Friday, September 24, 2010

How Artists Can Still Dream Big in a Commercial Gallery Space

With a penchant for creating ephemeral art Stephen Hobbs has made a habit of avoiding commercial gallery shows. It’s not that he looks upon the commercial circuit with disdain – well, not completely – but rather that his interests in architecture and the politics of public space have prompted a natural inclination towards creating work and interventions that exist outside the gallery. This exhibition, his first  since he entered into a serious relationship with a commercial dealer, was obviously going to generate interest; how would he adapt to the constraints?

With his characteristic sense of cunning and humour,  Hobbs has negotiated this new course with an exhibition centred on presenting small replicas of larger grand-scale works that could not be contained within a gallery space. He also takes this idea one step further. Given that he will never make these works, he has allowed himself to dream not only beyond the gallery space but beyond financial and or other practical constraints.
For example, it is unlikely that Hobbs would be given the chance to alter the facades of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler building. But he does have free rein to enact his projects on miniature versions of these US landmarks.

Hobbs transforms miniature models of these buildings or at least goes through the motions of altering them - one does sense that on some level he acknowledges the futility of this process.In one rendition of the |Empire State building he disrupts the characteristic silhouette of this edifice with a sheath and matchsticks and in the other he fashions a model of the building from Meccano pieces and matchsticks that are meant to evoke the wooden planks used as scaffolding. The “scaffolding” in the latter model, however, is contained within the building rather than outside it as is customary, implying that it is subject to constant internal change. And it’s not just physical change: the title, State of Empire, implies that physical disruptions mirror ideological shifts in national identity.

These models are products where an architect and artist’s projected fantasies intersect and collide - architects construct fantasies and while artists are also preocuppied with building constructions they do so, so as to deconstruct other constructions. The colourful stylised models that Hobbs tampers with are presumably collectors’ items and thus also articulate ordinary people’s desire to control and know these landmark buildings.  Because of their extraordinary dimensions they are only partially tangible – one cannot percieve them from a single vantage point. Hobbs, therefore, unpacks the function of miniatures and the act of miniaturising and how, on an abstract level, it plays a key role in negotiating national identity and visualising an urban utopia.