By different degrees, everyone is a stranger. Our inner worlds are largely obscure to each other. It’s not a stretch to wonder: can we grasp anything substantial about another person’s inner life?
Such ontological ruminations seem to be the driving motivation behind Kathy Lovas’ latest exhibition, Clothing Crimes…and Misdemeanors, at Liliana Bloch Gallery in Dallas. The birth of the show emerges from a time in Lovas’ life when her car was stolen from the driveway of her suburban home. In an unexpected twist, the car was retrieved and returned without damage. Lovas discovered a mound of men’s and women’s clothes left in her vehicle. I imagine that moment of discovery, like walking into the home of someone who recently died, and each item encountered tells a story about the absent person. With a mystery literally left in the backseat of her car, Lovas found herself thrust into a detective story, wondering about the character of the individuals who stole her car. The show is in part the artist asking herself what the discarded clothing reveals about the thieves’ predicament and their station in life. Who are they?
The cornerstone work that addresses this personal history is cryptically titled UUMV/OOTD, which turns out to be code for “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” and “outfit of the day.” This title reveals the half-serious and half-lighthearted tone that Lovas adopts throughout the show. Making use of t-shirts, bras and socks, Lovas documents a personal history by DASS photo transferring each garment. The 88 images are arranged on an expansive wall of the gallery creating a relational connection between the saturated color and the repetitive shapes of the clothes.
Lovas’ taxonomic representation of the variegated wardrobe is both beautiful and analytic. Each item is arranged within the frame of the paper such that it hovers in pictorial balance. In the photos, the garments are sometimes folded or placed casually, while other times they’re carefully arranged with an almost painterly sense of contour and graphic impression. For objects so mundane, Lovas makes each item seductive and beguiling. They warrant and reward our examination.
In the connected work JENZ/LWEZ, Lovas uses James Joyce’s short story “Eveline” as a means to think further about the woman who wore the clothes found in her car’s backseat. Lovas displays the jeans on a curved wall at the entrance of the gallery, emphasizing the shape of the jeans and enticing us to read the fragments of the Joyce story attached as tags to each pair of pants. The denim hangs such that we imagine the full-blooded human that is missing. Here, like the namesake protagonist in Joyce’s narrative, Lovas seems to ask if the woman thief is caught between a sense of familiarity and an existence as yet undetermined. Lovas’ point of view feels sympathetic to the unknowable robber. I couldn’t help thinking about Vittorio De Sica’s classic film The Bicycle Thief, where a portrayal of the trials of life reveal how one can choose to commit a desperate act of wrongdoing for understandable, and perhaps even noble, reasons. Not that I presume to understand the lives or reasoning of the individuals that stole Lovas’ car, but I presume not to presume — and perhaps that’s the point.
Other works in the show take a lighter, if not still-threatening, approach toward the clothing and these ruminations. In PNTY/RAID Lovas gathers 25 pairs of women’s underwear found in her stolen car and drapes them in a mass on a gallery wall adjacent to two frames holding the letters PNTY and RAID. The typeface serves as a descriptor for what the artist has done with the garments, but the installation could also read as a grotesque statement of sexual conquest or of boundaries unduly crossed.
In DOPL/GNGR, the artist offers two photographs of her mother and her twin brother when they were children. Each image shows the kids in matching homemade coats of wool and raccoon. With good humor, Lovas equates this crime of fashion with the other offenses she implements as subjects in the show. The images are blue-taped to the wall of the gallery and are “glitched,” jumbling the visual information into partial illegibility. The disruption of the images of her mother and uncle create a gap in our ability to make sense of what we’re seeing; Lovas ties our questions about the children to her own questions about what the photos suggest about her family.
In UUMV: The Movie, the artist places a computer tablet on a stack of books that serve as a map key to the exhibition — Crime and Punishment sits in top position and The Crime of Art at bottom. A looped video plays repeatedly on the tablet. The video serves as chorus to the show. Using the photographic lens of her iPhone as our point of perspective, Lovas cleverly situates us as the eyes of the camera walking the neighborhood where her car was taken. No people appear. Instead we stroll a suburban landscape and hear the snappish barking of a dog. We’re the interloper here, or perhaps thief. Lovas encourages our rapport with a state of mind that ends in a criminal act.
Lovas has crafted a fascinating show, where each work points to how people are enigmatic riddles that we fill with our own flawed interpretations. She questions what we should consider justice when our imperfect narrations about people and events accumulate to only partially reveal the moment-to-moment actuality of a lived experience.
Through Oct. 10, 2020 at Liliana Bloch Gallery, Dallas
Images of show by Kevin Todora.