab; a material commonly known as ‘black galaxy’ as its shining particles and black background remind one of a night sky. The expanding circles of different sizes are suggestive of the rippling of sound waves. Rather than remaining perfectly symmetric and distanced – which would happen if they were to represent one single source of sound – they interlock towards the edge of the slab, as if representing discordant inputs. The title of the work inevitably evokes and reconnects this piece to the humming, totalising sound coming from the adjacent Over the Air and Underground.

The humming of these two pieces with their references to the universe and its harmonious and discordant communications reminded me of the om: the primordial sound of the universe. Mesiti says that this spiritual-religious effect wasn’t intentional in the creation of the works, but it definitely emerges throughout the experience of the exhibit.

In the Round is an overwhelming and otherworldly immersive experience that is capable of transporting the audience across multiple realities, guided by its sounds and astounding emotional visuals.
In the Round will be on display at Talbot Rice Gallery until February 19th, 2022.

Featured image: Angelica Mesiti Over the Air and Underground, Talbot Rice Gallery installation view.

Image credit: courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery

By Sofia Cotrona

Originally from Italy, Sofia Cotrona is a history of art student at the University of Edinburgh. She is a young freelance art writer published by Hyperallergic and art editor for The Student. She is passionate about feminist and decolonial art interventions, and she is also an advocate for youth art accessibility as a member of the Scottish National Youth Arts Advisory Group.