Barrow combines old-fashioned storytelling with "manual" animation, projecting, layering and manipulating his own stunning drawings on an overhead projector while he intones an accompanying spoken-word narrative into an adjacent microphone. For this year's PuSh Festival, Barrow premiered a new work, Good Gets Better, which maps his childhood fascination with the Kissing Bandit onto the classic Harlequin figure in order to explore questions of melancholy and the beauty of sadness. Barrow's thief of the night steals from the super rich not necessarily to give to the poor, but rather to plant within those he has robbed a nascent notion of the value of valuelessness. A second work, Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors, is at once an ode to the social aesthetics of gay cruising, a love letter to Winnipeg, and a rumination on artistic influence and genealogy, with portraiture and the epistolary novel, among other self-reflective forms, occasioning various crises of identification in our tortured, watchful narrator.
Barrow's repurposing of obsolescent technologies combines with a romantic sensibility to bathe his audiences in a lush wash of nostalgia: for the picture books and puppet shows and shadow animation of one's youth; and, perhaps most poignantly, for what memories of those media have to say about how open to wonderment one was when young. In this age of big-budget spectacle and digital effects, it's refreshing to have artists like Barrow use the digits on their hands to transport us back every now and then to the magic of the analogue world.
A special shout-out to Florence Barrett, costume designer extraordinaire on The Objecthood of Chairs, who worked as Barrow's assistant last night, passing him successive overhead drawings with precision and aplomb.
Here endeth my 2011 PuSh reviews. With the dress rehearsal of La Marea and a partial viewing of Iqaluit (which I still hope to finish), I saw 14 shows over 20 days--which just might be a record for me. According to our latest figures, attendance this year is up more than 20%, surpassing 23,000. And it's not over yet: performances of several shows continue today and tomorrow. Consult the PuSh Festival website for more details, and see you next year.