Reviews/Visual Art

Transmission Interrupted – Alex Hobba: A Conversation

18 August 2017

Review: “A Conversation”, Alex Hobba – 
Moana Project Space – 
Review by Phoebe Mulcahy – 

As much as we may be aware how biased and over-persuasive our news sources can be, it’s something that is, perhaps, harder to remember on a daily basis, as breaking stories and events stream across our televisions, computers and smartphones at an incredible rate. Whether covering local skirmishes or geopolitical disputes, the fast-paced imagery and predictable format of broadcast news particularly appeals to those “basic cognitive processes” that can form impressions in less than an instant. Showing at Moana Project Space this month, Alex Hobba’s “A Conversation” disrupts such established narratives of reportage, and offers an alternative way of relating to global news events.

Entering the gallery, there’s a feeling of having just walked in on something. As though prepared to host a meeting or summit of the most uncanny kind, the room is set up with two chairs that face each other across an odd pebble-encrusted slab on the floor, presumably to be taken as the meeting table in this negotiation. Positioned between them on the facing wall is a video screen which, like a news broadcast, promises to explain this strange state of affairs. The presence of participants in the negotiation is indicated by two large photo frames which sit on the chairs, each bearing the likenesses of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yet these headshot scale photographs are back to front. Apparently, the talks have reached such a deadlock that the two leaders have turned their backs on each other.

And so we bring our attention to the background noise that inevitably accompanies events like these — the commentary, analysis and investigations of the media. Yet here, again, familiar formats have been turned on their heads in this surreal conference room. In place of polished television reporting, we have a casual interview, in which a friend of the artist speaks on the incident represented in the space: a 2009 gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. However, it soon becomes clear that this friend possesses neither very extensive knowledge on the topic, nor much interest in maintaining the conversation—or at least not on camera.

It’s challenging to watch, as the interviewee stumbles through his summary of the dispute, looking as though he’d rather be anywhere but in front of this unblinking video camera. As viewers accustomed to mainstream news reporting, our expectations for easily digestible explanation or guidance on the issue are hardly fulfilled. The transmission has been interrupted—and left with just one version of events in this way, we’re invited to wonder what does, in fact, set traditional reportage apart from a “Conversation” like this.

“A Conversation” runs until 26 August.

Top photo: Alex Hobba, ‘A Conversation’, 2016, installation view. Photo: Paul Sutherland. 

Alex Hobba, ‘A Conversation’, 2016, still from HD video, courtesy of the artist.


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