SUMMERWORKS: Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry and The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight, Review by Evan Webber

Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry

Written and Performed by Daniel Barrow

Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, Main Space


August 9th 6:30pm

August 11th 8:30pm

August 14th 8:30pm

August 15th 2:30pm

The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight

Written and Directed by Jordan Tannhill

Presented by Suburban Beast at Rolly's Garage, 124 Ossington Avenue

Featuring: Amelia Sargisson, Marika Schwandt, Tawiah M’carthy, and others.


August 9th 8:00pm

August 10th 6:00pm

August 11th 8:00pm

August 12th 8:00pm

August 13th 8:00pm
August 14th 8:00pm

August 15th 10:00pm

August 16th 8:00pm

In Daniel Barrow’s projection show Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, the Winnipeg-based artist “animates” his performance by manipulating skilfully wrought images on an overhead projector, while he softly intones the chilly story of an solitary garbage thief into the microphone. Barrow’s transparency illustrations are soft, the colours pillowy, and everything is cut with a shock of nausea. They have the stillness of a crime scene photo. Alone, they’re dead, but the overhead projector is the right medium for them; on the screen they vibrate slightly as if about to blast off into space; they get charged by what good puppeteers use to make puppets come to life. Watching them is worth the price of admission, even if the story they tell is a little confusing.

Weird, beautiful pictures notwithstanding, I’ve mostly loved Barrow’s work in the past for the way he situates himself in the audience, for the workmanlike quality with which he approaches performance, which gently acknowledges the pleasurable discipline of both making and seeing live art. But Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry departs from this relational position in a surprising way. Barrow is invisible to us, and we sit in the dark, and gone is the complex picture of a human storyteller, playing among his listeners with his modest but magically sufficient medium. Instead we get an authoritative voice in our heads. This weird, Wagnerian power-play highlights the rich detail of Barrow’s world, and it may offer the artist some measure of – what, control? Or maybe it’s just a move towards higher production values? But by removing the relational obstacle, and dispelling the charm of what is actually happening in the room (which is often a lot of scrambling for lose transparencies), what’s left is actually a rather typical story of tragic alienation and bloody doom. It’s thoughtful, cleverly written, beautifully aestheticized and cold as the clay. Absent the creator, render unseen the breathing, visible idiosyncrasy of the task imposed by the medium, and Barrow’s voice seems merely to say that communication is a lost cause, or an act of violence – and that art is just an attempt to gild the skull. Nestled in the dark of the theatre, I thought it possible that the voice I was hearing was just speaking to itself. Believe it, this is a cautionary tale.

Differently gilded is The Art of Catching Pigeons By Torchlight by Jordan Tannahill’s company Suburban Beast. Tannahill et al are doing something that isn’t easy: looking for a way to combine casual delivery (which is definitely the new normal) with the precision of verbatim text. The former remains elusive here, but under his direction, the company has nailed the latter in a series of precisely detailed character portraits. The subjects are people who work, or go about their business, at night. Simple as that. The portrayals are surprising and generous (and a touch old-fashioned) and the stories the company’s research has generated are compelling. But the production’s mixture of kitsch and studied coolness doesn’t sustain (the theatre is a blanket-fort; the “real” costumes over-composed) and by the end it washes out to reveal an uncritical sentimentality. This tacked-on emotionalism mostly neutralizes the proposal the work is making: that freedom of a kind exists in a conditional truce with the quotidian. More demonstrably: when people feel free, they say beautiful and interesting things. This is a good thing to remember, and thankfully, it still shines through in places. And if you can still believe ts while walking out of a blanket-fort onto Ossington Avenue on a Friday night, it must be at least a little bit true.


Suburban Beast said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful review Evan; if Toronto could always engage in this level of discourse we would be light-years ahead.

With this piece we’ve attempted to marry the aesthetics and conventions of Casual Formalism (I’ve taken the liberty to capitalize) with the inherent artifice of installation and verbatim theatre. I found that it was almost impossible to present verbatim text, and do it any true justice, without committing to honest characterization. The text leads you to it. We tried to find the most honest and conversational manner in which to present them (borrowing aesthetics and conventions from casual formalism to do so). I found the juxtaposition that comes from a character using a microphone to amplify their natural, everyday voice fascinating. But to embrace character is to embrace the theatrical. I have generally been interested in marrying the relational with the composed, and the collisions that come from that. So the carefully crafted costuming, a-cappella choral work, projections, and DIY blanket fort installation are all in an effort to draw attention to the inherent artifice of verbatim recreation, to create an additional layer of semiotic interpretation, and to generate arresting juxtapositions (such relating a story about a vicious rape in the twee surroundings of floral sheets). Similar to Tracey Emin's quilts perhaps.

Thanks so much again for the discourse Evan. And yes... everyone should definitely make time to see Daniel's show. It's breathtaking.

Michael Rubenfeld said...

The first time I saw Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, he was in the audience. This time, it was his choice to sit in the balcony, mostly, I believe, for the sake of picture quality.

I encourage people, if they'd like to watch him work, to sit in the balcony.