Tess
Howsam
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Memory House

The house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Memory House was a multiroom installation art house featuring the work of six woman-identifying artists who created individual pieces exploring the intersection of three themes: home, memory, and water. Each artist was assigned a room to transform. The installation took place on New York City’s Governors Island, a former United States Army and Coast Guard base in New York Harbor. The house itself was one of several officers’ residences constructed during the 19th century.

 

     For me, home revolves around tables. Dinner, holidays, birthdays — all took place at a table. My sister and I each had “our” chairs, and even now, when we come home, we make sure we sit in those same seats. Our mom and dad have forgotten which chair was whose, but we are sure to remind them. This small shift in my parents’ memories speaks to the transformation of spaces based on who inhabits them and how they are used.

    The kitchen table where we ate dinner during my childhood feels large. I always sat with my back to the kitchen, my sister to my right, my father to my left, and my mother across the table. Now, when it is just my parents, my mother sits in my old seat and my dad in hers. Even though my parents have redone the bathroom of my childhood room, my bedroom is mostly as I left it. The closet is filled with my favorite dresses from proms and talent shows, stuffed animals still smile down from upper shelves, and in my bedside drawers are piles of journals from decades ago.

    As I continue to age and spend less time in the house, visiting it rather than inhabiting it, the house shifts, memories overlap, and spaces change. What was once the biggest room in the house no longer feels so big. The chair that was so important when I was a teen feels less so now. The coffee table is less delicate, the kitchen table less sacred.

    The three installations I created for Memory House are explorations into home as a malleable space that can bend and twist, and the uncanny nature of memory, the memories and emotions we sweep under the rug.

 

Howsam Artist Statements 

 

In the piece, The Things We Bury, I explore the manifestation of lies, thoughts, and feelings that we “bury” within our families and relationships. When issues aren’t addressed, they can twist chairs and lift tables. What was once a dining room becomes a topsy-turvy scene of unexpressed feelings and thoughts left unsaid.

My surrealist tendencies surface as the dirt and chairs float, lift and challenge the notion of familiarity while showing us how one might see the truth in the absurd.

 

Only as Big as You Remember It is an exploration of how time alters memories. What we once saw looming gigantic as a child might suddenly feel small upon repeat viewing as an adult. The big moments and life-defining events of our childhoods often change the scale of these memories. We cannot control time, nor what we remember, but our memories shape how we feel about a person, place, or event, even years later. ​​

I used tiny furniture to articulate this shift in perspective. The height of the tallest item (the clock) is 42mm (1⅝ in). The furniture is made of plastic. This was presented in the attic of the house.

 

In the Kitchen was an examination of the culturally ascribed relationship between women and the kitchen. I explore the kitchen as a paradoxically safe place, where family and friends gather, as well as a space that for centuries has been identified as a “woman’s place.” The casual nature of the headless mannequin on the counter recalls how my sister and I would sit in the kitchen and watch my mother cook. The headless mannequins in this room, rather than appearing morbid, seem at ease, allowing for the viewer to fill in the expressions or story that defined faces can convey, perhaps from their own life or relationship to the kitchen. The aprons are tied widely across the room in a way that is both protective and restrictive. Perhaps my own generation will change assumptions and break traditions as we form new ones. One aproned mannequin holds the last intact plate. Is it a threat? A trophy? Who is to say, but it is clear enough is enough.