Entering Talbot Rice Gallery the most striking feature is the overwhelming, totalising sound that will embrace the audience: harmonies and cacophonies arise from the combination of the multitude of sound and video installations that characterise the exhibition In the Round. For its autumn programme Talbot Rice Gallery welcomes the first major exhibition in the United Kingdom of the Australian artist Angelica Mesiti – an immersive show that combines some of her past works, new commissions and artefacts from the University of Edinurgh collections placed in conversation with Mesiti’s artworks.
A key theme that emerges from the exhibition is communication and translation. The White Gallery is transformed by the glowing purple light ant the videos in Over the Air and Underground (2020) shot under ultra-violet light. Commissioned by the Busan Biennial in 2020, the otherworldly and breathtaking macro shots of flowers, plants and mushrooms that slowly rotate in the screens are meant to reproduce the vision of bees and to explore themes connected to forest communication. The UV light makes pollen appear iridescent and enhances the glistening threads of mycelium that Mesiti grew over the different specimens. The mycelium-underground fungal root is key to Mesiti’s vision for this artwork. In fact, this underground network connects plants and vast part of forests allowing them to communicate, exchange and redistribute nutrients to ensure the survival of the forest. The sound component of this artwork explores the theme of forest communication too. The soundtrack is made up of ten human voices recorded while humming an ‘A’ note at 220 hertz: the frequency believed to be used by trees 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’s Bee’s Madrigal – part of the University’s collection – that reproduces with human voices the sound of the queen bee calling and the beehive responding.
A re-staged version of ASSEMBLY, commissioned by the Australian Pavilion of the 2019 Venice Biennale, occupies the Georgian Gallery. This three-channel video explores communication and translation within a legislative system. Its main protagonist is the Michela machine – a stenographic machine that resembles a small piano keyboard and that is used to quickly record parliamentary debate. The artist used it to transpose a poem by David Malouf about language and cultural heritage, and then transform its input into performed scores, dances, and interpretations.
What is striking about this exhibition is the immersive experience that curators Tessa Giblin, James Clegg and the artist have created. Through the arrangement of the screens and the speakers, the video and sound installations encourage the viewers to engage with the works through a physical experience rooted in their body and its movements. Over the Air and Underground pushes the audience to wander around the five different panels oriented in different directions. Standing in between the screens the humming of the 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, feeling as if they are chasing the music of the clicking sounds, that reaches them at different volume to reflect their physical distance from its source, and encouraging a sensorial participation.
To amplify this immersive experience of the single artworks, the sounds of each piece accompany the listener throughout the corridors of the exhibition, mixing together and creating harmonious and cacophonous 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, material commonly known as black galaxy as its shining particles and its black background remind one of a night sky. The expanding circles of different size 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 – towards the edge of the slab they interlock as if representing discordant inputs.
In the Round is an overwhelming and otherworldly immersive experience capable of transporting the audience across multiple reality guided by sound and astounding emotional visuals.
With grateful thanks to Sofia Cotrona (Instagram: @sofiacotrona) for this review. All images Sally Jubb.