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

Clap, thump. The camera pans slowly and two performers, one in black, one in white, take turns walking and clapping along an underpass footpath. The sound reverbs. A simple score.

Moving in a single continuous take — right, pause, left, pause — the camera traces the movement of each performer, embodying a familiar action central to walking the suburbs — oscillating as a person would, checking the way is clear of oncoming traffic.

Momentarily everything becomes black and depthless, except for a patch of blue sky and gum tree branches at the top-left of the screen. Nguyen cleverly harnesses late afternoon shadow on one side of the underpass with an analogue fade-out that adds complexity to the continuous take. This patch is so alluring and bowerbird-bright you feel you could almost snip it out, a badge to pin on your chest or a postcard to send home, wherever that is.

With each camera sweep, there is little by way of traffic as such although there are occasionally cars, which offer a surprising sense of comfort when they appear. Other lives going about other kinds of business. The scene would feel creepy without them, the setting too loaded. Too Australian Gothic.

The uncontrolled compositional elements of this video — the cars, the brief flash of another walker with a pram protectively draped in a white shroud — reassure us that this is not a badland, at least in the afternoon. In film we are used to the underpass as a site for ripping bongs, sleeping rough or writing graffiti. Call///Response (C.2) doesn’t ignore or attempt to mask these kinds of narratives — colourful graffiti and the letters FKN hang in the background — even as it meditates on a differently idle and intimate slice of the everyday. Emily Stewart

Julian Day must have a good sense of humour. Poles plays out on the unsuspecting viewer almost like a particularly groanworthy Dad joke. Filmed within Alaska Projects’ cold carpark exhibition space, Poles commences with a medium wide shot of three performers from the Synergy Ensemble: Timothy Constable, Bree van Reyk and Joshua Hill. Their bodies divide the screen into careful thirds, with each working in feverish silence to cut a tall metal pole in half with a tube-cutter tool.

This silence is quickly shattered as each pole is severed, the clatter of metal reverberating through the booming concrete space. The performers immediately move to repeat the procedure on the remaining length of pole, diminishing lengths of metal yielding pitches of higher and higher frequencies until further cutting becomes impractical and the performers freeze. The entire operation takes only 30 seconds, videographer Matthew McGuigan complementing the escalating pitch of falling metal with increasingly intimate close-ups of van Reyk’s hands at work or bits of tumbling metal clattering at Constable’s feet.

There are various pleasing clashes at work here; between the meticulous precision of the concept (what could be more exact than the Golden ratio?) and the cheerful cacophony of the execution; between the formal austerity of the cinematic framing and the gleefully deadpan execution of the performers.

If Poles is a joke, however, its punchline is difficult to perceive, with repeated viewings serving to suggest a darker, more violent reading—in the clinical gaze of the camera, in the blank, soulless gaze of the performers as they work, each incision being followed with a further incision, the frenzy of merciless destruction almost suggests massacre. So, maybe not so funny after all. Oliver Downes

Presented as a dual channel half-hour video documentary of her 2013 project, Three Teams, Melbourne artist Gabrielle de Vietri captures an affectionate collaboration with a regional Victorian community in devising a three-team footy match, inducing footy-loving Horsham residents to question the principles of binary-driven competition. With its allegorical references to Australian two-party adversarial democracy, the project is cheekily transparent in asking local AFL fans to reimagine the rules and conventions of a sacred sporting tradition to accommodate an extra team per match.

The concept that emerges in Three Teams is “productive disruption.” Derived from pedagogical parlance, it situates knowledge transformation within certain types of activity: participant access to guided learning experiences; facilitator-participant partnership-led project development; and “thinking globally locally.”

In the video documenting the process of making the game, the club presidents express their initial reservations and quiet thrill at shepherding their members into the annals of sporting history—creating the world’s first three-sided footy game. Over six months, Vietri organises pop-up community BBQs for brainstorming sessions in the streets of Horsham, inviting local residents of all ages to pitch governance models for a three-sided game to a steering committee, using models to replicate the field (with its three sets of goalposts) and canvassing the practicalities of collaboration within competition, while remembering to sustain game flow and interest.

Echoes of Christopher Guest’s small-town mockumentary antics emerge in the second video as the game gets underway. Familiar rituals like the banner-run take place while commentary is provided by Richard Higgins (of The Listies) and footy scribe Tony Hardy, who channel Roy and HG, as the three clubs—Taylors Lake, Noradjuha-Quantong and Horsham RSL Diggers—navigate the ensuing chaos, punctuated with expressions of pride and confusion from the crowd—a heartwarming outcome for de Vietri, who clearly relishes her role as understated artistic trickster. Teik Kim Pok

Top image credit: From L-R: Nigel Kelly (Noradjuha-Quantongs), Jeames Offer (Taylor’s Lake), Nathan Hayden (Horsham RSL Diggers) prepare for Three Teams Football Match at Dock Lake Reserve, 2013, photo Thea Petrass, Wimmera Mail – Times

Why do we do what we do here at RealTime? The Monthly’s Anwen Crawford offered a highly articulate case for supported arts criticism after Fairfax announced cuts to culture coverage. Lauren thinks the issue is bigger than Fairfax, and speaks to a wider breakdown in the arts ecology and democratic journalism in Australia: 

“Effective criticism is timely, and alert to the times in which it is made; it forms one strand of a wider public conversation that we are each entitled to join, by virtue of being alive. But in Australia we are all, increasingly, being denied participation in, and exposure to, art and arts criticism. The two go together, never mind the well-worn cliché that artists and critics are sworn enemies.”

 

Lt. Col. Kent Graham Solheim, U.S. Army. Credit President George W. Bush, source: www.nytimes.com

How do you critique a war criminal’s paintings? His political legacy feels feeble but George W’s new book of paintings—oddly naïve, flat, juvenile portraits of war veterans—has been greeted nostalgically by NY Times critic Jonathon Alter as an act of political atonementWe wonder how tightly a critic can squeeze their conscience. Time to decry fake art? 

“In the introduction to his new coffee-table book of oil paintings, Bush readily—perhaps pre-emptively—admits that he’s a ‘novice.’ Three years after leaving the White House, he set out to adopt the pastime of Winston Churchill, who painted to relieve the ‘Black Dog’ of depression. But age 66 is awfully late to achieve proficiency, especially for a man with a famously short attention span. Bush recalls playfully informing his first art instructor, Gail Norfleet, of his objectives. ‘Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,’ he told her. ‘Your job is to liberate him.’”

 

Louise Zhang, Instagram image courtesy the artist

Don’t panic—get some real art on your phone screen. Sydney artist Louise Zhang’s Instagram is a delightful feed. She conflates Western and Chinese iconography in candy colours on circular, painted surfaces. Horror films contribute more recently to her visual language—but abstracted just beyond the figurative.

 

Listening to Blade Runner. This brilliant new video essay by Nerdwriter1 goes beyond an analysis of Ridley Scott’s film’s soundscape, including Vangelis’ classic soundtrack, to encompass a wider appreciation of how sci fi has sounded across the decades:

“A movie without its music is not the same movie. [In Blade Runner] the music isn’t laid over the top of the visuals, it’s baked into the DNA of the movie itself. Everything you hear—the score, sound design, dialogue—is tightly integrated with the others. This integration is really what separates Blade Runner from other science fiction films. After all, electronic music had been a staple of science fiction cinema for three decades going back to Bernard Herrmann’s use of the theremin in The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Top image credit: Nerdwriter 1, video still courtesy the artist

Large, geodesic, candy-pink: at first appearance Future Method Studio’s Buckminster Fuller-inspired dome tent, filled with white pebbles and bits of flint, is a surprising presence in a gallery show about Australia’s long paddock. That phrase—long paddock—is a colloquialism, a settler-colonial buzzword for the travelling stock routes (TSRs) that once traversed and now patchwork the continent. Joni Taylor from the New Landscapes Institute has curated a show situated at the intersection of architecture and art that explores the layered histories of the TSRs at a time when access to public land is more contentious than ever. The exhibition is the first iteration of a long-term project engaging with the uncertain future of this important public resource.

Classified as crown land, today TSRs are liminal zones used for myriad purposes. Farmers, birdwatchers, beekeepers, bushwalkers, ecologists and traditional owners all have a stake in their future. Up on the gallery wall, near the dome, Future Method Studio has created a map that charts the locations across NSW where the TSRs intersect with places of Aboriginal significance. It’s an impressively detailed and important document and to my knowledge no other map like it exists.

Emilqua East, The Bullwhip Effect, 2017, Zanny Begg

As the artists in this show acutely understand, the problem with maps is that they formalise a kind of forgetting. By prioritising one set of concerns, others fade away. Living and working in the Riverina, The Wired Lab (see a 2014 RealTime TV interview with director Sarah Last), are particularly sensitive to this, using two different maps, one historical, one spatial, to contextualise a mesmerising soundscape featuring local activist Peter Beath speaking in Wiradjuri—a language declared extinct in 2007 but which in fact survives—and field recordings from TSRs local to the area, a lively racket of cicadas, birds and insects. It’s The Wired Lab work, Lines of movement, a Wiradjuri history, that feels the most essential; human and non-human occupants are given equal ground from which to speak.

Looking at the TSRs from an economic perspective led artist Zanny Begg to the bullwhip effect, an economic term that describes accelerating unpredictability within complex supply chains. The bullwhip is also a uniquely Australian whip and the first human invention with the capacity to break the sound barrier. Begg’s film, The Bullwhip Effect, features a virtuosic demonstration by 17-year-old Emiliqua East, one of the world’s best whipcrackers. Slowed down to 200 frames per second, she becomes a medusa-like figure, totally focused, barely blinking, two whips writhing and cracking around her with stunning precision. Shot and soundtracked in a manner that playfully engages Western genre tropes, East enters and exits the film walking slowly through a labyrinthine, stainless steel cattleyard.

In Untitled Incognito, Megan Cope and Bill Buckley present a reworked version of an Aboriginal windbreak made from a mix of traditional and non-traditional materials. Its ochre-painted surface is used as a screen, onto which two images are overlaid: rippling water from the Murrumbidgee and a map of local TSR coordinates. The work asks important questions about who the TSRs are for, and what they might become. As of April the NSW TSRs have been placed under formal review. What if this land were to be repatriated to traditional owners?

The Plant, Stock Route Stories, 2017, Grandeza, photo courtesy the artists

Architecture collective Grandeza offers a global perspective in The Plant, presenting a case study on similar stock routes throughout Spain. Alongside this, they have created a portable conversation arena and an adapted version of the cattle crush (a holding stall), programmed with recordings from members of the community telling their stories about the TSRs. The architectural contributions of both Grandeza and Future Method Studio bring a sense of public agency into the gallery and activate the exhibition as a site of political action.

Back to the dome, which on closer inspection represents the concept of “a keeping place” — a place where Aboriginal cultural materials are held safely. Setting aside places as symbolic space where Aboriginal systems can be honoured is a concept that has been written into bureaucratic systems; for example, there are keeping places held on-site at mining locations where artefacts have been incidentally dug up. Cultural items are stored temporarily and then repatriated once the land is no longer being used.

In Future Method Studio’s Future Acts, the keeping place marks an important moment in their research. While they were at a stock route location, artists from the Studio and their Aboriginal collaborators came across a significant number of Aboriginal artefacts sitting in the topsoil. The experience resonated in two ways: it showed just how twinned the relatively recent history of the stock routes is with the long history of Aboriginal land custodianship. And it showed just how bad whitefellas have been at seeing what’s in front of them. The pink dome, a shape that recalls the activist politics of the US counterculture movement, operates recursively, as aura and totem. Presenting and representing the concept of keeping place, a warm ethics of care washes over the gallery as a whole.

The Long Paddock, curator Joni Taylor of New Landscapes Institute, artists Zanny Begg, Megan Cope & Bill Buckley, Hayden Fowler, Future Method Studio, Grandeza, Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski and The Wired Lab; Wagga Wagga Art Gallery; 6 May-17 July

Emily Stewart is poetry editor at Giramondo Publishing and a doctoral student in the Writing and Society Research Centre at WSU. She is the author of Knocks (Vagabond Press 2016). 

Top image credit: Future Method Studio, Rylestone Travelling Stock Route, fieldwork for The Long Paddock, 2017, photo Rosie Krauss

Chantal Akerman said that “there is no good documentary without a bit of fiction, and vice versa.” Of the four videos in this Almost Doco collection, Liam O’Brien’s has most in common with cinema in that it’s a sad comedy set in a fictive reality. Early April engages with film laterally, though, in that its narrative has no resolution.

A nameless, emasculated blow-up doll wakes and plods his way through a go-nowhere day, which will be the same as every one that follows. There is a total absence of other people, other lives going about other work. There’s a desire for social interactions: he tries and fails to make a Skype call, his iPhone lockscreen shows a couple kissing and he watches PornHub in bed. Though our protagonist is just a doll, O’Brien’s shaky camerawork and repeated close-ups imbue him with a surprising amount of emotion: he’s thoughtful, he’s concerned, he’s anxious, he’s let down, his brow wrinkles with sensitivity. He’s a real character.

This conflation of people with objects and objects with people takes on a deeper sense of alienation when you consider that the plastic protagonist is a surrogate for the artist, who is currently in residence in New York City. This is his bedroom, his commute, his studio. The Sterling Ruby poster on the wall came with the sublet. The plastic man is not just imaginable as an actual human, he’s modelled on an actual human.

Plentiful philosophical references abound should you care to scour the books on this plastic man’s desk and note the YouTubes he watches to get himself to sleep. You might see Early April as a droll meditation on the diminished status of artists today, a cartoon portrait of failed masculinity, or a quasi-fictional demonstration of Nihilist thought. But I read it as being about the reasons for its own emptiness: as a way of saying that life goes on. Lauren Carroll Harris

 

You can read about visual artist Liam O’Brien and see excerpts from his video and other works on his website http://www.liamobrien.com.au.

A grim reverie. An unspecified climate of concern. Jacobus Capone trawls a stick through indifferent Arctic snow. He’s a slight figure. Crossing from left to right, he leaves little evidence of a trail. This gruelling labour has an outcome, but it’s only implicit. The subtitle is Fathoming a Circle with a Line, but we never see the giant circle resulting from Capone’s ostensibly straight lines. It’s a visual trick: all circles are made of straight lines, if you zoom in closely enough. I imagine a hidden scene in which we see a birds-eyeview of a giant, spindly circle traced into the bleached-white snow. Another shot might show it being covered by the next gale, the cycle complete.

This isn’t the first time Capone has made a portrait of a wild place, centred on its relationship with his body. Rather than summoning scenes of natural destruction, the artist tends to create images in which humans are made redundant by the hugeness of the wilderness. He generally appears dwarfed by the scale of the landscape, repeating a gesture or staying completely still while a waterfall cascades before him or wind rustles around. They’re humble works, in which people are small and sometimes effortful. This is the first of Capone’s videos I’ve seen in which he is engaging in a form of drawing, performed in slow movements of endurance, in the snow rather than on the page. But the formal sparseness and visual language remains the same as before—a monochromatic palette, an ineffectual silhouetted figure against a vast and careless natural backdrop, adding up to a study of futility or contemplation. Lauren Carroll Harris.

 

Jacobus Capone is a Perth-based visual artist whose video installation Forgiving Night for Day, in which Fado singers in Lisbon greet the dawn with song, was a featured work in the 2017 Perth International Arts Festival. You can see an excerpt here.

Sydney artist Frazer Bull-Clark has made what he calls a moving postcard of Beverly Hills, Hurstville, and beyond that, what reads as a picture of the oddity of Australian suburbia. Beverly Hills is a suburb with a largely unknown history even to Sydney residents. I can find only a few online mentions of its distinctive cocos palms, which one blogger says were planted in the 1940s to exoticise the area with a Californian vibe in tune with its namesake.

As a portrait of a place, there’s a link between this work and the city symphony genre of films, such as Symphony of a Metropolis (Berlin, 1927) and Man with a Movie Camera (Moscow, Kiev and Odessa, 1929). Bull-Clark uses Super 8, a celluloid format long past its heyday, and a favourite of home-movie enthusiasts. The grain and texture of this format is unusual in moving-image art today, which has historically borrowed heavily from television and now from digital sources. Unlike digital video, celluloid film lives in the black moments between physical frames that your eyes flick over as they form the film image; film lives because of undetectable flashes of absence. In choosing Super 8 to capture the palm trees of Beverly Hills and transform that landscape through moving image (notably, through the central visual motif of zooming in and out on individual trees), Bull-Clark brings the near-deceased materials of film history closer to the vernacular of contemporary art. This bridge between the formal concerns and materials of cinema and art is a key space for Almost Doco.

The irony of Bull-Clark’s work is triple-edged. It’s expressed in its materiality—by using a lo-fi film format to suggest the work could have been made in any era. It’s expressed in the music—an upbeat track with a dreamy 1970s American sound by an Australian band. And it’s in the work’s subject—a modest Australian suburb named after a glitzy Los Angeles one, with introduced species of flora to create a visual resemblance. Long live… America? Lauren Carroll Harris

 

Frazer Bull-Clark is a Sydney-based filmmaker and artist. You can see his portrait of a Canberra artist and his suburban environment in Leaving Lost on the National Portrait Gallery Vimeo Channel.

There’s an internet community for everything. You haven’t even dreamed of the niches within niches out there, in the muddy depths of unpublicised YouTube channels and discussion forums. Tiyan Baker’s video portraits of loneliness have won major awards. Here, she turns her attention to create a side-glancing portrait of one internet community: people who post and watch videos of other people dying—on Reddit. Some people like to do this—881 people, to be precise. The extremely NSFW forum is highly regulated, populated with threads that must have a descriptive title, along the lines of:

“A couple having a late night kiss on a road are struck and killed by a drunk driver.” “Car sliding sideways takes out a guy, he stays upright while it shoves him into the wall.” “Woman busy texting fails to see water in front of her and drowns.”

There are further rules. “There must be a person—not an animal—actually dying in the link.” From the murk of these video links, Baker creates a guided meditation video in which the viewer is invited to feel their own death—as you imagine life departing the body, tension leaves the muscles, bloodflow slows, your thoughts disconnect from the day’s worries and you slip into a state in which life is felt rather than verbalised or intellectualised. Baker washes her low-res death clips through a soft pink and purple cast, sometimes duplicating and flipping them symmetrically to generate further abstraction, and imprints the comments of Reddit users over the top. It’s their video too.

I don’t really know what death is and I don’t think Western societies are good at understanding it. So I understand the fascination of the r/WatchPeopleDie users, why they post and watch and comment so obsessively, perverse as that seems. To me, Baker’s video is a very sincere work in an era of irony—lateral in the realisation of its themes and oddly, spookily relaxing to engage with. But there are deeper ironies: what are the ethics of distributing footage of a stranger’s death without consent, of making such footage the fodder of art? How is it possible to find catharsis in videos of trauma, and is that okay? Watching an act involves you in it in some way: do the Reddit viewers think about that? Baker herself puts it this way: “Are some engaging in a meditative act by witnessing this content and forcing themselves to be unmoved by it, and therefore unmoved by the inevitability of their own deaths? Is what they do somehow transcendental and important and honourable and brave?”

The video can be listened to without visuals for a purer meditative experience, because once you realise the video’s premise, you begin to pre-empt each death. Intelligently, Baker withholds that moment, instead letting you see seconds of danger in often mundane situations: a person perched on a ladder or a plane sailing overhead becomes a dreadful sight, the implication is everywhere. Lauren Carroll Harris   

 

Tiyan Baker is a Sydney-based video and sound artist. Examples of her work can be found on her website http://tiyanbaker.com

We haunt and are haunted by spaces. A woman walks purposefully through the halls and stairwells of Melbourne’s Nicholas Building. While the era of the art-deco architecture is echoed in the woman’s attire, the black and white film further situates the work in an imagined past well before the film was shot. For Hine, her medium is spectral, able to project visions of the past into spaces where they once took place, or maybe never happened.

A kind of echo runs through the work, ricocheting off the tiled walls and concrete floors. The sound of brisk footsteps bounces discordantly off shots of empty halls, only to find its source in the parallel image of the other screen. There are prolonged sequences of silence, when the echo is purely architectural. The same stairwell, the same windows, albeit observed, maybe, from a different angle.

The architectural logic of the work is complicated. At times the woman walks from one screen to the other, or appears simultaneously on both screens, waiting and walking away. She may have already walked the same hall a dozen times, we may be watching a replay or a re-enactment, but the divided screens allow the camera to linger on empty spaces and familiar corridors concurrently. The dual composition renders each sequence anew, though not without a lingering sense that we may have been here before.

The void between the screens becomes a site where logic fails and a new dialogue of difference and repetition is formed. It is a space of immateriality through which we must venture so as to make sense of the images we see, and in doing so we invest a place of transience with a sense of purpose. Elyssia Bugg

Digital media screen works by Japan’s teamLab were a highlight of Adelaide’s 2016 OzAsia Festival. Now four new works are featured at Sydney’s Martin Browne Contemporary.

In Gold Waves, a four-channel continuous loop that simulates a traditional room screen, roiling, curling and crashing waves suggest a Hokusai print come to life. Comprising hundreds of thousands of tiny ‘water’ particles which coalesce into lines of movement, the waves pound hypnotically, and as in a real ocean, unpredictably.

The water in Black Waves, a rivetting single channel loop, appears more blue than black and more suggestively akin to woodblock print colouring.

The exquisite single channel Enso (5 minutes), described by the makers as an exercise in Spatial Calligraphy, mimics the single Zen brushstroke that makes a circle but here adding a remarkable depth of field, shifting perspective and inky detail (fans of the film The Arrival will feel an immediate affinity).

Impermanent Life is a relative of the glorious, perpetually evolving Ever Blossoming Life which appeared in the OzAsia Festival. Across a four channel cluster of what appear to be gnarled tree roots, a mass of tiny blossoms drift and fall as a large circle forms and fades in another of teamLab’s celebrations of the life cycle.

These are engrossing screen works which invite reverie and contemplation, and are best seen on their big screens in a quiet gallery,

For our reviews of teamLab at the 2016 OzAsia Festival, go here and here.

teamLab, Impermanent Life, Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, 27 April-21 May