Behind the scenes

For obvious reasons, we in Christchurch have spent lots of time lately looking down rather than up and out. Life in the post-quake city is governed by what the earth is up to, and you've got to watch your step.

But looking down while you walk can also yield unexpected rewards, and quite a few of them accumulate in Charlie Sofo's Touch, a modest video that's also one of my favourite artworks of the year so far. Taking his camera with him on walks round Dunedin late last year, Charlie filmed his own free hand as it touched ordinary things: a chain, lichen on a fence post, a crushed can, a footprint in sand.

The video has the procedural feeling, the one-thing-after-another quality, of early conceptual art. Yet the longer I spend on this journey, the stranger it all starts to feel. It's as if Sofo is a newcomer amongst foreign objects, a kind of footpath phenomenologist, trying to verify the world and his own presence in it in some immediate, hands-on way.

In fact, as the small scenes accumulate, they develop – for me at least – an unexpected emotional momentum. Touching, after all, is something we do with an object when we don't yet have a name for it. Yet it's also something we might do with something we're seeing for the last time, in the hope that registering it with two senses at once will lodge it more firmly in memory.

Touch by touch, the video builds into an expression of gratitude for the given world.

Still from Charlie Sofo's Touch

Still from Charlie Sofo's Touch