SANCTUARIES was a series of works utilizing weavings, prints, traditional music/song forms, and sound installation to explore the shared experiences of sister-artists Kristine Barrett and Debbie Barrett-Jones growing up in rural Iowa. “As children, we shared a basement bedroom that flooded every spring and summer, forcing us to live for weeks and months amid a foot of water. Mushrooms crept along the wall towards the ceiling. Crickets came to live in a chalk box under our bed. Our grandmother lived upstairs and taught us needlework and how to make pies. The town’s primary industry was a slaughterhouse that killed an astonishing 25,000 pigs a day. The scent of death wafted across town. Our parents encouraged us to be artists. We believed in demons and angels, and that an apocalypse would occur before we reached adulthood. Almost every member of our family has been sexually assaulted as children. And no one talks about it.
As such, we sought to create two pieces that explored this shared history. Using highly coded visual and aural imagery, we went about exploring the aspects of our childhood that had previously been taboo or unsafe to address openly. The first consisted of a series of prints and weavings. My aluminum prints consisted of over 500 images of Marin landscapes, layered and composited to create ghostly images of Otherworlds imagined and longed for in the dark. Debbie used her loom to weave color and light representing a kind of Ariadne’s thread that led her out of the labyrinthine darkness towards illumination. These led the viewer towards a door and down a narrow set of stairs into a barely lit basement gallery where we had installed a loom masked by weavings and two speakers. Debbie sat and worked at the loom while my voice, both live and recorded, echoed throughout with two speakers set-up at either end of the long, highly reverberant space. Each speaker represented a sister, calling out to one another in the coded language of women’s traditional song forms from the Black Sea area while the sounds of the loom echoed throughout. The songs and their origins themselves tell a story in code, each meant to cover some kind of distance; geographical, dimensional (life/death), spiritual, and/or political: a Sephardic lullaby (originally from the Iberian Peninsula--modern day Spain and Portugal--the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th century where the exiled population dispersed across North Africa, Anatolia, the Levant, Southern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and beyond); a Ukrainian Rusalka song (in this case, the Rusalka are women who died at the hands of violent men and haunted waterways), a Laz women’s calling song meant to communicate with family between the Turkish-Georgian border, a Georgian women's ritual song marking the birth of a child/ the New Year: summoning the sun’s light to come into the house, and so on. Layered beneath these was a series of field recordings of storms I have collected from locations across the US, the Republic of Georgia, Greece, and Turkey. These articulations of women’s experiences of distance, loss, and longing coupled with the sound of a loom (a tool traditionally associated with women’s work and symbolically associated with the writing of one’s fate and destiny) transformed the otherwise starkly empty room into a strange and evocative portal.”