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An artist in his own right, Stephen Hobbs is PPC Imaginarium's Exhibition Designer. We find out what it takes to create a stand-out exhibition showcasing top emerging talent.


Renowned as an artist in his own right and with an impressive curatorial resume, Stephen Hobbs brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the PPC Imaginarium exhibition. Showcasing finalists’ work to the best advantage can be a technical challenge that requires planning and skill; here he talks us through what goes on behind the scenes at the exhibition…

Stephen Hobbs

What are the fundamental tenets to remember when designing an exhibition?

In the case of the PPC Imaginarium, the diversity of categories delivers a varied range of textures, forms, scale of objects, and so on. Hence, the architecture of the exhibition space, and the type of available natural and in-house lighting, floor and wall finishes, all come in to play. Given that exhibition spaces vary with different venues – from commercial “white cube” spaces to experimental and often seemingly unfinished spaces – it is important to build a vocabulary of exhibition and installation solutions that are designed to not only reveal the best attributes of an exhibit, but also to entice the audience through the creation of an environment within which objects or installations reveal themselves.

Stephen Hobbs

Who works with you in conceptualising and executing the exhibition?

Large-scale multimedia exhibitions aimed at creating a spectacle for a large audience will invariably require a small curatorial team, where communications and production design work together. Within the production design component, there might be suppliers comprised of builders, audio-visual specialists, installation teams for different scales of installation, and so forth. In the case of the PPC Imaginarium, this varies from venue to venue, but given the logistical nature of this exhibition and the transportation of sixty-odd items to various cities, this requires a fairly large team which includes each venue’s staff, the team that travels with the exhibition, as well as the local suppliers in each city venue, and so on.

What technical challenges have you encountered in the course of working on the PPC Imaginarium exhibition?

Fragile items that struggle when continuously packed and unpacked can be a big challenge in terms of enduring the length of the exhibition run. Lighting conditions and acoustics also vary, venue to venue, and there are limited time frames for installation.

What are your thoughts on this year’s entries?

The quality is improving. Compared to 2015 there is an exciting diversity of expression in each of the categories and an intensification of focus and vision from the artists and designers. This is very exciting to see and indicates that there is more work to be done – to keep pushing for high standards in relation to bold experimentation.

Stephen Hobbs

What inspires you about South Africa, and what are your thoughts on the next generation of South African creatives?

South African cities in particular have such a fascinating range of context-specific challenges that intelligent, creative design and innovation solutions can respond to. Certainly, the so-called informal sector is particularly interesting in that people with limited means find ways to meet their daily economic needs in inventive ways. The creative world has a lot to learn from engaging with such contexts and responding to what is needed in a particular situation or place.

Where will the exhibition be travelling to this year?

The University of Johannesburg, the Pretoria Association of Arts, the Turbine Art Fair, and 100% Design South Africa at Gallagher Convention Centre.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrants – with regard to working with cement?

Cement is essentially a fluid medium; embrace that quality – be it in a final solid state or through its various states of becoming. While the categories of the competition are important guidelines for structuring the intention and outcome of a proposal, don’t be afraid to think about the ‘world’ of cement and what this means to oneself, and to conceptualise forwards from that point.

Stephen Hobbs

Ultimately, the workshops and educational platforms offered in the run-up to the final submission date, need to amplify. In time, these will hopefully be aligned with a better understanding of the needs of artists and designers in a given city, such that PPC can respond with the appropriate technical or inspirational content.

In addition, it is important to see collaboration taking place at the inter-category level; for example, between industry and artist and between mentor and junior. Ultimately, what will make the competition really stand out will be its ability to shed insights on, and narrate the stories attendant to, a creative design process. The PPC Imaginarium is already a climate for intensive learning, and this can be best celebrated through a spectrum of age, experience and personal subjectivity expressed through the medium.

Thanks for the chat, Stephen!

To view the PPC Imaginarium exhibition, visit the Pretoria Arts Association from 05-30 April 2016.

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