Stephen Hobbs’ Embodiment and Transmission of the City’s Experience

The experience of the city is personal, as such artists often choose to depict their vision of a city, a dystopian or utopian projection of the space as they see it. Yet Stephen Hobbs of the Trinity Sessions is experienced in inner city art projects that work on urban rejuvenation harnessing the skills of underprivileged artists and youth. CNN recently covered his activity.


As such his new project Cityzens uses the collective and collaborative city lived experience of students from the University of Johannesburg’s Graduate School of Architecture. Hobbs workshopped the student-architects’ lived city experiences and encouraged them to build structures that visually embodied their perceptions, first on a table and then as personal camouflage on their own bodies.

This formed phase I of the one-day workshop. Inspired by artists who were conscripted to create camouflage and deceptive devices during war, he encouraged the student architects to camouflage themselves. Hobbs divided the students into city buildings and citizens and tasked them to build a structure around themselves to reflect what they perceived it felt like to be a citizen or city building in the violent, survivalist city of Johannesburg.

When this was done, things got a little crazy. In some sense the project played “How far will the millennial go”, as Hobbs pushed the student architects into more and more absurd situations. Dressed up in paper, tape, and cardboard excellently crafted into a diverse range of structures that only architecture students can create – from Frank Ghery couture to a colourful Rubik’s Cube on legs – Hobbs had the students parade along the Maboneng Precinct during the hustle of rush hour traffic. He encouraged them to move performatively in a way that was an extension of the structure they created around their bodies. From waddles to jerky movements.

Hobbs photographed this public performative display and then had the student architects turn the gaze on themselves. Along the road the city structures took a high-resolution selfie while Hobbs photographed this self-reflective action, in essence taking a picture of the act of a picture much like Jan Vermeer’s Painter in his Studio.

Finally, Hobbs ushered the student architects back into the studio to show off their structures on a scattered catwalk of his studio projected with a moving image of Hobbs’ artwork Hypobody from his recent exhibition, No Fusion.

The effect was visually powerful, and the shots that result will be appealing no doubt. The full day ended with reflections on the experience. The students, reflective of their profession, were more articulate in describing structure and space than their emotions on the topic. Though perhaps it was too soon to have fully processed the subverting and absurd project, as each student definitely left with a new picture of themselves and the city of Johannesburg they live in.

Shadows on the studio wall

Further artworks by Stephen Hobbs can be found on the artist’s page here.

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