Continual Conversations with a Silent Man
Continual Conversations with a Silent Man, 2014 / Varied edition of 10 / Archival inkjet photography & text on Dobbin Mill papers, underwear, aluminum foil / magnets
Size: 12.2” x 16.5” x 1.5”
From the Pratt Institute Libraries Special Collections
Continual Conversation… is a book within a book: The substantive stab binding of blue & black contains a sequence of pages, with embedded girls’ underwear & cut player piano slots. Out of context, the panties become anthropomorphized masks, along with ominously suggesting those little girls now absent. A much smaller booklet can be found inside the back cover. Idiosyncratic images and a text present the tale of an abused woman & her daughter, who are pushed to suicide by their absent husband/father. It is based on Love Suicides, micro-fiction by Yasunari Kawabata, and told here using the descriptive titles of Wallace Steven’s poems. Together this strange story and the panties of absent girls create a disconcerting dialogue of misogyny & loss.
Continual Conversations… was a difficult book to make; what surprised me was to find out it was even more difficult for viewers to read. That so many readers could not allow themselves to touch the pages with embedded girls’ underwear came to me as a shock (panties, I might add, that were collected from actual children). Yes, it is an artist book that reflects on domestic violence & abuse but I did not imagine that visceral response.
To enhance the ominous violence, the cover depicts the shadows of hands but not the hands themselves; on the inner cover is an image of a dictionary but under cracked glass; and the blue papers were made with gaps & distressed markings.
This artist book considers sound as an essential form of communication: In the story, the sound of the child bothers her absent father, and the wife & daughter’s death are referred to as ‘no longer made a sound’. To suggest sound absent I made paper that had different rattles in both portions of the book. The pages of embedded panties also have cut slots like player piano rolls, suggesting a simple ditty or child’s song, which cannot be heard.
From Michael Joseph’s essay in the exhibition catalog:
… Continual Conversation with a Silent Man (2014), (is) another artists' book that exists in multiple parts, dialogically related. The title derives from a Stevens' poem of the same title, and seems to reference the lines "It is not speech, the sound we hear / In this conversation, but the sound / Of things and their motion." The leaves of the book are made from a stiff, crisp paper that makes a loud sound as you turn them, and it lacks a written text. The sound of the pages in motion makes up the text, which is the sound book readers have heard in one form or another for centuries.
Imbedded in the handmade leaves are girls' panties (not white nightgowns, Wallace), so it's reasonable to infer a comment about vulnerability, once again, and violation, purity and transgression, reading and voyeurism, even guilt and complicity: to look is to pry, to meddle, to read is to rend—perhaps even to make art. Robbin's multi-part artists' books are hypertextual in the sense that they map a complex psychic experience, but invite readers/viewers to map their own as well.