Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Architectural Ambitions: Hobbs & Jag

Hobbs's leaky roof in the Meyer Pienaar extension of JAG

A leaking roof is not interesting. That is unless it is located in a place where leaks are unexpected, like the interior of a public art museum that is geared towards the preservation of cultural products, which should include the dated building itself. It is also interesting when the leaking roof in question, located in the Meyer/Pienaar extension of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (Jag), has been facilitated by an artist, who counts this as a key moment in his quasi mid-career survey exhibition.

As the title of Stephen Hobbs's exhibition, Jag Snag: End of Exhibition implies, this is a non-exhibition of sorts; though there are framed images to view, such as architectural drawings pertaining to the gallery's past and projected future, pictures of the staff and other articles, the artistic gestures are in fact things that can't be framed, unless you consider the scaffolding surrounding the damaged ceiling a framing device.
Hobbs hasn't created work here so much as dabbled with the internal structure of this gallery as a means of commenting on its legacy, the politics attached to this museum which are inseparable from its structure, and perhaps the status of museums in a post-apartheid, post-postmodern era. It has produced a society which no longer requires an institution such as this to revel in, elevate or assign iconic status to its cultural gestures.
As such there are no endearing visual spectacles here to see, except perhaps if you count the projection up against a large screen of footage of the gallery when it was flooded as arresting. It should be. That exposing a decaying, damaged museum might not be a spectacle is part of this exhibition's irony, though this is undercut by the fact that the faults with the building aren't confined to this gallery. The chipped paint on its exterior, the broken pathway leading to the entrance facing Joubert Park, the weeds that grow between the bricks in the parking lot and the rubbish that has been left in an external alcove all attest to the neglect of this institution and its bleak future. This situation is so entrenched that it is no longer a headline story. A front-page story cannot save this building and a sense of resignation has set in.
A degraded model of Jag, which Hobbs has appropriated for
an installation 

It wasn't difficult for Hobbs to create his leaky ceiling, which appears to be supported by scaffolding. The damaged ceiling was a natural result of what would have occurred without any maintenance. Hobbs was able to cultivate it because he knew exactly how the building would 'respond' without maintenance as he has spent the last three years closely observing the building and documenting all its design faults - the titular "snags". The faulty roof in the Meyer-Pienaar extention is the main weak point. Built in the mid-1980s, it has plagued a string of past directors, and its present one, Antoinette Murdoch, would welcome a permanent solution, if support from the City of Joburg and the necessary political will existed. Others hold Murdoch responsible for Jag's demise, pointing out that she has had the same funds at her disposal as the previous director, Clive Kellner.