Archie Barry

Archie Barry is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice spans performance, video, music production and writing modalities. Their work takes form as autobiographical, somatic and process-led, exploring themes of personhood, embodiment and mortality. Moments of intense affective connec-tion with audiences are created through disquieting and uncanny bodily gestures, de-formed and re-formed language. They have exhibited and performed at The Australian Centre for Contempo-rary Art; Melbourne, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Sydney, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Contemporary Art Tasmania; Artspace, Sydney; Buxton Contemporary; Melbourne and ALASKA Projects; Sydney, amongst other spaces. Barry completed a Masters of Contemprary Art at Victorian College of the Arts in 2017 and now lives in Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne), Australia.

Original Action


Short Spells

I’m going to spell aloud for you each day this week. To spell something out is to explain, to sequence correctly, but I want to spell away from meaning and slip into the frustration and pleasure of sounds. A spell can be a magical charm said aloud, thought of as a raw nonsensical language of creation bound up in power. A spell can also be a short period of time or a seizure; a specific physical, psychological or geographic chamber of experience.

I think about surveillance a lot because it’s ubiquitous, especially now that language-based communications travel almost wholly through the internet. I like singing and spelling aloud because most algorithmic listening technologies can’t reconstruct the words, which means I can tell you things that won’t fragment into personal data as easily as speech or text do. The visual accompaniments are selfie videos abstracted through a variety of post-production colour and time mapping filters, edited to breathe with each letter.

Each of the seven spellings are lyrics pulled from unpublished songs and diary entries I’ve written during the pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne. These spells are things I care about and are troubled by, that I want to push around with my voice. 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve mostly given up on representational image making. Looking and being seen became overwhelming as work life, social life and political protest all siphoned into video platforms that constitute and are subject to surveillance culture. I have spent a lot of time listening, writing music and talking to friends. I read over the phone in structured ways: paired readings and group readings that happen at particular times each week.

I hope that these spells can help you feel differently about voice and communication. It doesn’t matter if you can’t follow along. 


Audio: my soprano and whispering voices spelling a diary entry from 13 June 2020
Visual: lying in a bed in Bed Stuy, New York City, USA, February 2020


Audio: my tenor and bass voices spelling lyrics (with grammatical error) from a song written May 2020 as part of a larger project titled 'Multiply', to be published via @acca_melbourne ACCA Open Digital Commission on 30 September 2020
Visual: walking in a park in Fawkner, Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne), Australia, May 2020


Audio: three soprano voices spelling a diary entry from 2 June 2020
Visual: legs dancing in bed, Brunswick East, Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne), Australia, June 2020


Audio: my speaking voice reading a diary entry from January 2020
Visual: performance rehearsal for an unfinished residency with @fd13residency at @yeah___maybe Minneapolis, USA, February 2020


Audio: my soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices spelling lyrics from a song written May 2020 as part of a larger project titled 'Multiply', to be published via @acca_melbourne ACCA Open Digital Commission on 30 September 2020
Visual: having a bath, Fitzroy, Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne), Australia, August 2020


Audio: my soprano, alto and bass voices spelling a diary entry from May 2020
Visual: on a train at sunset to Beacon, New York, USA, February 2020


Audio: my soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices spelling a phrase a house-mate said in September 2020
Visual: waving goodbye, Saint Paul, USA, March 2020

Go Deeper


In this talk, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the crucial role of language in creating intimacy between people and AI systems, and describes research-based projections on the far reaching impact of AI in years to come.

Take Action


Language is a core component of how we create and maintain a shared reality. My art practice is interested in softening, bending and undermining language to summon or suggest other realities. This sequence of prompts was developed from messing around singing and reading with friends, and facilitating reading groups and vocal workshops in the past. This experiment can be done on your own, but is more interesting in pairs and much more dynamic in a group. The purpose is to translate a passage of writing into a soundscape using your voice/s. Approach this playfully and see what happens.

Vocal warm ups

  • Face each other (as a pair or in a group) and sing the same note until you can feel the frequency physically pass back and forth between you.

  • Fling your arms out into the air and shout ‘ha’ at the same time. Do this in synchrony with each other (if you’re a pair or group) and then let it fall out of synchrony, each person moving and shouting at their own pace.

  • Pause and to listen to sounds already in the space. With your own voice, mimic or accompany these sounds for two minutes.

  • In one long breath, sing an ‘ooo’ sound with your mouth closed, slowly open your mouth and change the shape of your lips and tongue until the sound becomes an ‘aaa’. Move back through ‘ooo’ to a closed mouth.

  • Hum like a car engine starting.

  • Gurgle from your digestive tract.

  • Whistle like a ghost on fire.

  • Sing like a seed rising on a breeze.

  • Sigh like a shooting star.

Artwork prompt

This is an experiment in translating words into a vocal atmosphere. This requires close listening, an open mind and a warmed up voice.

Read aloud or listen to a recording of a few paragraphs of text, spoken or written in the first person. Science fiction or fantasy novels, vlogs and interviews are good sources.

Put a timer on and listen/read for 1 minute. Hear the words, and the tone or affect they are creating.

After listening, set a timer for 30 seconds. With your eyes closed, imagine the atmospheric sound of this story. When the timer goes off, keep your eyes closed and let that sound come out of your mouth. If you’re with others, tune into the collective sound you are creating. Adjust your voices so that no single voice is overriding others or lost in the mix.

Do this two, three or four times with different text prompts. Each time, see if you can listen with increasing attention. Talk about it afterwards.