Angelica Mesiti, The Colour of Saying, 2015, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 25 minutes. Installation view.

Angelica Mesiti, The Colour of Saying, 2015, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 25 minutes. Installation view.

Angelica Mesiti

Anna Schwartz Gallery | Sydney

Angelica Mesiti, The Colour of Saying, 2015, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 25 minutes. Installation view.

The chilly elegance of Angelica Mesiti’s The Colour of Saying (all works 2015) confirms a marked evolution from her formative years in the Sydney art scene of the 2000s. For much of that decade, Mesiti was one of the Kingpins, a four-woman troupe known for its hilarious, high-camp parodies, live and filmed, of heavy-metal, rap, and hip-hop music videos. These works combined low production values, popular-cultural references, and a hyperactive performance aesthetic. Mesiti’s recent solo efforts seem a world away from these delirious assaults on taste.

The Colour of Saying is a three-part video installation derived from a live performance the artist arranged at Lilith Performance Studio, in Malmö, Sweden, in March 2015. A blinding white space formed the setting of three separate performances of gestural communication: sign language, hand clapping, and a ballet, of sorts. The only props were a music stand and an outsize white step-structure used as a stage by the performers. With a team of cinematic specialists, Mesiti translated the live acts into a high-definition digital-video suite, whose total duration is twenty-five minutes.

In the gallery, the separate performances unfolded consecutively on a trio of large, double-sided screens staggered at ground level. The Silent Choir shows nine Swedish high-school students, in training to be sign-language interpreters, signing Ralph Vaughan Williams’s choral composition Serenade to Music (1938). A gliding camera amplifies the facial expressions and concentrated gazes of the students, along with the rhythmic rise and fall of their hands. All is hushed, except for sounds such as the rustling of clothing and the occasional meeting of lips as choir members silently mouth lyrics.

Seconds after the choir departs the stage, the same pristine white space reappears on the screen assigned to Clapping Music. The vacant setting is punctuated by the entrance of percussionists Viktor Feuk and Tomas Erlandsson, who enact a syncopated, phase-shifting, clapping routine that echoed throughout the gallery space. Inspired by a 1972 work of the same name by Minimalist-music luminary Steve Reich, Clapping Music deploys human hands as percussive instruments. And as in all of the videos, the performers are configured not so much as psychological presences but as darker-hued bodily forms that delineate space within the white field.

In contrast to the sonic dynamism of the clappers, Swan Song, the third component of the installation, frames low-intensity physical activity. Dressed in smart daywear, veteran ballet dancers Jette Nejman and Rolf Hepp sit side by side on the step sculpture. Although they are equipped with earphones transmitting music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1875–76), we don’t actually hear it until the closing moments of the video. The silence draws our attention to the stiff grace of the dancers’ upper-body movements as they perform a hand-marked pas de deux without ever touching. Hand marking is a system of gestural shorthand dancers use to rehearse the shape, tempo, emotion, and spatial dynamics of dance phrases while conserving energy. In recalling the placement of ordinary body movements in formal settings by the pioneers of Minimalist dance, Mesiti has transformed a behind-the-scenes activity into a performance stripped of expressive hyperbole or bodily athleticism. This is indeed a swan song of classical ballet as it is normally staged.

The Colour of Saying reimagines the ascetic bliss of a Minimalist aesthetic. This suite of austerely beautiful, meticulously designed video performances is an accomplished addition to Mesiti’s ongoing exploration of embodied ways of communicating.

Toni Ross