Old family photographs and documents can be greatly treasured by their owners. But they’re usually not considered art. Kathy Lovas, however, shows how sentimental artifacts can be transformed into works that touch the hearts and minds of strangers, in “Conversation Pieces” at Handley-Hicks Gallery.
Lovas intends to explore how photographs function in society and how they move us. Part of their power, she believes, comes from our use of family snapshots to freeze ourselves in time.
A few years ago, Lovas enlarged some old photographs for her mother, who was having difficulty with her vision. This led to important conversations about her aging mother’s youth and early adulthood; Lovas also read her old letters and diaries. Lovas used these to create a short artist’s book that accompanies each photograph in the exhibition.
What makes them artist’s books and not just short stories is the subtlety with which Lovas creates the text. She then composes several mini-installations of an enlarged family photo, an artist’s book, a pair of white gloves and a simple, black wooden chair. By sitting in a hard, somewhat uncomfortable chair, we become part of each installation and are reminded of the difficulties that sometimes accompany our own family histories.
“Embarkaytion” – Lovas’ mother’s name way Kay – shows a group of young women in the late 1930’s on a trip to Europe. They sit around a table, a Nazi flag hanging behind them. In the accompanying book, Lovas includes excerpts from her mother’s diary that innocently describe Hitler Youth activities. There is also the comment that “they” say the Nazis did not seek to begin a war.
Many families have photographs of a World War II soldier standing next to a car, implying impending departure. In “Evacuation”, Lovas displays such a photograph of her father.
From the texts, we learn how Lovas’ mother tried to learn to type in two days so she could secure a job on base and avoid leaving her new husband.
This reminds us of the almost impossible tasks undertaken by people in love and how war separates – sometimes permanently – people who love one another.
In these and additional installations depicting a piano recital, a Christmas card, images of high school friends and pictures of young siblings, we’re reminded that family photos are embedded with deeper stories than they may appear to offer.