The artist known as Bob and Roberta Smith is plotting to “turn Kilkenny into an art school,” he told BLOUIN ARTINFO UK recently. For his first solo exhibition in Ireland, as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the outspoken artist will simultaneously display works at the Butler Gallery and coordinate art activities in several Georgian buildings in the city centre.
This Bob and Roberta Smith extravaganza is entitled “Art Makes Children Powerful,” but because of its scale, it has been nicknamed “Bobumenta” by its initiator — a tongue-in-cheek reference to dOCUMENTA, the behemoth art exhibition held in Kassel every five years.
“Art in school is about selfhood, about allowing children to become all that they can be rather than what society thinks they perhaps should be,” Bob and Roberta Smith explained. “It’s always a mistake to tell them what they should be, because we don’t know what they should be. So it’s better to give them a sense of power that they can invent their own worlds in. And art does that in schools.”
The other venues — the “Bob Centres” — will host activities such as “Be Hannah Arendt,” in which the audience will be invited to dress up as the German philosopher and reflect on the importance of public space. Held in the former meeting place of the Confederation of Kilkenny supporters, the “Centre for Argument,” will encourage people to step up on a soapbox.
Visitors will also be invited to take up an easel at the “Bob and Roberta Smith Art School,” and go to the park to draw bees’ journeys from flower to flower. “They are all slightly idiosyncratic activities, but they are also activities that people can bring their own things to — and make their own kind of art,” said the artist.
Boosted, in the UK at least, by the astronomical rise in tuition fees, alternative art schools seem to be mushrooming, but Bob and Roberta Smith says his inspiration lays elsewhere. “My angle on it has always been about how do you prompt kids, or the more general population, to take art seriously as a career,” he told ARTINFO UK. “I think it starts in schools really. So I’m all in favor of people developing their own, idiosyncratic approaches to art education. But actually what we need is armies of kids who are great at inventing their own things.”
He concluded: “I don’t want to preach a line to people, but I want to say that the public’s ideas are as good as any others. It’s just about debating them, putting them out there, and seeing what flies and what doesn’t.”
Kilkenny Arts Festival, August 9 – 18, 2013