Daniel Barrow is an illustrator and storyteller. Barrow has developed a signature animation technique that applies antiquated methods using an overhead projector. Through live performances, he animates a narrative sequence of charismatic illustrations. For Don’t Let This Happen, his first solo exhibition in Vancouver, Barrow harmoniously joined a variety of media, devising a self-sufficient means of animation using an overhead projector, a fan, some water and plastic beads in combination with his illustrations and video work. As part of his exhibition at the CAG, Barrows performed Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, a story set in Las Vegas based on the life experiences of Scott Thorson, Liberace’s young boyfriend. Daniel Barrow is a Winnipeg-based media artist working in performance, video and installation. He has exhibited widely in Canada and abroad. He creates and adopts comic book narratives into a “manual” form of animation by projecting, layering and manipulating drawings. Barrow refers to this practice as “graphic performance, live illustration, or manual animation.”
The Miracle Worker
How did Helen Keller burn the side of her face? She answered the iron. How did she burn the other side of her face? They called back.
“I had a mind to begin with, and two good hands by which I groped my way to the frontiers of knowledge.” Helen Keller
Helen Keller is well known as an influential thinker whose writings and public lectures campaigned on behalf of civil rights, education and the women’s movement. She was an active and respected advocate for people with disabilities, and was one of the founding members of the American Foundation for the Blind. But her persona as an activist and humanitarian clashes with another common perception of Keller as a disheveled, grunting, wild child. This image of the young Keller was brought into popular view through the 1962 film The Miracle Worker, which celebrated Anne Sullivan Macy, the dedicated teacher who changed Keller from savage to genteel.
These seemingly incongruous perceptions of Keller meet at the point of transformation. The metamorphosis from one identity to another plays out in much of Daniel Barrow’s work. In Don’t Let This Happen, Barrow pieces together a fantasy of Keller’s life. Clips from Helen Keller: Her Life Story, the 1955 documentary ghostly appear in the center of an illustrated overhead projection of a snow-globe. Barrow splices together segments of the documentary that represent Keller through her reaction to others, to nature and to her body. A cut out silhouette of a hand extends into the centre of the globe, obscuring the already washed out film clips. A shallow dish of water sits on top of the overhead projector and a blowing fan slowly swirls small beads over the images of Keller’s life. Through the faded and obscured images of Keller, her identity is continually shifting, vanishing while other aspects emerge. Barrow suspends the point of transformation by avoiding any definitive moment in Keller’s life.
Extending the already fractured representation of Keller, Barrow creates scattered connections between various elements in the installation. An animated loop of a slave boy blowing on beads in a shallow dish of water on an overhead projector becomes a strange phantom of the actual mechanics. The hollow eyed boy in tattered clothes becomes the tireless fan as the fan becomes an overworked boy. Simultaneously, another animation of illustrations dissolves into one another. Barrels transform into castles. Children covered in flour poke their heads out of the barrels, evoking the Victorian stories of Beatrice Potter (Beatrix Potter). The form of the barrel is evocative and central to Barrow’s work as it becomes an open site for his imagination. The barrel is to be filled or emptied. It isn’t connected to one particular item, but is a plausible container for any number of things.
The Face of Everything is a fictive story based on the life of Scott Thorson who was Liberace’s chauffeur, bodyguard and lover. For this time-based performance, Barrow employs a manual form of animation, using an overhead projector to layer and build an illustrated narrative. A musical recording composed by Russian Futurist Matthew Adam Hart underscores a live voice over by the artist. The performance follows Thornson from an awkward pimple faced teen into the excessive and opulent life of show business. We see him change into a confident and handsome man who moves from obscurity to center stage. Again Barrow is drawn to a story of extreme transformation and insists on telling it through a dense layering of ideas and references collected from different time periods and genres, which start with a series of visual ideas that sift into a formal narrative. In an attempt to unpack the work, Barrow prefaced his performances with Catalogue of the Original a slide show of illustrated and text-based biographies of the featured, secondary and seemingly happenstance characters.
Like the posh British accent used in the original documentary to represent Keller’s inner voice, Barrow’s scattered and stacked narratives clearly move into the realm of fantasy. They are dreams with no real translation and no direct beginning or end. Time is nebulous and floats about like the narrative. Obsolete technology, antiquated animation techniques, vintage documentary footage, Victorian children’s stories and dead pop icons formally obscure a time frame. Nothing is solid and everything dissolves into one.
Curator: Jenifer Papararo