In this essay, I review a 2019 exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo entitled When Saying Is Doing, which featured work by Angelica Mesiti, a contemporary Australian artist who works on questions of performance, immigration, and non-verbal communication in multi-screen moving image installations. On the contemporary global stage, if we do not share the same linguistic community or communities, how is human interrelatedness expressed through other forms of ordinary language, where “language” is now considered not as speech but rather as human expressiveness in its most diverse and complex manifestations? What happens when shared language is neither “speech” nor conversation in the linguistic sense? Needed here is a newly imagined vision of the communicability of human community that I refer to as “neighboring.” Putting Mesiti's work in productive dialogue with Stanley Cavell and other critics, I examine how skeptical problems of isolation, privacy, and unknownness are potentially addressed and responded to in contemporary art.
∗ I would like to thank Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Hal Foster, and other October editors for their astute criticisms and suggestions.