David Krut Projects is pleased to present Stephen Hobbs’ Permanent Culture at 1800 Metres, the Johannesburg iteration of an exhibition developed over three years and first presented in Cape Town in February 2015. The Cape Town version of Permanent Culture represented an elaborate multi-media revelry in the optical and psychological effects of camouflage and the historical role the arts have played in creating deception in the battlefield, with a focus on Western Cape defences. Presented in Johannesburg, the city with which Hobbs has been pre-occupied for the last twenty years, Permanent Culture at 1800 Metres reveals how the material developed in Cape Town relates back to and informs work done in the urban context. Conceptually and formally, the content is returning to Hobbs’ ideas around the transfiguring conditions of the apartheid city, with a firm focus on printmaking as a means of both distilling and challenging a mercurial and multi-disciplinary practice.
Since 1994, Johannesburg has served as a reference point for Hobbs’ artistic and curatorial insights into the apartheid city turned African city – with a particular interest in the impact of defensive urban planning and architecture on the behavioral aspects of city and society. The resultant urban decay that develops in such conditions evolved Hobbs’ practice into consultative processes on the role of art in public space, relative to urban design frameworks commissioned by the city. More recently through his exhibition work with David Krut Projects in Newlands, Cape Town, Hobbs’ urban defensive knowledge has broadened to research and production inspired by the spatial planning of WWI and WWII military installations in the Western Cape.
The presentation of Permanent Culture in Cape Town (for a more in-depth look at this show, please click here) combined print making, sculpture and mixed media installation to draw attention to the role that artists have played in aiding the tactical and strategic mechanisms of war. Taking this as a foundation from which to work, Hobbs conducted extensive research into the actual gun defences of Simonstown, Robin Island and Llandudno, relative to the near invisible nature of David Krut Projects situated in the Newlands Forest. This allowed for a play between the architecural qualities of the defences relative to ideas of permanence, concealment, and integration with the natural environment.
The lead up to Permanent Culture at 1800 Metres has involved a continuation of these formal ideas through the David Krut Workshop (DKW) at Arts on Main. This complementary body of print works, drawings and objects will be shown in relation to Hobbs’ Craftsman’s Ship building design project – a part-adaptive reuse of an existing 1940s building with a new build component, on the corner of Kruger and Main Streets in the Maboneng Precinct. The scope for this project includes exterior and interior wall treatments, swimming pool and landscape design as well as landscaping for various public areas. The Craftsman’s Ship project is important to note for this exhibition, as it ties together Hobbs’ ongoing interest in the architectonic nature of dazzle camouflage applied to warships during WWI and its questionable efficacy in general, relative to a large-scale landlocked object. It also provides a key into the upcoming Ghost Ships multi-media installation that Hobbs is due to launch as a Special Project at the Joburg Art Fair in September.
Dazzle camouflage is a zebra-like pattern used particularly on gunships in the early 1900s to fragment the visual field of enemy sites in combat situations. Although dazzle patterning became obsolete after World War I, Hobbs has mined the potential that such visual deception presents for aesthetic reflection on the dystopian city, in this case the complex and abstract nature of processing information in frenzied urban environments.
In Hobbs’ practice as a whole, and in this case the visual language of his imagined city, the classic dualisms of utopia-dystopia, order-chaos, plan-counterplan are too static to capture the delirious urban dynamic in which he is most interested.
Jacqueline Nurse, 2013.
Camouflage and urban decay are themes that have informed the multimedia work of Stephen Hobbs since the mid nineties. At the core of Hobbs’ urban investigations in the public domain lies the contradictory and furtive city of Johannesburg. As Johannesburg serves as a laboratory for interrogation, experimentation, postulation, fantasy and desire, so too for artists and urbanists does the Johannesburg Art Gallery – present in its current state of self reimagining – a similar set of possibilities for questioning and projection. For many supporters of the gallery, the all too decrepit surrounds of Joubert Park represent far too much negativity for sustained visits. The state of neglect and crisis that this gallery constantly revisits presents for Hobbs a set of opportunities to intervene within the in-between spaces of the gallery’s interiors and in particular on its Northern façade, facing Joubert Park.
“A £1,000,000.00 eye research foundation may be established in Johannesburg at the present Municipal Art Gallery in Joubert Park. It would be as modern as any in the world.” (Rand Daily Mail December 22, 1960)
The lines and edges detectable between the pre 1986 Lutyens building and the Meyer, Piennaar Architects extension thereafter, raise questions about the nature of this fit. Indeed the shift in the original façade and its new volumes, plains and details, conceals a more contemporary set of building maintenance issues. In particular, and perhaps the most radical of which; the continuous leaking and flooding of basement levels and the associated damage caused. For Hobbs’ purposes the perceived gap between the old and the new building serves as a space of aesthetic and political questioning; with a view to designing and building a number of alternate conceptual and architectonic propositions.
Lutyens Gallery Scaff.pdf
Fool’s Gold, Stephen Hobbs’ debut solo exhibition at David Krut Projects, explores a somewhat pathetic space, between buildings, where special even remarkable findings set up a relationship between buildings as sculpture and ‘public’ space as treasure trove. Hobbs’ current experiments with materials including lead, copper and pyrite, set out to translate the artist’s interpretation of the fabric of the city as a vulnerable medium susceptible to radical transformation, inturn creating the potential for new forms and encounters.
The shroud of projected negativity that envelopes so many seemingly aggressive cities invariably prevents its users and visitors from seeing particular and precise beauties, hence interventionist methods are often required in the process of re-seeing such spaces. Fool’s Gold submits a number of propositions and findings on this unwelcoming city with a view to repositioning the audience’s interpretation of it.
Fool’s Gold, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg, 2010_pdf
End of Cities represents the final exhibition in a three year trajectory of projects centered around Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town respectively. Hobbs initiated this body of work with a view to reframing his principal preoccupations with photography where consistent documentation of particular subjects, construction sites, buildings, urban debris, contradictory information in the landscape etc serve as the starting point for a series of new sculptural and architectonic expressions.
The collective body of work over this three year period has sought its particular conceptual and formal properties through a particular responsiveness to the architectural and spatial qualities of each of the exhibition venues and to varying degrees particular references to each city.
End of Cities demonstrates the most developed of these objectives through a range of works inspired by the incomplete state of the gallery itself and an even more overt incomplete highway network on the City foreshore.
End of Cities celebrates the area of the ‘unfinished’ highways as a non-place of fantasy and projection. Hobbs’ engagement with Thiresh Govender, architect and fellow city enthusiast has inspired a conversation around this study area influencing both the installation at the new Blank Projects exhibition space and the public domain.
Stephen Hobbs and Thiresh Govender will conduct a walk of the study area which includes an intervention at the unfinished highway site. The walk will commence from the ‘old’ Blank Projects space at 198 Buitengracht street in the Bo-Kaap at 18:00 on Friday 6 November.
End of Cities, Blank Projects, Cape Town, 2009_pdf
Renee Holleman Review: End of Cities 2009_pdf
DAZZLE is a permanent installation at Outlet Project Room on the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Arts Faculty Campus. (Outlet Project Room. 24 du Toit Street, building 10, projector room, Arts Faculty of the Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa.)
The collection of modest buildings surrounding the Outlet Project Room, prompt a total reading of the configuration of basic rectangular boxes. The application of this all over dazzle pattern camouflage disrupts this box like configuration with the aim of disorientating the viewers’ perception of these buildings.
Dazzle was made possible by: Shane De Lange, Frans Goosen / Archneer, Mark Erasmus, The Trinity Session
Dazzle, Outlet Project Room, Pretoria, 2009_pdf