Interview: Angelica Mesiti
An interview with Angelica Mesiti by ACMI curator Amita Kirpalani
The Calling is a poignant exploration of ancient human traditions evolving and adapting to the modern world. The work speaks to the tenacity and creativity of specific cultures in the face of globalisation, technological progress and environmental flux.
The Calling is set in three different locations where whistling languages are all still in use − to the village of Kuskoy in Northern Turkey, the Island of Evia in Greece, and the island of La Gomera in The Canary Islands. Traditionally whistling languages were used as a communication tool across vast tracts of land, generally in valleys where the landscape would provide natural amplification. Today these languages exist as cultural artefacts and tourist attractions. Mesiti observes the transformation of this language through the ritualised activities of both the young and the elderly in each community.
AK: The Calling explores whistling languages as they are used in specific communities in Greece, Turkey and the Canary Islands. How did you first become aware of the whistling languages?
AM: I worked with a musician who was a whistler in a previous work called Citizen’s Band (2012). Later, when I saw a documentary featuring whistle languages, I was immediately intrigued.
I was interested in how this birdlike sound, born in valleys and mountains, was used by different villages for different purposes. Whistling languages were a popular subject of linguistic studies and research in the 1960s, and it suddenly struck me that the current state of the languages could be reviewed using the abstracted approach of visual art as opposed to the anthropological gaze of the documentary. I also thought that this would be an interesting way to explore the complexities of the whistling languages and the many factors effecting their evolution, demise and rebirth. I’ve always been interested in the way that human cultures survive, adapt or disappear over time and it seemed to me that these ideas were present when considering the lifecycle of the whistling languages in Kuskoy (Turkey), Antia (Greece) and La Gomera (Canary Islands).
In the traditional rural context of Kuskoy, whistling exists as a functioning language that is used in everyday life. In the Greek island of Antia, technological changes to the environment as well as an aging population are influencing the language’s decline. In La Gomera, the economics of conservation are in full force, where the tourism industry and the educational system are working hand-in-hand to save the local whistling language. Culture, which was once alive and functioning in everyday life, has since died and been resurrected as an artefact.
AK: How long has it taken you to make The Calling?
AM: I started researching and developing my concept in August 2012, when I quickly realised that I needed to first visit and consult with each of the three communities before I begun filming. In March 2013 I travelled to Turkey, Greece and the Canary Islands, where, over many conversations with different people, I learned about how the villagers lived, how they worked, and how they used their respective whistling languages,. Along with our translators we had a lot of meals together and drank a lot of tea, particularly in Turkey! Landscape is also very much a part of how each of the languages are used, and so we spent a lot of time exploring particular areas.
After that trip, and after sifting through all the photographic and video material we amassed, I spent three months in my studio developing a plan for a moving image artwork. I then returned to each place with a small crew, including cinematographer Bonnie Elliott, producer Jodie Passmore and sound recordist Aaron Dyer. We spent between a week and 10 days in each location. During this time I was thinking about how to depict the space and distance we all felt when walking around each location. I was also thinking about how to film sound – the visual rhythms within silence, sound and space.
AK: In some of your previous work you have worked with trained performers, how did you approach the idea of performance in this work?
AM: I adopted an observational approach, recording daily activities as they happened, alongside more constructed scenes. In this way, the idea of performance was less formal than in my previous works.
In each location we reconstructed scenes based on what people in the community had described as a realistic scenario. Feedback and consultation with each community was absolutely integral to the authenticity of our project. In Turkey, for example, our shoot was based around the final week of tea harvest, which was what was happening in Kuskoy when we did our first research trip.
AK: What continues to draw you to music and performance as a source of inspiration for your work?
AM: I’m very interested in the source of human expression – the primal or so-called primitive elements that survive cultural evolution.
My artistic background is based in performance. Expression through the body and through movement, particularly in response to rhythm and sound, is the way I’ve always experienced and seen the world. Dance, music, physical expression and gesture through the body are all second-nature to me. Similarly, I was drawn to the moving image from early days at art school, and so I think I'm now developing my own language that combines both of these interests. It’s an evolutionary thing.
Credits: The Calling
Cinematographer - Bonnie Elliott
Editor - Angelica Mesiti
Sound Designer & Mix - Liam Egan
Sound Recordist - Aron Dyer
Post Production - David Gross, Definition Films
Colourist - Billy Wychgel
Thank you to Matthew McWilliams, Cevdet Erek, Elliott MGaen & David Sprungli
Produced by Felix Media
Bridget Ikin & Jodie Passmore
Angelica Mesiti is represented by Anna Schwarz Gallery.