Channels Festival turns the spotlight on video art


Fisti is a bright, fleshy pink superhuman, a persona played by non-binary artist Archie Barry. In the video portrait entitled Fistimuff, the colour palette is inverted: shadows become halos, and once recognisable urban environments and interiors are abstracted. “The familiar is pushed into an extra-terrestrial appearance,” says the artist.

Fisti speaks in a combination of drum rolls and English, and the work is stylistically reminiscent of a music video. Showing at BLINDSIDE, as part of the Channels Festival, an international biennial of video art across 10 Melbourne venues, Fisti’s body “moves in ways that are not easily categorised as masculine or feminine,” says Barry.

These movements are sometimes fluid, sometimes “glitchy,” says the 29-year-old Sydney-born, Melbourne-based artist, who uses the pronouns they, them and their.

Collaborating with musical artist Sean Lowry on the audio production, the Fistimuff soundscape includes rolling drum fills, and Fisti becomes a conduit for non-human sound moving through the body. The title is a word play on fisticuff, on fighting with fists, but “alluding to a more humorous or sexual association,” says Barry.

Fistimuff continues Barry’s notion in their body of work of “midsense,” their synonym for the liminal spaces in queer identity. “My whole practice is interested in choosing to be not fully legible or sensical for others, but in creating an appearance or feeling of a total logic that is not fully accessible, for the creation of another world.” Barry explains.

Archie Barry, Fistimuff, 2019. Photographer: Darren Sylvester.

“‘Midsense’ for me in this work might mean there are elements people can perceive and understand; we all know what it’s like to be walking down the street but we don’t know what it’s like to be the conduit of some electronic music or movements that are not within a daily human repertoire.”

Barry says their work is a “meditation of sorts on what it’s like to be in public space in a body that’s not always understood and just pushing that idea until it’s the centre of the work”.

Artistic director Kelli Alred says that over the last six years Channels Festival has “supported artists at all stages of their careers and expanded our understanding of video art practice.” Channels launches this year on 24 August with a showcase exhibition including artist Reko Rennie from Australia, London-Istanbul pair Noor Afshan Mirza and Brad Butler, and Almagul Menlibayeva who is based in Germany and Kazakhstan.

Other highlights include the premiere of Australian artist David Rosetzky’s newly commissioned work Composite Acts, exploring non-binary sexual identities and power, in a one-night-only exhibition and performance in collaboration with choreographer Jo Lloyd at the Abbotsford Convent. There will also be a program of historical video works by Mike Parr, Marina Abramović and other notables, and contemporary works by Shaun Gladwell, Angelica Mesiti, David Noonan and Daniel Crooks.

Channels Festival 2019
Various venues
24 August – 15 September 

Preview Words by Steve Dow