Debbie Barrett-Jones, “Lineages I,” 58 x 90’’, handwoven, deconstructed tencel yarn (image courtesy Leedy-Voulkos Art Center)
Sisters Debbie Barrett-Jones and Kristine Barrett breathe life into woven and unwoven textiles in their exhibit “Lineages” at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. On view through May 27, the exhibition explores processes of weaving and unravelling, offering a glance into the healing and transformation that occur when the artists extend their techniques beyond the “final product.” When describing the method she used to create the prominent piece “Lineages Yarn Landscape Installation,” Debbie said that she strives to “go back in time,” due to the saturation of memory integrated within the process.
For Debbie, allowing the works to change and evolve is freeing, and the approach imparts a vulnerability to the works displayed. The concept of “breathing” is important as well, and it can be noticed through the diaphanous qualities in the way the warp and weft compromise in each work. Kristine’s examples portray a tighter, more mathematical approach, as seen in her “Jämtlandsdräll” series. Juxtaposing compression and mayhem, the selected works in “Lineages” invite discussion of such dichotomies.
Debbie’s and Kristine’s complex works are more than static textiles. They are meant to be understood in a context of movement, sound and consciousness. On opening night, the sisters added volume and context to the two-dimensional works through performative actions related to their woven works. Kristine performed vocally, allowing her voice to echo in the space and inviting a conversation about the rituals of weaving. Debbie worked barefoot at the loom, weaving the same pattern over and over, creating a repetitive sound that complemented Kristine’s vocals.
“Lineages” is a splendid title for the exhibition. Debbie recalls her Swedish-American ancestry and family customs of sewing, weaving, knitting and crocheting. Kristine’s video installation “Habitations” reminds viewers of how important place is to the act of weaving and its products. Kristine describes it as “algorithmic” as aspects of weaving, kinship and ecology intertwine.
Their Swedish family’s farm in Minnesota was a particularly poignant site for memory and an ultimate inspiration for several works in the exhibition. A few years ago, Debbie entered the MFA program at the University of Kansas, but shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, she was forced to think differently about her process. She began working on a series of small woven pieces that depict the Minnesota barn. The pieces in that series speak to aspects of memory, especially as it transfers and fades.
The connection and divide the sisters felt between family homes on the West Coast and in the Midwest are apparent in such works as “Memory of the Farm, Barn Study Installation.” A physical and visual connection is apparent; however, simultaneously, the viewer may also notice polarities of structure and chaos, controlled and uncontrolled, black and white.
Debbie said her relationship to weaving grew even stronger when Kristine, who was already an artist, composer, academic and vocalist, asked her sister to teach her how to weave. “Weaving brought us together,” Debbie said. “There’s something spiritual about it.” Intersecting textile art with memory, familial histories and geographies, “Lineages” is a wellspring in the Kansas City art community.
“Lineages” continues at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through May 27. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, 816.474.1919 or www.leedy-voulkos.com.