Charlie Sofo: Split (2014)

Multidisciplinary Melbourne artist Charlie Sofo makes tender artworks in which modest ambitions are rescued from the totalising power structures in which we live our daily lives.

In Split (2014) a series of slides silently and repeatedly opens like pairs of dining room drapes, revealing digressions in taste and style from landlords who happen to share common façades. It’s impossible to tell the spirit with which the borderlines are maintained. In one image the owners of two ornate terraces appear to have made complementary — or are they rival — colour choices. The funniest slide reveals a dark grey paint job that has skidded way over the boundary line. The effect of these images — visual match-cuts where the compositional structure repeats each time — prefigures the video’s concern with human agency and heightens the drama and satisfaction of each new reveal.

Sofo’s practice draws comparisons with Patrick Pound, another Melbourne-based collector of images who works across media. Yet where Pound is geared towards universals, uncovering patterns untethered to particular times and places, the borders of Sofo’s works are hyper-local: his beat is the neighbourhood/the suburb/the walk to the shops.

We humans like to watch and mimic and judge, share jokes and intimacies. We like to keep up with the Joneses. And the “curatorial cadence of the homeowner,” in the words of architectural critic Sylvia Lavin, is how larger cultural and political values begin to show themselves. Owning property is in itself politically loaded, as are the tactics we use to police and control space. Suddenly the atmosphere of the video seems to shift.

Where at first the façades represent idiosyncratic, even cute examples of individual creative expression, en masse the effect becomes parochial, a strict maintenance of borders that edges on the tyrannical. Sofo treats the figure of the homeowner with great empathy while giving shape to the contours of this difficult double bind. Emily Stewart

23 August 2017
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