Blue Blaze watercolor and oil on linen. / Photo courtesy of Hannah Barnes

By Riley Mayes, Staff Writer

On October 14th, the USM Art Gallery held its opening reception for an art exhibit created by Susan Klein and USM Professor Hannah Barnes. Drawing students and faculty together, the artists revealed Call/Response: an exhibit that centers around collaboration, community, and ritual. 

In her statement, Dr. Kim Grant wrote that the title of this exhibit refers, “to a traditional music form often used in the context of communal worship.” Call/Response embodies this concept in that it is both a product of collaboration between artists and an ongoing response from spectators. “Their process is fluid — drawings, paintings, and sculptures are exchanged and serve as prompts and inspirations for the development of further series of works,” said Grant. 

The exhibit is a flourish of grids, patterns, vibrant colors, and creative interplay between mediums. As a painter, Barnes investigates abstraction through, “pattern-based structures, fragmentation, and impermanence.” Conversely, Klein’s sculpture centers the organic and intuitive. “Clay allows for a balance of planning and improvisation yet leaves room for painterly decisions,” Klein writes in her artist statement, “I use color and pattern to establish relationships between form and surface, abstraction, and representational reference.” The tension between geometry and organicism are negotiated by Barnes’ and Klein’s call/response style, in which they respond to each other’s work to create integrative imagery. 

The Director of Art Exhibitions and Outreach, Kat Zagaria Buckley, noted the collaborative nature of this exhibit, as well. “The work was a collaboration by Hannah Barnes and Susan Klein from afar, but the three of us also collaborated in the physical installation of the exhibit,” she said. Students were able to contribute to this work, as well, by sketching the sculptures during the opening reception and interacting with the artists. “It was great to see that third level of collaboration by students,” Zagaria Buckley said. 

Walking through the exhibit, the traces of collaboration are tangible. The two variations of Offering stand as one powerful example: placed on adjacent walls, the two pieces use recurring shapes and variation to develop each other’s ideas. In Barnes’ piece, she borrows the curvature of Klein’s sculptures in her paintings; while Klein’s pieces arrange themselves into a triangle as a nod to Barnes’ geometry. This piece stands as the laurel of Call/Response by demonstrating art not as a product constructed by a singular artist, but a communal process. 

The exhibit allows for a multifaceted experience, as well. While the gallery is usually set up with two sets of moveable walls near the entrance and the back doorway, creating a closed-off space, the artists decided to do something different. Instead, the moveable walls have been placed on left and right sides of the gallery walls, creating what Zagaria Buckley called “an echo chamber.” This allows for more freedom of movement, as well as nodding to the artists’ collaboration from across state lines. “You can stand in one of the chambers and speak to someone on the other side, but you can’t see them,” said Zagaria Buckley, gesturing to the moveable walls, “You have to anticipate what the other is doing.” 

Call/Response stands as one of the many works that Barnes and Klein have collaborated on. Earlier this September, for example, Barnes exhibited Maintenance of Way, a collaboration with artist Gyun Hur at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Greenville (TSA GVL) gallery in South Carolina, where Klein is co-director. As Grant describes, each artist shares a similar vision to challenge the, “historically dominant paradigm and its privileging of the heroic male artist” by recognizing the vast cultural productions that manifest in what we know as art. This is particularly evident in their attention to craft traditions associated with rituals and women’s work. For example, Grant identifies Klein’s sculpture as inspired by idols, funerary urns, and lingam shrines; as well as Barnes’ interest in the art and artifacts of the Dongria tribe, an animist culture she studied in India. 

The USM Art Gallery in Gorham is open 12-5pm Monday-Saturday, and admission is free for students. The exhibit is running until December 8th, leaving plenty of time to wander the lavender walls of the exhibit and explore the imagination of these artists. To learn more about the work of Barnes and Klein, visit their websites: and


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