As a child, storyteller and projection artist Daniel Barrow shielded his eyes from glimpsing the jackets of horror films in the video store.
With puberty, his fear of the horrific and obscene became an obsession with the genre.
I interrupted Barrow at home in Montreal last week, watching the 1993 comedy-fantasy-horror film Leprechaun before heading to teach a drawing class at Concordia University.
“The adrenaline rush I get [from horror films] pushes my buttons,” says Barrow, “I get an immediate high.”
Fuelled by a desire to connect with people, Barrow combines elements of imagination and reality to create a “manual animation” in his performance-exhibit, Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, scheduled for shows this month in the Yukon.
Using overhead projection, video, music and live narration, the work tells about a garbageman who abandons his civic duty to create a phone book chronicling the lives of every person in his city.
Late at night, he forages for personal articles in dumpsters and identifies the people he finds in the pictures through the windows of their homes while they sleep. Unbeknownst to the garbageman, a serial killer is following him and murders everyone he catalogues.
Barrow relates the experience of the one-hour performance to watching a cartoon. He’s created and adapted the hand-drawn comics for manual projection onto a white wall or screen. The images are layered and manipulated on an overhead projector, while Barrow narrates in front of the audience over a microphone.
“I construct stories on visual ideas and decide what I can draw,” Barrow says of his process.
The idea for the garbageman came from Barrow’s fascination with 1940s housewives, women making everything out of foraged scrap materials (for example, the protagonist’s shoes are composed of two-litre bottles.)
Through the character of the garbageman – a failed artist – Barrow deals with personal experiences of anxiety, self-loathing and fear.
“Every artist struggles with feelings of failure or that your work could’ve been that much better,” he says.
The script was written in 2006 while Barrow was artist-in-residence at Strutts Gallery in Sackville, N.B. During that time he did a character study of a garbageman, tagging along on his rounds.
Storytelling comes naturally to Barrow. As a boy he drew pictures and narratives. Later, he went to the University of Manitoba for art history and video production, graduating in 1995.
Intrigued by fantasy, Barrow is influenced by themes in popular culture, movies, literature and news. He says his work has political messages as well.
“I feel an obligation to wake people up.”
His urgency comes from an overwhelming sensation of a coming apocalypse embedded in media messages.
“Everything [in the media] is leading to an apocalyptic nightmare,” he says, adding that he believes a “tangible and real” end will eventually take place.
The script for Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry was completed in 2009, though it actually premiered in 2008 and won the Images Prize.
His new project, The Kissing Bandit, will be ready next May.
Based on urban legend of the ’60s and ’70s, The Kissing Bandit concerns a cat burglar who breaks into the home of a housewife and plucks her jewellery from her body while she sleeps, kisses her and leaves a rose on her pillow. Barrow says the completed script has supernatural elements, but also has a political twist.
“I am very interested in the idea of retribution, which so often appears in horror films – the victim sacrifice,” he says, referring to narratives where the protagonist has early exploits such as premarital sex.
Some of his favourite horror flicks include Jack Clayton’s The Innocence (1961), Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), and the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Barrow’s work has been shown at several major galleries and festivals in the U.S., as well as at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival.
Winning last year’s $50,000 Sobey Art Award, Barrow says, was a “long road with a happy ending.”
“In my work I try to exhibit my true feelings, exposing myself in a real and authentic way that strikes an emotional chord.”
On his tour of the Yukon, Barrow will make stops at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on November 10 and 11, and at Odd Fellow’s Ballroom in Dawson City on November 14.