Bob & Roberta Smith

11 December 2004 to 3 April 2005

Bob & Roberta Smith bring their DIY aesthetic to Gateshead in an exhibition called Help Build the Ruins of Democracy, including previously unseen works and a new BALTIC commission. Bob & Roberta Smith are an artistic enterprise, sincere in their ambition to bring anarchy to people’s perceptions of art through a conceptual, yet playful approach to art and its making. Their work invites participation and encourages the idea that art can act as a catalyst for change.

Eileen, a new commission, is made from 58 concrete panels that form the walls of an improvised three- sided shack. The work tells the story of a woman whose life is shaped by a series of chance occurrences and recalls an extended conversation between the artist and a friend ‘Eileen’, who grew up in a divided Ireland in the 1960s & 70s. Eileen becomes a story about the stupidity of prejudice. A second work, Conference in Bremen, mischievously questions notions of leadership and vehicles for decision-making. The artists staged an event in the Bremen parliament building where 8 characters from history (including Mozart, Winston Churchill, Martin Kippenberger, Jacques Tati, and Jesus Christ), meet to resolve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The exhibition also includes several of Bob & Roberta Smith’s signature text pieces using their ‘inconsistent’ typeface with slogans that lampoon figures from cultural history, politics, fashion and art. Sometimes misleading, and often derogatory, these can be anarchic or purely absurd slogans, but in many of the more recent works a new note of distrust and dismay is apparent in a perceived failure of leadership in relation to recent geopolitical events.

Fostering their role as agent provocateurs, Bob & Roberta Smith will maintain a production facility and open workshop to make more concrete castings over the course of the exhibition. The gallery space will show several sofas weighed down by cement panels and a small copse of wooden branches, bare and barren at first, to be added to with visitor’s quick sketches, and caricatures of their leaders. Throughout the exhibition viewers will be invited to get involved by creating texts, drawings and rubbings on paper so that the exhibition develops and expands over the course of its presentation at BALTIC.

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