"Against Forgetting"

by Ronald Watson, Catalog Essay from Exhibition "The Art of Space"
Arlington Museum of Art, Arlington, TX, 2003
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 1, 1998

I never saw this strange dwelling again. Indeed, as I see it now, the way it appeared to my child’s eye, it is not a building, but is quite dissolved and distributed inside me: here one room, there another, and here a bit of corridor which, however, does not connect the two rooms, but is scattered about inside me, the rooms, the stairs that descend with such ceremonious slowness, others, narrow cages that mount in a spiral movement, in the darkness of which we advanced like the blood in our veins.

Rainer Maria Rilke Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge

“Company House” is a rich and complex installation that challenges viewers to follow in the footsteps of the artist and put together parts of a puzzle made of such things as photographs, lumber, and felt. As the viewer mentally assembles Lovas’ words and images an intriguing story of collective significance and of personal history comes to light. It has to do with death, with irreplaceable loss and with joy and affirmation of life.

Although we can surmise from the title “Company House” that a business or a house is significant, we do not know why or where. In a conversation Lovas told me that Thomas Johnson, her grandfather, was superintendent of a Northwest paper Company mill near Brainerd, Minnesota on the Mississippi River. One of the three photographs embedded in her blue painting pictures the mill where he installed the papermaking machinery that is still in operation. Lovas made this photograph in the summer of 2002 when she was searching for the location of her grandfather’s house that the family left around 1926.  

Everything in the installation is related to the house and to papermaking. Felt from the mill served as blankets for the family. Pine trees were the source of wood pulp used to make paper for newspapers. The wooden platform supported the outdoor hand pump that supplied water for the family. Although the artist uses family photographs that were undoubtedly taken to record people and family events, she identifies certain objects in them rather than the obvious subjects they depict. Thus the words “tree” or “steps” appear under images that also contain the house. The child in “corral” is her father. “Water tower” illustrates a structure still extant. Seeing it was a breakthrough in Lovas’ search. Matching the water tower to the photograph insured that she was standing on the site she sought. The company house itself is present in most of the photographs, but it burned down around 1964. Seeking out the house is part of the artist’s search for her own identity. Unearthed bits and pieces of family history in stories, pictures, songs, and rituals released deep feelings and thoughts about the meaning of “home” and “house” for the artist. As the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard remarked, “Our house is our first universe.”

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