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2021.6_Archie Barry

Archie Barry

Tatsache 2017
single-channel video, colour, sound;
4 minutes 24 seconds, looped
Monash University Collection

This body is not real, this body is not fake
This body is not real, this body is not fake
[1]

Commencing with a resounding drum beat, Tatsache, 2017, is a depiction of the self by artist Archie Barry as a ghostly apparition—the image is literally inverted, rendering the artist’s face, mouth and body in negative. This haunting inversion nods to analogue film processes and, as Archie describes, alters the physics of the space, abstracting the body and unsettling readings of it.[2] The inside of the mouth, for instance, is no longer in shadow but emanates light. The interior of the artist’s body appears evanescent and luminous rather than solid. This is the unfixed, fluid image: the image before its meaning has settled, been defined, or otherwise framed.

As a video work, Tatsache is situated somewhere between a spoken word performance, a music video and an existential queer manifesto. When roughly translated from German, tatsache means ‘matter of fact’, or ‘something that exists’. Its choice as a title highlights a playfulness with language that permeates many of Archie’s works.[3] Performing a range of movements and gestures for the camera, the artist repeats and echoes a series of verses, many of which seem difficult to comprehend and anything but ‘matter of fact’. These verses are from a ‘devotional poem’ written by the artist, based on physicist Karen Barad’s research into quantum field theory that ‘give[s] permission to states of being that are incomprehensible’.[4] Including phrases such as ‘atoms are mostly empty, electrons never touch’, ‘nothing touches anything’ and the repeated refrain or mantra, ‘this body is not real, this body is not fake’, Archie sets a paradoxical stage, creating a tension between the ‘real’ and ‘fake’ of knowing and not-knowing. The work’s poetics suggest a defiance against the proclivity of human cognition towards reductive categorisation or a ‘totalising system of knowledge’.[5]

This body is not real, this body is not fake
This body is not real, this body is not fake

This resistance to define, name and categorise is central to many queer, trans and gender diverse positionalities. Instead of a binary understanding of gender, sexuality and the body, these positions embrace openness and mutability. In Tatsache, Archie acknowledges the vitality of the space between: the space of not knowing as much as knowing. The work suggests that queer bodies and identities are ever evolving and have a multitude of readings, possible trajectories and realities. A queer reality is not solid; it is liable to change, to be frequently reimagined. In line with this principle, Archie has returned to key verses from Tatsache in more recent work, cycling and re-translating them into new contexts. In the performance Hypnic, 2017–19, Archie repeats the phrase ‘I’m not really real, and I’m not fake’; in the video Fistimuff, 2019, again, ‘This body is not real, this body is not fake’. Like the mythic Ouroboros—the serpent that eats its own tail, symbolising the cycle of life, death and rebirth—Archie is continuously digesting and reformulating their own work. This process suggests that the existential questions Archie posits in Tatsache have no fixed answers. This body is not real or fake, but is anything and everything, all at once.

So too, Tatsache speaks to the universal human experience of grappling with being trapped within our bodies by consciousness. In mindfulness meditation, a common strategy is to focus on finding where consciousness is located. Is it in your head? Is it behind your eyes? Is it in the body or all around us? As confronting a task as it is to undertake, its lesson resides in understanding that there is no easy answer; nothing is certain, and paradox is everywhere. In the ruminations of Tatsache, there is a fluidity that speaks to the queer experience with abundant curiosity, resisting fixed meanings while opening a path to a multitude of potentialities.

This body is not real, this body is not fake
This body is not real, this body is not fake

Madé Spencer-Castle is a curator based in Narrm/Melbourne and Associate Director at Neon Parc. He has held curatorial positions at Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2018–20); Bus Projects, Melbourne (2015–18); and Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston (2013–18).


[1] A spoken line repeated in Tatsache, 2017.

[2] Archie Barry, interview with author, 7 July 2021.

[3] Archie Barry, email to author, 12 July 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Archie Barry, ‘Tatsache’, artist’s website, accessed 5 July 2021, https://archiebarry.com/tatsache/.