Six degrees of separation confront total anonymity in “Seagoville Assignment”, an installation by Kathy Lovas making its premiere in the freshly reconstructed Handley-Hicks Gallery. A work of creative nonfiction, the installation combines World War II and Lovas’ personal history in simple artistic gestures that are contemplative rather than outwardly emotional. Freely roaming into the territory of museum exhibits and memorial monuments, Lovas also borrows from the Japanese vernacular to tell a personal story about the wartime internment camps at Seagoville.
Her mother worked briefly at the Texas facility where the U.S. Justice Department placed Japanese, Italian and German immigrants uprooted from their homes in Latin America, primarily Peru, where many were already first- or second-generation citizens. Lovas discovered this short chapter of her mother’s life while reading her diaries.
The installation begins with a gesture based on that discovery. Above a government-issue wooden chair painted slate gray, a clipboard filled with entries gypped from her mother’s diary hangs beside another clipboard. This one holds the pages of required government forms filled with invasive questions for the internees. But Lovas conceals the prisoners’ identity, introducing a first level of anonymity.
The viewer must walk through a narrow passage to another suggestion of anonymity: more than 70 enlarged, unidentified fingerprints placed in a grid on the floor. Mounted in document frames painted slate gray and wrapped in white cotton rope, a half-dozen fingerprints are also wrapped fukaishi-style inside cotton cloth, five in gray and one in cherry red. The viewer must step between and around the grid in order to get to the final gesture on the back wall.
A wall hanging, “We crossed the red line five times”, chronicles the long, exhausting journey of these displaced people. White ink, red embroidery and two black-and-white photo reproductions depict the nearly circular connection among Lovas, her mother, the internees and their descendants.
This haunting reference to a baby born to a Seagoville internee – like so much of this installation – reminds the viewer that actions declared in the name of national self-defense may ultimately be self-destructive.