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20 August 2020

Alex Hobba in conversation with Jordan Halsall

 

Image 01: Images courtesy the artist and TCB art inc.

In response to the impacts of the current COVID-19 crisis on our community, KINGS Artist-Run and un Projects are collaborating with Bus Projects, TCB Art Inc. and SEVENTH to profile a range of artistic projects that have been impacted by the temporary closure of their physical spaces. By collaborating with these organisations to publish interviews, artist previews and texts, we seek to maintain the important dialogue generated by their rich programs and projects. Now as much as ever, artistic and cultural discourse is vital in keeping us connected and engaged.


TCB Art Inc. Collective Member Jordan Halsall caught up to discuss Alex Hobba’s exhibition A Gun Goes Off in Human Resources that has been temporarily closed during Melbourne’s lockdown.

Jordan
Can you talk a little about the premise for your show at TCB?
Alex
Last year I was fired from a job. Turns out it was an unfair dismissal. I found out that casual workers have a hard time even understanding their rights and that the Human Resources (HR) departments of a company are not necessarily there to help casuals, but those higher up.

Given this situation, and there’s no way of saying it without sounding perverse, but essentially I imagined ‘going postal’, a term coined after one of the first incidents of a dissatisfied worker going into their workplace with a gun.

Jordan
Right, so how does this imagined situation play out in the exhibition?
Alex
My narrative imagines a worker going into HR to do this, but then they suffer from heroic impotence and nothing happens. Instead, they piss themselves with fear — ancient human fear. This narrative is implied here and there, through high definition rendered videos and my own writing. I guess the exhibition is also a little bit about failure. That being said, I don’t want my work to act as an apology for the failure of an experience I had IRL.

I think there is a tendency for high definition videos and images on a screen to become fantastical and unrealistic. The quandary that occurs when trying to represent experience, and the possible insufficiency of doing so, interests me. For example, I know I will never approach the veracity of a lived experience through my work — like the rush of adrenaline you experience when you’re told you’ve been fired.

Jordan
Can you elaborate on your thoughts around the work potentially acting as an apology for the failure of an experience IRL?
Alex
Well I’m trying to say that it’s not an apology. Like the work is not a heroic reimagining of events. It’s augmented, yes, but it’s also a bit pathetic.
Jordan
Will there be writing incorporated into the work?
Alex
Yes.
Jordan
Are you more interested in what happens before or after the failure of experience?

Jordan
Do you think the audience will be able to sympathise with the narrative?
Alex
Some may. I’m not sure if it will elicit sympathy, hopefully a smile.
Jordan
Why did you choose for the fired worker to piss themself as a sign of fear?
Alex
I thought of being a child and fundamental humiliations, but it’s mostly there to impart something comical. I have also been researching the idea held by some that the gravitational pull of the moon has an effect on the fluids within the human body. I imagine the body as a containment vessel much like a hydroelectric dam. So perhaps the tides of the ocean were coming in at the same time this worker was standing at the doorway of HR and the floodgates had to open. Which is to say, their wet pants were a phenomenon out of their control, almost typical of an immune response, which fear is, in a way ...

Jordan
How did you come to computer imaging and high definition (HD) renders?
Alex
I was seeking a new way to sculpt. Computer imaging is a prime form of manipulation. Using what I have the most access to is this computer program of grids — it’s cold and ugly, and I have a strange relationship with it. Anything HD is kind of doing something mimetic and potentially insincere, which I am attracted to.
Jordan
Do you think you're celebrating this grid world through your work then?
Alex
Not really. I find the grid world exquisitely boring. I think the grid in this context is a network of sorts and I think networks are pretty ubiquitous. I don’t necessarily want to point a finger at the use of computers in any didactic way.
Jordan
I assume these renders take a long time to construct. Does the process of collaging all your ideas through this medium become more rewarding and overrule the experience of engaging with the finished product?
Alex
No. Does it for you in your work? For me, my work/projects have never been consumed by the use of rendering. I think they can be engrossing, but I also always want an evident consideration of the physical ‘exhibition’ space in which these pieces are placed, as well as the articulation of thoughts using words. I might even move away from rendering for a bit, who knows. I can be quite materially flippant.
Jordan
Yeah, I think the high def nature of constructing models in a 3D program tends to demand a sort of perfect way of seeing something. It’s sometimes really easy to tell if an element isn’t sitting right when you’re so focused on it, and this attention to detail can take up more time and suffice as a finished work, because the physical can be abandoned. But, at the same time, models on the computer can be somehow more transient because you can copy/paste and edit a lot easier. Have you found this? Do you construct a script or storyboard beforehand or is it always changing?
Alex
Yes, I definitely see what you mean. Sometimes the cleanliness of the interface and the constructed site feels unforgiving and can steer my thinking, like I become this anal-retentive aestheticist, when actually I don’t feel that I am. In fact, I am including quite a naïve hand-drawn image to counter all of this quite ... ascetic HD. Throughout my process I always write scripts/stories. While my videos are showing ‘flat-time’ (nothing ‘happens’), I always have a narrative conveyed through the work somehow.

I also draw all of my work first. Even my most clinical renders have been put down on paper with pencil. I then storyboard in different ways. I write, I draw, I collect and string these images together.

Jordan
There’re no avatars in your work, but traces of mass produced/sentimental objects that stand in for the human experience. How do these find their way in?
Alex
Objects are really important to me, but there is always a strong use of language to explain their presence. I’d love to lessen this need to explain all the time (using words). I’m trying to do so in this new project by just making fun of melodramatic existential platitudes, terms like ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself.’ In a way, such jargon is itself an object — a seed of the multi-billion-dollar wellness industry, another thing I’m fascinated by ...
Jordan
Okay, so the digitally sterile environments you’re creating and the words that coalesce alongside them form an architecture that is able to fold in on itself. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
Alex
A screenshot from one of my animations: an escalator growing through some kind of architectural exit wound (or is it a sphincter?). One goes up, one goes down, you don’t know where or how because that information is not really important here. I think there’s great generosity in affording something its unintelligibility. If I had to resolve my confusion, I’d probably never make a thing. Outside, the sun has just inexplicably appeared during one of the coldest days.

Jordan
There always seems to be a looping and infinite duration to the video works. Is there a way out?
Alex
No. Each looping piece is showing something arbitrary and to me, omnipresent. Things tick over; it doesn’t really matter how long you watch the piece, you eventually learn to not expect much of what you have already seen. Maybe it’s my way of moving away from trying to explain. Video has a history with storytelling, duration implies some kind of arc — my pieces are more like plateaus.
Jordan
The show is opening up after a lockdown. Has this influenced or found its way into the work at all?
Alex
The work has definitely changed. Although it’s full of humour, I think there’s a lot of intentional paranoia in the work, and initially I felt COVID-19 was the worst scenario for this kind of show to be seen through, to the point where I thought about cancelling it.

I’ve always been interested in queueing/waiting, and it came up a lot in my Honours work last year. I find it bizarre how much of my absurdist, narrative interest in being stuck in a perpetual queue has manifested in 2020.

Jordan
Yes, the queue and waiting kind of go hand in hand with the looped environments within your work. Does this sense of stasis correlate with the narrative of working as a casual?
Alex
Yes. My good friend Bryan Foong @pantshandspants recently made a work called Waiting for a Seminal Experience. While I wouldn’t want to say what that work is exactly ‘about’, the thoughts elicited by the title really highlight the importance of an artwork’s title for me in my work. In line with this, a lot of the titles of my works in this show relate to my growing uncertainty around job prospects, for instance: Wolf at the door comes upon its competition (Foot). Wolf then explains “THE ONLY THING TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF, OK?” Foot replies: “OH, OK”.
Jordan
It seems you have a pretty good grasp of how your work has come to be. How integral was doing Honours last year at Monash Uni in terms of helping you figure this out?
Alex
I’m still thinking about last year’s project a lot and, like I said earlier, there’s confusion — but that’s normal. I feel I learnt a new level of discipline last year. Moving to Melbourne to do Honours was a big change/challenge, but it toughened me up and now I want to push work that I haven’t entirely figured out or that feels a bit ~odd~. What I am trying to say is that this body of work has been developing for a while and I’m looking to continue developing a range of these processes and approaches to making work.

Jordan Halsall is an artist based in Melbourne, his practice focuses on the industrial complex that empowers and exploits actual and virtual bodies within the tech, hacker, and surveillance industries.

Alex Hobba is an emerging artist based in Melbourne, Australia. With an interdisciplinary use of the written word, photography/video, and digital sculpture/installation, Alex seeks to relay stories inspired by other modes of performance and creative output; especially in cinema, theatre and literature.