Leigh Hobba was my most influential lecturer as an undergraduate art student and later became one of my project supervisors when I decided to return to ‘do’ my MFA. He even took a punt on hiring me as teaching staff for a while.
He’s a persistently quiet and understated individual who generally keeps stumm about his own fascinating career. As an undergrad video student I would occasionally find images in the art school library of him doing terribly interesting things around the world in a small ikat hat (that seems an entirely unlikely adornment for Leigh-in-the-time-I’ve known-him) or published evidence of him ‘flux-ing’ around with Yoko. All of which impressed me greatly. Not the hat. Just the activity.
While examples of his work were rare to see, it was sage advice such as “just because you’re a good art student doesn’t mean you’re a good artist” or openly, honest critiques that somehow don’t seem harsh at all (“Wow! That looks just like an ad!” which cued the recipient of this comment to scurry away and rethink their style-over-substance sampler of animated morphing) that fundamentally shaped the way I do things now.
Last week a retrospective of Leigh’s work since arriving in Tasmania in the early ‘80s opened at the TMAG and, I think, really blew the community away; both in terms of finally getting to view some of his rich back-catalogue but also in terms of the TMAGs commitment to showing things ‘right’. Kudos to the TMAG. Mucho kudos.
Leigh’s connection with the Tasmanian landscape is often very moving. I can’t NOT look at a work where he lies flat on a tethered raft shooting the river flowing beneath him and is eventually cut loose.
But what I connect with most in this exhibition (and what most people come away speaking of) is how much of it centres on the artists body (both in space and on screen) and even more specifically his breath. Maybe with all the electronics involved in both creation and display, people are just suprised by the corporeality of it all…
Leigh is a pretty darn fine clarinet and didgeridoo player and much of his work directs his breath through either one. In one work (featured in the lovely catalogue but not in the show) he was completely buried bar one hand and the clarinet through which he continued to breathe.
I’ve also always loved a duet he performed with turkey once that I heard a recording of somewhere.
The invite image is from a 1982 work called This is a song about Hobart and some of the people who live here. Matt and I cheekily ribbed him a bit about it before the show opened, sending him emails addressed to ‘Prog Rock’ and ‘Genesis’ which he took with characteristically subdued good humour.
I first met Leigh about ten years after it was made. Watching it then, is a curious process of getting to know someone from before you ever knew them.
It also bears spooky similarities to a work I made in Vancouver at the Western Front in 2001. Leigh professed to me a dislike for the guy in the song about Hobart and I don’t care much for the chick in With Apologies either.
Sorry Leigh. I’ve plundered your career and I never even realised…