Clew: A Rich and Rewarding Disorientation

Clew: A Rich and Rewarding Disorientation opened at the Lamont Gallery at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter New Hampshire on Friday.

Clew is a collaborative installation I participated in with sound artists Jon Sakata and Jung Mi Lee, poet Todd Hearon and curator Lauren O’Neal. It is currently on view at the Lamont Gallery at Phillips Exeter Academy and runs through April 15. (Hours and information here.)

The co-conspirators for this collaboration: Jon Sakata, Jung Mi Lee, and Todd Hearon. (This photo, from our gallery talk, does not include Lauren O’Neal who was facilitating the event.)

This artistic collaboration began with the idea of emulating the labyrinth with its confluences and unexpected turnabouts. Using overlays of music, poetry and visual arts, we envisioned giving viewers and listeners new ways to see, hear and navigate a tripartite, intricately layered world. Within the setting of a physical gallery space, all three of these artistic forms intermingle freely. Experienced individually or collectively, Clew compounds and expands into a journey of multidimensionality and surprise.

We explored many ways to dismantle the expected and the every day. Paintings and other visual cues are everywhere—below the viewer as well as above, sometimes horizontal as well as vertical. Some are at eye level, but other orientations invite the viewer to engage on fresh terms. There is no text on the wall other than an introductory statement. We hope a visitor will wander, experience and engage with the open spaces and alcoves of the Lamont Gallery on his or her own terms.

I am hesitant to even post photographs of this project. The soundscape is so exquisitely ambient, elemental and entangled deeply with the visual, tactile aspects of this exhibit that it feels like a desecration to flatten the focus to just the visual aspects of the exhibit. What’s more, that rich assemblage of soundings is laced with repercussive stretches of Hearon’s resonant and freely modulated voice, speaking words and phrases that have now become my primal and very personal incantatory refrain:

sempiternal waters

purl, pounce, pronounce & preen

diaspora becoming at a stroke diapason


glacial language extant only in lacunae, contour, kettle, esker drift

your mouth’s green myth pressed to the ocean’s ear

Sakata wrote a description of the project that captures the many layered complexities we have explored together:

Like many other transdisciplinary projects we have been involved with, the terrain of our held notions of what constitutes music, sound, time, affect, sensation, discipline, has likewise been profoundly destabilized, de-territorialized, mutated. Art as a practice of alterity: to introduce the alien into ourselves and to be inexorably changed by it. A labyrinthine project for sure, at times with and at others without, the helpful thread. Or is it that there are so many threads that we cannot help but also sew our share of non-sonic responses to the array of “erratics” and installed pieces that make up CLEW?

And when Jon described my work as “an orgy against flat screenification” during our gallery talk, I couldn’t have been more honored. Visceral and delicious.

So here is my sound-impaired visual portrait. I hope some of you can have the full experience, in the flesh.



















6 Replies to “Clew: A Rich and Rewarding Disorientation”

  1. Lovely and rich collaboration. Wonderful experience!

  2. Jill Fineberg says:

    This is one of THE most luscious and compelling exhibits you have ever been part of Ms. Barlow!!!! The textures and palettes and arrangements, not to mention, the venue itself . . . made me miss being there more than I already did. Looking at just the images, I found myself wanting to run my fingers through the veils and over the textures, exploring the multi-layers.
    One can imagine the music being yet another PERFECt addition to an already ambient experience. Methinks you have outdone yourself. The bar is raised my dear. xo JILL

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Jill, I feel like you have walked this journey with me. Thank you for your words and your ongoing, essential support of my life and my work.

  3. looks wondrous – wish i could drop by and see it

  4. deborahbarlow says:

    Thank you so much. I have so appreciated our mutual creative journey and support.

  5. Wow! I understand your hesitancy to post photos of such an interactive and light-based show; but I’m glad you did. (I have a niece who’s an Exeter alum…such a great space for gallery work).

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