On Saturday, The Observer received a curious e-mail from Bob and Roberta Smith–who are, just to get this out of the way, one person, a peculiar nom de guerre used by the British artist Patrick Brill.
“I will be ‘sort of’ singing this letter to Micheal Gove this weekend at the Barbican, Saturday and Sunday in a weekend long durational performance,” the Smiths wrote. Below was a 700-plus-word letter, addressed to Mr. Gove, the U.K.’s current secretary of state for education, which the Smiths also posted on their website.
In any sense, Bob and Roberta–which is to say, Mr. Brill–are not fans of Mr. Gove.
“Michael, a look at your tie and shirt combination in images of you online informs me you are not a visually minded person,” Mr. Brill (Bob and Roberta Smith) writes. “You do not care how you look.”
As it turns out, the artist is concerned not with Mr. Gove’s sartorial habits, but the fact that he helped create the “English baccalaureate” (or Ebacc) system, which ranks schools based on their students’ performance on tests in a set of “core subjects,” which do not include art. (Just like the U.S.’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” which, as far as The Observer knows, has not inspired much of an artist response.)
“Ebacc creates orthodoxy where your un-evidenced view of what will be important to future generations is given an unnatural emphasis,” Brill writes. “Ebacc is more suited to a planned economy.”
Mr. Brill continues, “The crazy dream of turning the UK economy into Singapore is not available to you. You should realise Britain is amazing. In cultural, visual, democratic, musical, design, product development and literary terms Britain is a giant.” And he concludes, “Michael Gove, ditch Ebacc. It is mistaken; Education is about sewing seeds not setting standards for the shape of bananas.”
There has been no response from Mr. Gove.
Since The Observer was unable to obtain footage of Bob and Roberta Smith’s performance this weekend, we present instead another strangely named British artist pair, Gilbert and George, as they sing an art song of their own.