One of Australia’s most renowned contemporary artists and a UNSW Art & Design graduate, Angelica Mesiti's award-winning video, Citizens Band, is to be exhibited at the Festival Chantiers d’Europe 2016 at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris on 13 May. Mesiti's widely recognised work has previously been presented at biennales, triennales and major exhibitions since it was produced in 2012.
She first saw him performing on the metro in Paris with a dated Casio keyboard hoisted over his left shoulder – cellophane tape holding down keys f sharp and b flat and a small photo of murdered Raï musician, Cheb Hasni, fixed above one speaker. With a throaty voice he sang songs from his homeland of Algeria. He was partially blind and seemingly oblivious to fellow travellers has they boarded and dis-embarked the carriage.
Mesiti says “just the experience of seeing [Mohammed Lamourie] and experiencing his music was a very impactful and moving moment.” It was also the catalyst for making one of her most acclaimed and powerful video installations, Citizens Band, which premiered at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 2012, and has since toured the Musée d'art in Montréal, the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, the Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, Nikolaj Kunsthal in Copenhagen, the Aichi Triennale in Japan, the Auckland Triennial, the Istanbul Biennial, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India, the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates, and will next week be screened at the Festival Chantiers d’Europe 2016 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Mesiti, who is represented in Australia by Anna Schwartz Gallery, says, “I make video works that look like they are influenced by cinema and I work with different performers from many different backgrounds but my work is always seen in a museum or gallery context, so narrative and storytelling are not the main purpose of the video work.” For Citizens Band, capturing and conveying the emotion of the four selected performers as they embody music and history from their far-away homelands was the purpose.
Mesiti knew of, or, through word-of-mouth, found out about,each of the performers before the Citizens Band was planned. The performers, unknown to each other, shared the similar experiences of having left or fled their countries of birth, set up homes in foreign western cities, and continued to re-examine their displaced identities through art. One is aforementioned stateless Paris busker, Mohammed Lamourie. Also selected by Mesiti are Cameroon born, Geraldine Zongo, discovered in Paris as she practiced a women’s water drumming ritual in a local swimming pool; Mongolian throat singer, Bukhchuluun Ganburged, who now lives and busks in Sydney’s inner west suburb Newtown; and acclaimed Sufi musician and part-time Brisbane taxi driver, Asim Goreshi.
Mesiti gives each of the performers their own large screen in Citizen Band’s four-channel, surround sound video installation. Mounted on different walls and positioned to interact with each other the way actual band members would, Mohammed is pictured singing on a train, Geraldine thwacks the water’s surface in an empty public pool, Bukhchuluun plays a morin khuur (also known as a horse-head fiddle, a symbol of the Mongolian nation) in a convenience store, and Asim sits in a darkened taxi whistling an abstract and bird-like Sudanese melody.
The effect of Citizens Band is arresting, lonely, and strangely joyous. It features each performer in a solo act before building to a chaotic and overlapping finale. At its packed Melbourne premiere, Mesiti says that the audience almost immediately found “the rhythm of the work and they would move their heads and move their bodies and shuffle their feet around as the screens changed” resulting in a “communal experience that I’d really hoped for”.
For the making of Citizens Band, Mesiti received the acquisitive 2012 Anne Landa Award by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the AFTRS Creative Fellowship.