Chris Cobilis, portrait by Darren ClaytonChris Cobilis: Starting with Sound

Words by Laetitia Wilson
Music has always been at the centre of Chris Cobilis' creative orbit. By working across genres and media, and forging collaboration and interdisciplinarity, Chris has developed a highly original, experimental acoustic oeuvre. He has participated in numerous bands, including the Tigers and SMRTS and created compositions for film, theatre and dance. Most recently he has extended his feelers into audio-visual art installation. 
An interest in art has derived from the thought of being able to apply music and sound to something tangible. When you perform in a band as part of a festival, in a club or pub, or even when you contribute sound to performing arts, it is a fleeting, ephemeral experience. It is also a challenging means to communicate a message.

“Sometimes I feel like the audience does not get the point”, and, “It is impossible to say something explicit with sound alone,” he states. Art installation then, becomes a way to present something fixed, to anchor the point to an enduring medium and to, “Take critical practice into a space that isn’t a stage.”

Chris’ proliferation of ideas across multiple mediums demonstrates his willingness to keep moving and the need to keep things compelling at the personal level.
Chris Cobilis, Ghost of Record Store Past, 2016. Photographer: Paul ParinSound has held a fascination for Chris since a young age. He worked at 78 Records and Wesley Classics for over a decade and became aware of the decline of the physical record industry, which he describes as going from “tangible to disappearing up into cloud.” This situation has shaped his initial forays into art, including the public installation, Ghost of Record Store (image left). As homage to the record store, it is created in the form of a replica, a simulacrum, replete with listening booths and a wealth of bootleg material. It reflects on “nostalgia for the record store,” as well as issues of copyright and authenticity.

While 2016 has seen Chris pull the reins on playing in bands, which hit an intensity of five in 2015, it has also placed him in the unique position of being one of the first artists exhibiting in the dedicated performance space at Success. Success is the latest, largest, contemporary art, artist run initiative to hit the west coast. Chris’ show, Is This You (image below), is a video, text and sound exploration of the biology of narcissism, showing at the Fremantle space until April 10.

Tracing the history of user-generated content to TV’s Funniest Home Videos, it runs with the comical premise that the sun is like Narcissus, seeking to find its own reflection, and doing so by light passing through the lens and creating a metaphysical feedback loop. As Chris says, “…light strives to get a better look at itself by improving upon the technological extensions (cameras, selfie sticks) of the biological world and will eventually drown in stored memories (reflections, hard drives) over time.”

Chris Cobilis, Is This You, 2016. Photographer: Guy LoudenChris’ practice, whatever the medium, is often political and coloured with a wry sensibility.

He says of his recent work,  “I’m not sure what I’m doing is visual art, or even sound art for that matter.” Instead he thinks it may be closer to indie rock. “In a holistic sense, indie rock is/was made up of lots of different types of thinking and permitted the questioning of what things are, whether that be authenticity, what a song is or what music is.”
This position can only be strengthened by engaging in visual art, that has through the 20th century and into the new millennium persistently been an experimental, radical, subversive, critical and conceptual endeavour.

Laetitia Wilson is a Perth-based lecturer, art critic, freelance writer, artistic collaborator and curator with a doctorate in Media Art History. She has curated exhibitions for PIAF and the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery and worked at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.