The Venice Questionnaire: Angelica Mesiti

Representing Australia, the artist talks about music, the tyranny of distance and not becoming tokenistic

Angelica Mesiti, ASSEMBLY, 2019, three-channel video installation in architectural amphitheatre, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, and Galerie Allen, Paris

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening on 11 May.

Angelica Mesiti is representing Australia. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?
I’m presenting a work titled ASSEMBLY; a 25-minute multiscreen video-and-sound installation set inside a small amphitheatre. The work evolves as a series of translations from text to musical score, using the musical tools of polyphony, cacophony, harmony and dissonance to evoke the way a social group forms, breaks apart and reforms itself. I’ve worked with an ensemble of performers from a range of backgrounds and disciplines for this work, which is quite an immersive experience for viewers.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?
While it is certainly an honour to be selected for this opportunity, I don’t think any single person or artist can represent a country so I’ve chosen to think about that while making the work. The idea of pluralism is a concept I’m working through in many aspects of the work.

Is your work transnational or rooted in the local?
It‘s a bit of both. I’ve worked with ideas, objects, performances and choreographies from a range of cultures while staging the work in an environment; the senate chamber, that is found in democracies across the globe. However I’ve deliberately worked with Australian performers and participants from a range of backgrounds without trying to ‘tick all the boxes’ or be token.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?
I think in Australia we have this concept of the ‘tyranny of distance’ and it can be challenging for Australian art practices to reach an international audience. The Australian Pavilion in Venice offers a platform that helps to steer audience attention towards our country’s art scene.

If you’ve been to the biennale before, what’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?
I remember discovering the Carlo Scarpa garden inside the Italian pavilion for the first time and being mesmerised.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?
The most exciting thing about Venice is discovering new artists or new artworks by artists whose work I like to follow. Really looking forward to seeing Ralph Rugoff’s exhibition, I hope to catch some performances, and I love the way that during the biennale the city opens up to allow access to some amazing locations normally closed to the public.

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November