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Ten Days on the Island

March 23 - April 1 2007

 Da Contents H2


leigh hobba: theme and variation

andrew harper

Andrew is a writer, a performer investigating hybrid and new forms, and an occasional producer and curator. He fluctuates between Hobart and Melbourne.

The major retrospective of Leigh Hobba’s work currently at TMAG offered the opportunity for live performance, and the potential was not wasted. Live work has formed an important part of Hobba’s practice since 1996 when he was involved in a number of collaborations at Adelaide’s EAF. This performance was a kind of ‘greatest hits parade’, as Hobba noted when introducing the work and himself. This disarming moment thankfully lightened the tone, which had become tense as an assembled audience of museum patrons and Tasmanian Arts intelligentsia scrambled for the limited seats. This was to be an event.

What then transpired was a gloriously ragged presentation of individual works that moved in and out of each other, creating a serendipitous whole that was strikingly engaging. There certainly appeared to be accidents and human error, but this added an element of informality that freed the work from being a mere rehash of past glories—here was a whole made of parts, like the stark self portraits of Hobba visible elsewhere in this retrospective. Not quite new work, but not a bloodless retread.

Variations 1, a work from the beginnings of Hobba’s practice was deemed the sensible place to start. Its striking use of shadow and the introduction of circular breathing—a technique of playing long, extended forms without interruption—was immediately arresting. This was ritual. Light and dark playing on the wall, the performer hidden yet totally audible, his disembodied silhouette huge, the image of his clarinet extending out to a vast length, every small movement exaggerated.

Unsure where one piece ended and the next began I gave up trying to decide: yes there was a change of pace here, the mood perceptibly shifted, Hobba spoke of Tasmanian tiger hunters, revealing how spoken text figures in his varied palette. Dancer, Wendy Morrow, a frequent collaborator took the stage and the focus for a time, but the sensation that every moment was an extension of the work prior, a growth out of it, was hard to shake. There was progression in the changes as the onstage monitors blinked awake, almost independent of the actual performers, they seemed to have a life of their own, competing for attention. Screen images were being triggered from assistants in the audience, yet the appearance was random, and the question of technical mishap seemed to hover—was this the intent? What was I seeing? And what was I hearing in the gorgeous trilling arpeggio that ended the piece as Hobba wandered out of the room and into the distance? He seemed elated somehow as he took in the applause, waving his clarinet in a gesture of triumph. Something had been achieved, something with deep significance to the personal world Leigh Hobba investigates.

Leigh Hobba, with Wendy Morrow, Gallery 3; Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, Ten Days on the Island, March 24

Andrew is a writer, a performer investigating hybrid and new forms, and an occasional producer and curator. He fluctuates between Hobart and Melbourne.

© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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