The art of Howard and Lorraine Barlow at PUNCH Gallery this month.
  • The art of Howard and Lorraine Barlow is at PUNCH Gallery this month.

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The picture you see above is not exactly how those two works of art are displayed this month at PUNCH, but it's very close. At PUNCH, the body is lying on the floor on a rectangle of dark sand, rather than raised on a white pedestal.

What you're looking at are the objects that Howard and Lorraine Barlow made for the occasions of each other's deaths. He will be wrapped in the shroud she knitted. Her wishes will be shot out in a 21-gun salute using the red ammunition casings in the grid on the wall.

One of the other sculptures in xoxo, made of burnt and painted wood, sand, knitting.
  • One of the other sculptures in xoxo, made of burnt and painted wood, sand, knitting.
The Barlows are based in rural Thorp, Washington, where he teaches sculpture and she got her graduate degree at Central Washington University. They're a married couple in their 30s with small children, all their parents still alive and healthy. They're "in the prime of life," as Howard said to me when I ran into him at the gallery. It's almost like things are so good that it would be perverse not to take this moment to acknowledge that things will not always be so. To prepare for another season, like farmers.

What they made would be unbearably romantic if it weren't also morbid. He made her a wall "quilt" of emptied red bullet casings. He lined the casings with notes he wrote, each containing a memory of her. Then he cut apart her wedding dress and distributed a piece into each tiny canister. When I visited the gallery, he happened to be there, and he pulled down a casing to show the satiny fabric peeking out the end, dotted with a pearly bead.

Down the middle of the red wall grid, there's a spine of casings that are marked with white x's and o's. These contain 21 wishes that she's written, to be shot out during the memorial salute.

The title of the exhibition is xoxo. The man on the floor is an effigy of Howard. Based on a plaster casting, it's his measurements exactly, stiff arms crossed over the chest in burial position. The cast is encased in the baby-alpaca wool shroud. A line, or spine, runs down its front. It says "xoxoxoxo" from head to toe.

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On the back of the shroud, Howard says, there is an opening where his dead body will be inserted. Then the shroud will be tied closed. Ideally, Lorraine's hands would be the ones tying the shroud and Howard's hands would be the ones loading the gun, but in real life, somebody will have to go first. The other one will be left behind with just the bodies of objects.

xoxo is at PUNCH through March 30 and includes additional interactive objects, too. Go.