Artists' Television Access

Robin Johnston: Keeping Count

Thursday, January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Please join us this Sunday afternoon for the opening reception of Robin Johnston’s window installation, Keeping Count. Stop by to meet the artist and enjoy light refreshments.

“Body counts. Counting blessings. Accounting for, and the unaccountable. Counting picks up the pieces. The account, where counting becomes recounting — numbering becomes telling. Counting is a rhythm, like rocking. Counting restores an order, the simplest order of all, of things in a row. Counting operates between one — the merged — and infinity — the emergency. Counting is about an increase in quantity without an increase in scale: more of the same. It takes an event beyond the scale of the senses and makes it knowable…” (Rebecca Solnit, from the essay “Landscapes of Emergency”)

Keeping Count acts as a memorial, a calendar, and a record. Beginning in March 2003, represented here in March 2010, and advancing into the foreseeable future, the installation illustrates collected data of casualties in the Iraq war. Each day is represented by a string: a knot for every recorded fatality. For many Americans, a disconnect exists between the remote events taking place in Iraq and the underlying effects they have on our daily lives. However, there is an invisible weight pulling on us each day that the conflict continues. Filling a window with knots that represent this immense loss is an attempt to come to terms with the abstract reality of war and a way to access grief.

Keeping Count makes reference to the quipu, an Incan recording device that used knots to represent events and manage accounts. In this complex system, red string represented “blood” or “war”. Additionally, prayer beads and rosaries used in various religious practices originated from tying knots to keep track of recited prayers. This piece was created along those lines, with a prayer and a spirit of respect and reverence for those who have suffered; the knots accumulate to become a rosary, each knot a meditation on one life lost. Throughout the month, Johnston will go on tending, maintaining, and caring for the count, adding threads as new data becomes available.

Robin Johnston is an artist living and working in San Francisco. For more information, please visit:

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