Bob and Roberta Smith’s favorite female things at the ICA

Last Friday I took my first trip to the ICA, for a lunchtime talk by artist Bob and Roberta Smith. For those who are not familiar with his work, he is most well-known for creating colourful signs on discarded materials containing messages of activist protest and humorous commentary about the art world. His real name is Patrick Brill and works independently, not with a partner as his pseudonym suggests. Brill likened the male species to the grey squirrel, a species that runs around like it is control, but is in fact ruining everything, and needs to be reigned in. He is however very in touch with his feminine side,  as the title of the day’s free events was ‘Women should be in charge‘, a day of talks and performances celebrating powerful female voices.

The talk was primarily a chance for him to talk about his latest work and the ideas that came out of his show on the exterior of the Hayward Gallery last year, in particular Esther’s law. It follows Esther Garman’s ideas that Parliament should be truly representative of the population, with 50% Male & Female, as well as correct proportions to represent the ethnic minority and disabled populations. I’m not sure how seriously this idea will be taken after the public’s response to the AV referendum, but it’s nice in theory, and is a good starting point for some powerful pro-women works. Such as ‘I should be in Charge’.

The main talk I attended was a Desert-Island-Disk style discussion about his favorite female creators with Tate curator, street-art writer and artist Cedar Lewisohn. A favourite artist of most of the people in the room, not to mention Patrick’s, was Louise Bourgeois, for him a true testament that you only get better with age, or in short: “She’s Good.”  He also sung the praises of Liz Arnold, who paints a world without men but with dogs in their place. Words wise he spoke of Julie Burchill’s militant feminism and Suzanne Moore’s low brow celebration of pop culture. Nathalie Djurberg’s Claymation videos were described as ‘nuttish’, while for music he played Peaches and Sandy Shaw.

Bob and Roberta Smith and Cedar Lewisohn in conversation

Cedar’s picks included Fefe Talavera, a Brazilian Street artist known for her mystical mural monsters that probably eats Ligers. He also introduced the work of Kara Walker, a African American artist who produced images reminiscent of the history of Slavery, but a perverse version of a fantasy where the narrative is too disturbing to process. His audio delights included reggae artist Sister Nancy, and the Mod-ettes, a female punk band from the 70’s, and discussed how both the Punk and feminist movements gave people a power that disappeared with the Major/Blair Governments. Author wise he chose his great grandma Katherine Hewitt, and the art critic Patricia Ellis.

The event then progressed upstairs, where Brill started to create works on pre cut and pasted planks of wood for people to buy. It was a slightly bizarre and overly commercial turn, as I hoped to see him create a one-off sign. He also talked a little more about his work, for this Youtube video. Alan Yentob also made an appearance, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was Bob & Roberta Smith subject of an imagine/culture show piece later in the year.


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