Daniel Barrow uses layered imagery to haunt and delight Toronto audiences
Daniel Barrow works from the middle of the room. In the middle of the audience, lit by the light of the overhead projector, he layers images, manipulates them, and tells a story that is mesmerizing, satisfying, and deeply disturbing. It’s totally compelling, and leaves you full of questions.
His primary art form is overhead transparencies, but this is nothing like what you remember from grade school. The transparencies are calm, beautiful images of a 1950s Leave it To Beaver kind of world, where everyone is profoundly broken and profoundly disturbed. He narrates in a flat, high voice that would not be out of place employed by a hypnotist or at a séance, and the words keep coming, at the same pace, with the same careful timing, no matter how much fine work his hands are doing to piece together the layered images.
These particular ones were first made when Barrow first made and performed Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry in 2006, and so they’re a bit weathered and slightly yellowing, which somehow adds to the effect.
Sometimes the image shifts by additional transparencies being layered on top, adding details, or birds, or words. Sometimes he uses Scanimation to give movement to part of the image, sometimes part of the image is blacked out. Changing what part is blacked-out shifts a person from living to dead, from hat on, to hat off. Really, I want a word that combines ethereal and macabre to describe the beautiful and delicate work that makes up these images. There isn’t one, and that too is in keeping with Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry. The original music fits the images and stories completely, adding emotional depth and richness.
We never learn our narrator’s name but we learn that as a child he was plagued by near constant eye infections and almost always wore a blindfold – and that the other children called him Hellen Keller. He takes strength from this, and from childhood seems himself as a witness, near where the story is happening, but not part of it.
In art school he accepts that he will not be able to make is living from his art, that most art is trash, and that most artists are doomed to failure. So, he works as a garbage collector, and indulges in a hobby of collecting phone books. He also makes his own illustrated phonebook, carefully tracing sleeping people through their windows and searching through their trash to immortalize them. What follows is difficult, sometimes gruesome, and ultimately hopeful.
This is theatre that embraces unusual locations. It is analog storytelling in a digital world; disturbing and beautiful, soothing and creepy, pleasing and unsettling, complex and haunting.