everything interview Bob and Roberta Smith
everything talks to Bob & Roberta Smith
e:You work with trash - is that a fair assessment?
B&R: No. Yes. Ok I work with trash.
e: In your next show you present your reality through a series of invented characters.
B&R: "Don't hate sculpt " consists of six folk artists. These people are hobbyists making art for their own enjoyment. There's my mother who makes concrete vegetables cast from real vegetables, her mother made them before her and then they were just coloured as vegetables. My mother likes to be more creative and has painted these vegetables really bright colours and hybridised them so you get a half carrot - half parsnip. Another character is a woman from Wenslydale in Yorkshire. She looks after pigs and sheep but doesn't send them to market, not through any moral reasons, but purely because you never see really old cows or sheep. There's also Daisy, a little girl who paints things orange. Her mother used to paint things orange in the 60s which Daisy has grown up with. Daisy believes orange is a very emancipatory colour because people can imprint their own colour on their environment.
e: Your work seems to be informed by storytelling and craft rather than dense narratives and formal art. Is this a method of making your work more accessible?
B&R:I did a show in Japan where I simply invited people to come and make things. I contributed a pile of materiels and tools and invited people to come and invent new thing, some of which were kid's drawings, some were crafty, others were more formally "art ". With this show I'm giving the invitation based around the six characters in the show, so that there will be six things that visitors can do.
e:You go under the pseudonym of Bob & Roberta Smith. How did this evolve?
B&R: Shows that I do centre around a pile of objects and an invitation to use them.Bob & Roberta Smith allows anybody to be Bob & Roberta Smith. In Japan there are now two people who are the Japanese Bob & Roberta Smith. They took the show up to Hiroshima and I wasn't even present. It's like Dr Who, anybody can be the Bob or Roberta, and if I died, it could all carry on. The idea is the persuasive thing and not the particular hand of the artist. It's a way of being all inclusive but at the same time locating it within the idea of a personality in time.
e: Do you believe that contemporary art has become too much centred around the "cult of the personality "? Or is your work not a political statement in that way?
B&R: I'm interested in ideas and people thinking creatively, for my own art I don't see a need for autobiography. We all deal in fictions, peddling myths to each other, and I'm always suspicious of artists who present autobiographical work because it is just myth making. But art has to be generated from somewhere and if it's completely removed from the personality it is generally very cold and sterile.
e:You use a lot of humour in your work. Do you feel this is the best way to relate to a broader public?
B&R:Humour is human and things making me laugh is very important in my work because it's a very profound emotion. The kind of humour which turns me on is always very blank, comedic performances where things go a little bit wrong not because they're funny but more because they're human. I think it's impossible to make a "funny " artwork as such - to try and make people laugh is a banal thing to do. Humour has to be a by product of what one's doing.
e:A lot of artists would be offended if you were to laugh at their work
B&R:But lot's of people do laugh at artists. Even the most serious or pompous work can be quite funny because it takes itself too seriously.Comedy is a part of human cultural interaction and that is the area which appeals to me. I think that if you're an artist and your not dealing with the specifics of human culture then it's a bit disastrous. I want the Chisenhale show to be an enjoyable and fun experience so that somebody can come and get something out of it, put something into it, bring something to the space or make something in the gallery. The good thing about these shows, when there are piles of junk, is that they evolve over time into little cultural gardens constantly changing as people graffiti parts of it or throw bits about - or they might have genuinely contributed something.
e:So the audience becomes the artists?
B&R: It's the idea of setting something up so that people can experience it or enjoy it or ignore it; whatever they choose. That's the interesting thing about making something which on the surface seems very participatory - you can also view it in a very detached way and wander around it.
e:Given the interactive nature of your work do you think it belongs in a gallery space, or could this environment be intimidating?
B&R: I think that's for somebody else to worry about. For me a gallery is just a space to do something in.
e:Is your band (The Ken Ardley Playboys) an attempt at a cultural crossover or a hobby?
B&R: From my limited experience bands who are really successful have to really work at it. The appeal for me is the real disparity between the mythology and reality. For many bands it's very much like a hobby balancing a day job with your real job and it's the idea that the hobby takes over, that's what drives you. My life has been a transition from a world in which you have to do things in certain ways to a world which is much more enjoyable.
e: In assessing your upcoming show do you envisage that when it closes there will be a completely different show, created by the audience?
B&R: Yes. In the show there's always a rule which people can adhere to or ignore - these different characters set the rules. Each will have an accompanying video with information on how they came to be making their work and a biography, all of which is complete fiction, and this acts as a way in for the audience.
e: You use a lot of "provincial " characters
B&R: I'm a schizophrenic Londoner. I was born in London but brought up in North Yorkshire and I like regional and international things a lot, I don't think art should recognise national boundaries, I'm quite utopian in that sense. The woman from Wenslydale is actually played by an Italian in the show. You can perceive of the world as a time and set of appearances and it doesn't have to have a specific code of meaning so the art objects can exist purely for themselves as objects.
e: Your work never has an end product and as such cannot be sold, it remains outside of economic structure of the art world.
B&R: It's difficult to conceive of people buying big heaps of rubbish but my work's not a reaction to that system specifically. Going back to the regionalist point and the characters used in the show I really like the idea that groovyness doesn't reside in one place. People can conceive the world aside from orthodoxies.
e: Do you feel that your idealism may be misconstrued as patronising? Particularly as you're showing in an established gallery and being associated with a generation of high profile British artists "exploring regionalism " and inviting participation may seem indulgent.
B&R: I myself feel patronised by orthodoxies. I don't wish to patronise and mythologies through art and I don't think that it's good or bad whether the audience react with the show . The Chisenhale show will be a great success on my terms, even if nobody does anything, because a lot of it's about the look of the thing and discarding the idea or taking it on board .
e: Do you create your characters in order to learn yourself?
B&R:Yes I'm constantly learning from them. All the characters in the show relate to the gang of people I've met and work with. I think it's important for artists to have gangs - people they associate and do things with; people who aren't artists but could be artists - it ultimately makes the work more responsive and interesting. I think people are liberated and emancipated by their own creativity.
© Vivienne Gaskin 1997