'Channels' video art festival: its organisers don't know how to define it either

In today’s highly visual and digital culture, videos are seemingly ubiquitous, but they’re not very often presented in a distinct curatorial fashion. Australian video art festival Channels ––  a celebration of video culture through exhibitions, screenings, performances, talks and workshops — aims to change that.

“Every single day on every single device that we’re on, there are so many videos everywhere, a lot of them on autoplay. When you go to your Facebook newsfeed there’s like 20 videos screaming at you, and you don’t even know what they are anymore,” says Nikki Lam, artistic director of this year’s festival. “But I think that’s what’s really interesting for artists to work with. Because when our perception of the medium has changed so much, going outside the [convention] of film distribution, or renting videos… when it’s everywhere, it gives artists a very interesting scope to work with.”

The biennial festival will be presented in Melbourne from September 18-27, with events taking place throughout venues in its CBD and inner city Fitzroy with Grey Gardens Projects as the official festival site. There will also be an online element on the festival’s website, which Lam calls a “kind of an interaction between video culture on the internet, and the sort of conversations that we’re hoping to have through Channels”.

According to Lam, this year’s 10-day event will be “about the tension between video art, screen and internet culture, technology and where they meet” and “pretty epic” — six days longer than 2013’s inaugural festival, with 21 events across 14 venues featuring a range of local and international artists. “We wanted to make it a critical, thematically relevant festival, but not too alienating,” she says. “In terms of engaging with audiences, we really wanted to challenge the different meanings of what video art could be.”

Originally from Hong Kong, Lam has lived in Melbourne for about 10 years, studying Fine Art at Monash University and graduating from the University of Melbourne in 2013 with an Executive Master of Arts. A visual artist herself, Lam is excited about exposing this year’s audiences to a wide range of video art, pushing the boundaries of its very definition.

“There’s something about not being able to define what video art is… and that’s exactly why we need a video festival,” says Lam. “Not just to provide a context to help people understand what it is, but to actually celebrate what’s there.”

When asked about how she feels regarding the overabundance of video culture today, Lam says that it excites her. “You can never tell anymore,” she says of the fine line between seasoned professionals going through “that process of conceptualising an idea, and shooting it in lo-fi”, and amateur and beginner artists shooting and uploading YouTube videos from their bedroom. “There are so many videos out there that are kind of blurring the lines of how far you can go with making videos.”

The festival will be joining forces with venues such as Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Screen Space, Federation Square, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in the UK, Ferry Gallery in Thailand, Grey Gardens Projects, University of Melbourne, and Liquid Architecture. In one of its events, Channels will be screening videos curated from 450 local and international open-call submissions, shortlisted and chosen by a selection panel. Another event will feature Sydney/London artist Sam Smith in the Australian premiere of “Notes,” a live audio-visual collage.

“I think video is one of those really interesting… quite fluid kind of mediums when it comes to technology, because it has always evolved with technology,” says Lam. “There are a lot of perceptions about what video art is, and we’re trying to push the boundaries of the medium itself, particularly within the evolving digital environment.”

Lam hopes that the festival will spark debates and discussion about the ever-changing nature of video and its future in today’s society. “Video has a history in VHS and a tangible object of holding a video, whereas now… it’s not physical anymore. It makes it so arbitrary, almost. [Video] could be anything, anywhere, and sometimes we don’t even think that it’s there anymore. You walk into a shopping centre and there are so many videos playing around you, and people who are looking at their phones might be looking at videos… but we don’t recognise them as the same as the videos that we have on tape or on DVD. It’s very interesting.”

Channels is supported by City of Melbourne and Australia Council for the Arts. More information can be found at http://channelsfestival.net.au. Main image: The Embrace by Pilar Mata Dupont as part of Channels Flinders Lane Program

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