Stephen Hobbs

Past Project: Dazzle

Based in Johannesburg, Hobbs has exhibited extensively across South Africa and abroad, contributing immensely to the complex relations between art and society. He is noted for his prolific collaborations with Marcus Neustetter. Together these two artists have been the driving force behind The Premises Gallery and the Trinity Session, which was for a time housed within the Civic theatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Hobbs has always been involved with social and community-based work, most notably connected to his partnership with Neustetter, and their varied public art initiatives. Hobbs’ most recent work can be described as highly conceptual, multimedia-based, multidisciplinary, formalized and interactive executions that focus on human ergonomics, structural proximities, and environmental experiences.

Hobbs’ approach deconstructs notions of architecture and space, charged with social, political, and economic undertones. His work can be regarded as iconic and monumental. Architecture, specifically, is used as a catalyst for spatial perceptions, constructed initiatives, and edifices of representation, stitched with influences from Modernist avant-garde trends that existed during the early 20th century. Hobbs situates his influences within the transitional context of contemporary South Africa, often emphasizing the struggle to reform and reconstruct communities and buildings, and as a result improve upon the lived-lives of individuals in the aftermath of urban decay and post-industrial, post apartheid entropy.

Hobbs’ last two exhibitions, held at the Substation in Johannesburg, and the Kwa Zulu Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA) in Durban, are certainly a testament to the historical nature of his spatial interventions and community initiatives, often bringing together the talents of various architects, artists, designers, writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and the like. At the Substation (a project room housed at the University of the Witwatersrand faculty of Arts) Hobbs responded to the space in three parts, producing a body of small-scale assemblage sculptures, incorporating a number of found objects suggesting the early experiments of Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian, and Vladmir Tatlin. When pieced together, these small assemblages become a large-scale installation, accompanied by a site-specific external sculptural intervention outside the building. The exterior treatment could be seen by an appreciative audience at all times. This approach was in part a reaction to the space itself, which has no windows and modest entrances. Thus, the culmination of the installation/intervention came a month after the opening of the show with the unraveling of the interior to the public.

In Durban, at the Kwa-Zulu Natal Arts Association (KZNSA), Hobbs changed his approach to suit the new demands of the open-plan building, with its many windows, high ceilings, free-flowing interior and exterior arenas, not limiting viewers to the exterior of the building as was the case at WITS, but still turning to the influence of Tatlin, notab;y his Monument to the Third International. It is from this foundation, and after numerous other successful projects and interventions that Hobbs has moved his attention to the Outlet Project Room.

Using similar sentiments and approaches executed in the above-mentioned interventions, Hobbs proposes to paint the exterior of Outlet and the surrounding buildings in the tradition of WW1 battleship camouflage, spurred on by the canonical mythology surrounding the magical realism masterpiece by Jorge Luis Borges titled “The Aleph”. Once again, Hobbs wishes to interact with the space, and to some extent have the space interact with the public. The social impact of this project is immense, specifically to the institution itself, instilling a sense of rejuvenation on a deteriorating campus. In this context, Hobbs’ public statment, labelled “Dazzle”, can be seen as a monument on site. Dazzle replaces the existing decay surrounding the area presently with a conceptual mantra that can educate and inspire, rather than depress and encourage disdain.

Words by Shane de Lange.

Image gallery for Dazzle

Stephen Hobbs’ personal website