Michael Sylvan Robinson
The Robe of the Song of Union (2007-9)
Mixed media, sculptural garments
5 x 3 feet (detail)
Michael Sylvan Robinson
The Robe of the Song of Union (2007-9)
Mixed media, sculptural garments
5 x 3 feet
Michael Sylvan Robinson

The idea for this piece came from an article in Raw Vision (Spring, 2006) by Margaret Henning examining art made by women in psychiatric hospitals: “Frequently their messages were protests, which they often embroidered on the inside of garments so that their true thoughts could be close to their skin. An example of this is the work of Agnes Richter, who remade an institutional jacket so that it took on a feminine form… The autobiographical thread weaves in and out of the jacket, on the outside as well as the inside, losing itself and its meaning and then resurfacing. It is believed she made it and wore it to keep at bay the gradual disintegration of her identity.”

On pieces of linen, I recorded handwritten memories and accounts of my sexual history. These intimate reflections became a fabric that I cut into the lining of the robe. Questions arose from the gathering of such personal history: What is sex? How does the sexual activity that is my history shape my current relationships and sense of identity? Invisible to the viewer, but firmly held in my memories, are every single one of these individual lovers. On the outside of the robe, I envisioned a marriage with the universe, where every human love was but one part of a joyous joining with mystery.

For me, art is a devotional act, a daily practice of deepening a personal language of spirit anchored in my own physical body, striving to express and to be integrated within the universe and the intimate world of human relationships. My mixed media and textile assemblage techniques evolved from my background, and continued career, as a costume designer and mask maker. I am drawn to the blurring of the lines between art and activism, while also creating a simultaneous juxtaposition and contrary integration of the sacred and the mundane (or even profane). My aesthetic is defined by an original use of color and pattern, an obsessive fetish quality that creates an almost gruesome or garish beauty, subversively providing a surreal perspective to what is primarily a decorative art style.

Installation view: (l-r) Lohner, Ahearn, Robinson (foreground), Faulk/Johnstone.