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Just 30 Words

Just 30 Words, 2005/6 / Edition of 30 / Letterpress printed at The Artists’ Press, South Africa on watermarked Dobbin Mill papers, eggshell & human hair collage, piercing and hand-coloring / Text by the artist

Size: 12.5” x 9.25” x 1”

In 1944, deported Hungarian Jews were forced to write postcards home from Auschwitz, suggesting that they were well and in the resort town of Waldsee. The cards additionally requested a response in 30 words or less. This micro-managed horror was the starting point for Just 30 Words, which also presents scenarios that are each limited by the same dictate attached to those postcards – any communiqué must be a maximum of 30 words. With this artist book, I attempt to understand the limitations of written language: Each time, reading between the lines offers more than what can actually be read.


From Susanne Padberg’s essay in the catalog Read Me. Like A Book.:

When in 2007 I visited Silverberg for the first time in her studio, it was her artist book Just 30 Words that mesmerized me, a German of the post-war generation. The book is an intense red/orange with each page containing watermarks outlining the shape of a postcard. Only through its conceptual rigor is the book’s power tamed. Silverberg, a Canadian Jew who has strong links to Europe having studied in Vienna and being married to the Hungarian artist András Böröcz, had been shown a pile of postcards at the Hungarian Jewish Archives. 

The need to write between the lines, the perverse structure of the limit of “30 words,” the dreadful discrepancy between vacation postcard and death camp: all this runs palpably through the entire book. As controlled as it is emotional, the book presents this example of the horror and destruction of the Nazis in an attempt to document something at many levels, to preserve it and keep it from being forgotten. 

Additional Thoughts:

Just 30 Words (Interlineary) was certainly one of the most challenging books that I have made, and one that took me over 2 years to complete. It was exceedingly difficult for me to figure out how I wanted to approach this topic: the lies involved in the 1944 Nazi transport of Hungarian Jews to death camps. How to integrate facts into art brought up a myriad of issues and placing cards in a pocket in the back of the book with some of the history documented there was helpful.


It is a good example of a work where the paper was a significant determinant.  From early on, I knew that I wanted to make brightly colored red & orange papers with watermarks designating postcard shapes and text lines (colors that expressed a lushness and beauty that allowed for another way to explore the magnitude of the ‘Holocaust’). But after making (or better said struggling to make) the paper, I found that the substrate so dominated the ‘reading’ that I had to re-think the entire book. The resolution ultimately lay in opting for significant collage work, using human hair, eggshells and tipped in papers.

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