REVIEW: ASSEMBLY @ARNOLFINI
By Flora Pick
ASSEMBLY is a music-driven video installation work, currently on show at Arnolfini, which tackles issues of communication and understanding by questioning how to continue preserving democracies for future generations. Originally commissioned by Australia Council for the Arts, visual artist Angela Miseti's work invites visitors into a specially converted first-floor screening space, carpeted in a lush red that's evocative of a cinema or parliament, to view a cycle that grows increasingly cacophonous over its 25 minutes runtime.
Projector screens surround the audience on 3 sides as they situate themselves in a lowered pit in the room's centre. A display that begins with a sweeping journey traversing the insides of Australia's parliamentary buildings settles on the odd image of a lone man punching keys on an unidentifiable instrument, transcribing 'To Be Written In Another Tongue' by Australian poet David Malouf. Displays outside the screening inform us that this device is a 'Michela,' and the poem is ultimately transformed to a musical piece, performed by an increasing number of musicians and performers that unify to form a cohesive and overwhelming whole.
Mesiti has in the past described her work as "video works that look like they are influenced by cinema," which seems especially apt for this project, as her work takes on a vaguely Kubrickian stance; the audience is enveloped in shots of rapidly traversed stark corridors. Bureaucratic buildings hold just as heavy a presence as the musicians themselves in Mesiti's lens. Alongside any highbrow commentary on the nuances of democracy and the increasing accessibility of communication en-masse, there's something fundamentally charming in witnessing a high-ranking parliamentary stenographer stoically transcribe a poem on the clunky analogue of the Michela.
What is stunning in Mesiti's exhibit is an achievement of an overtly political statement that remains subtly woven amongst an overwhelmingly sensory framework that it is easy to be wholly consumed by. Yet this is not a piece that offers singular and easy conclusions. As momentum is gathered and the message populates increasingly larger groups of people, increasing degrees of chaos also move with the message. As more people shout, thoughts of the original poem become difficult to grasp. ASSEMBLY is an exhibition that interrogates collectivism; it is celebratory of the intensely human power of communication, yet acutely aware of the difficulty in communicating the cries of so many. The original poem becomes increasingly abstracted with each iteration, leading to a lasting ambiguity as to the success of translation, especially with the original poem's anxiety concerning one's ability to be continually understood.
Days on, ambiguity remain the ultimate intent behind Mesiti's work. For a piece coming in at under half an hour, its staying power is admirable. The exhibition is worth checking out for the ongoing resonance even after the fact.
Photo courtesy of Arnolfini