Number 518, Sep2, 2004

In Divine Shadows

The city nurtures beauty, sadness & growth

If you are not familiar with Daniel Barrow’s art, it is high time to rectify the situation. His work is based on beautifully rendered and collaged drawings, which mostly come to life through manual animation and storytelling. These ambitious and complex works are at once delicate, gorgeous and tragic.

Barrow’s work is catching on. His performance roster seems to be growing exponentially with shows across Canada and the United States. At one point, he had seven exhibits scheduled over a three-month period. His forthcoming performance, "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry" will premiere at The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in February, 2005. Concurrent to his latest Toronto exhibition, Don’t Let This Happen, at Mercer Union, Barrow will perform two different pieces at The Contemporary Art Forum in Kitchener between September 18-26. If you have yet to see him perform, it is worth the trip.

Barrow is no stranger to the Toronto art scene. In April, he performed one of his narrative pieces, The Face Of Everything, to a full house at the Images Festival. In June, he performed at both Cheap Queers and Trinity Square Video while working on a month-long residency on Toronto Island. Don’t Let This Happen is Barrow’s first Canadian solo exhibition. Although directly linked, it also marks a departure from his performance work. In Don’t Let This Happen, Barrow exhibits drawings from his performances, a video he made for The Hidden Cameras, balsa wood airplanes and a complicated snow globe installation piece.

Barrow’s Snow Globe is, in part, an experiment to see how animation and video projection work together. Along with a projected image of a snow globe, light travels through a water dish filled with beads. Through the resulting broken projection the viewer sees pieces of a 1950’s documentary on Helen Keller. Beside the overhead projector of the snow globe is a video monitor with the image of a boy that appears to be blowing the projected beads. The Helen Keller documentary, much like Barrow’s performance work, plays with mythology, blending fact and fiction. The documentary is presented as a series of Keller’s interior monologues spoken with a proper English accent.

Part of the charm of Barrow’s work comes from its sincerity and thoughtfulness. The prose in his animations is deliberate and clever, and his drawings are meticulous. His work is largely about spiritual transformation. However, he says, “this transformation is not where golden rays of God’s love come down from the sky, but instead takes place on a daily basis in the city.” Such growth often takes place where beauty and sadness intersect, and is often represented through someone trying to cope with depression. For example, his upcoming performance recounts the experiences of a garbage man going through his night’s work. From the garbage he finds, the man eventually reflects on his evening creating series of figures which heal each other’s wounds.

In Don’t Let This Happen, viewers are given the opportunity to appreciate Barrow’s drawings in a way that is much different than seeing them animated. Each piece is a composite made of smaller drawings created on different pieces of paper. Rather than experiencing them as part of a fleeting performance, viewers get to look at some of the still images that make up his larger narrative projects. These drawings help give insight into Barrow’s creative process.

Barrow says he initially got the idea to do overhead animation from one of his Art History teachers. She presented and read her class notes with a hand-cranked overhead projector. Barrow says he found “the combination of her soft, lilting voice and the text combined” to be “very restful.” This relaxed, pensive state is something he tries to replicate in his work. Ironically, he has to spend countless hours toiling away in order to achieve it. As a self-employed artist, Barrow says he works continually, forgetting to take breaks or eat until his body rebels.

Barrow speculates that living and working in Winnipeg affords him more time to invest in his work. And invest he does. Its seems as though every decision he makes about his work has been carefully considered, from the lined paper he draws on, to the way he structures his narratives. However, as particular as he is about his work, it seems anything but contrived. Through his work, Daniel Barrow invites viewers into a nostalgic, magical world, touching hearts and offering solace along the way.