2020 is the 30th anniversary of Robbin Ami Silverberg’s artist book studio, Dobbin Books, housed at Dobbin Mews, an old horse stables in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
For 30 years, she has designed, produced & published more than 25 collaborative artist books along with circa 60 solo editions, 55 unique artist books, and about 20 artist book installations. Examples of Dobbin Books publications are found in over 130 public collections & numerous private ones.
Silverberg is involved in all aspects of the work: from creating content, whether as imagery or text, to designing & producing the entire book: design & production of the paper, printing, binding, and boxing. The desire to make all facets of an artist book publication is due to her intention to realize a coherent whole work of art, along with her love of the creative processes involved.
Unique to Dobbin Books is that Silverberg runs one of four hand papermaking studios in NYC, and she maintains that the paper should be an activated substrate that supports & enhances the book’s content & design.
The exhibition will present circa 65 artist books dating from 1992 to 2019, along with three videos and three installations.
In the stacks: Pratt Institute Brooklyn Campus Library is a landmark building in the Renaissance Revival style. Of particular beauty are the interiors by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company: the area built for the book stacks has floors made of glass, innovative air circulation, and bookshelves of oak with copper-plated supports. I chose to place a number of my artist books into these stacks, so the exhibition viewers will more actively engage with this truly impressive architectural space, along with seeing them in the context of mingling with other books in the library.
In the context of a discussion on cartography, I would consider myself a paper/book/language artist, who makes descriptive and emotional responses to built spaces. A map names places, traces its shape & form, declaring its existence as a simulacrum.
We imagine that maps describe the empirical but they do so much more. They inform or remind us of place of space of events of feelings... ideas of all that has transpired there... they are a pretext for a nomenclature. The map is not the place itself but the referent.
[1/4/11 9:29:56 PM] robbin: …it’s hard to articulate. Because it is not sequential and not always clear: the path to understanding.
[1/4/11 9:31:43 PM] robbin: That is why I undertook the activity of mapping – I’m going to the site place space of memory.
Working with the book as my vehicle of expression inevitably led me to re-consider the act of reading. The transference of a dot matrix through the eyes of a reader into visual signs, that are equated to sounds, that evolve into words, language, and ultimately ideas -- is the purview of speculation and even fantasy, much like art-making.
[1/4/11 9:00:20 PM] cbjessica: …whether it is language's failing or our inability to articulate fully
[1/4/11 9:00:51 PM] robbin: Well, I think that anyone's language has its limits. That is why I am trying to join image and material with words.
[1/4/11 9:01:08 PM] cbjessica: yes.
[1/4/11 9:18:43 PM] robbin: That’s what I love about artist books - I can make objects and ideas.
[1/4/11 9:19:18 PM] robbin: I wonder what an idea tastes like.
[1/4/11 9:28:57 PM] robbin: I figure that I am making my statement not only in words but also how I make the words become physical again.
I have always seen my installations as books in space … with similar challenges of reading and pacing. I want to create small universes, mindscapes… worlds where the engagement with a viewer/reader is total.
“The similarities between installations and artists’ books lie more in their materiality (both make use of mixed techniques and media), activity (both demand that the viewer be active “to complete the work”) and linearity (in both cases, the reading is not linear).”
– Paul Van Capelleveen in his catalog essay for Read Me. Like a Book.
The over-arching theme in my work is interlinearity, the portion of knowledge and the world that we ignore or omit, or consider negative space, whether the pause in a sentence, the gesture before the act, or the subtext of written language. One aspect of this is language cognition, what words can actually communicate and their limitations.
[1/4/11 8:59:13 PM] cbjessica: Do you feel that language fails to communicate who we are similarly?
[1/4/11 8:59:24 PM] robbin: Yes. sigh.
[1/4/11 8:59:37 PM] robbin: And I love words!
[1/4/11 8:59:46 PM] robbin: but so much falls between.
Identity has numerous signifiers and we engage them through our senses. I don’t want books with ‘pages’ that are neutral substrates with information placed upon them. As I touch and move through books, in other words when I read, I want a multisensory experience, enhancing its content and engaging me in the choreography of the read.
[1/4/11 9:35:16 PM] robbin: Perhaps we could discuss these ideas further.
[1/4/11 9:35:26 PM] cbjessica: that would be lovely
[1/4/11 9:35:28 PM] robbin: with some chocolate or something like winde.
[1/4/11 9:35:33 PM] robbin: I mean wine
[1/4/11 9:35:35 PM] cbjessica: haha
[1/4/11 9:35:40 PM] cbjessica: yes
[1/4/11 9:35:45 PM] robbin: Although I'm all for breathing.
“In the more than thirty years that Robbin Ami Silverberg has been artistically active, whether producing installations, artist books or objects, one gains the impression that there are two major lines she is following. Despite their being outwardly contradictory, these two lines are interwoven in the wide range of her abstract yet poetic work, intersecting time and again within it: the facets of remembering and of forgetting, memorial and loss.”
– Susanne Padberg in her catalog essay for Read Me. Like a Book.
[1/4/11 9:30:38 PM] robbin: I try to allow the process of remembering and revising remembering -- exactly -
[1/4/11 9:30:56 PM] robbin: the mere declaration transforms it to something else
[1/4/11 9:31:18 PM] robbin: and I am trying to understand what is this new thing and can I reach the original
[1/4/11 9:32:53 PM] robbin: Not that the original has more virtue but to better understand it as the source of what you then retain.
I’ve produced many artist books & installations that focus on either feminist ideals or on exposing misogyny. The feminist movement was the first to effectively combine the Personal with the Political. Thus the dominant themes seen in my artwork are the components of my reality. I am an artist, a feminist, a sister, friend, professor, mother, a New Yorker.... As artists, we draw on our lives but the process of making art is the transformation of the personal into something larger.
[1/4/11 9:26:15 PM] robbin: the hand and the process have always been essential
[1/4/11 9:26:38 PM] robbin: but in a political sense too since women were the hands for 20,000 years...
[1/4/11 9:27:24 PM] robbin: during which mindless activity was essentially the purview of women --
[1/4/11 9:27:35 PM] cbjessica: I always somehow felt that women were the memory-keepers as well
[1/4/11 9:28:06 PM] robbin: but it is also truly positive. Yes, just as I was about to say: in that repetitive process women kept the memory and the history and story of life.
Political content in my work has varied according to place, culture & when working with others, my collaborators. Several directions are presented here:
- Evocative responses to our post- 9/11 world.
- Issues concerning South Africa’s changing political and social situation.
- Re-visiting memories & memorials of the Holocaust.
- The American obsession with guns and its commensurate violence.
- Failed government systems at home & abroad.