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Winnipeg Babysitter curator splices the weirdest from the golden age of cable access

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Image from Daniel Barrow's Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry
Image from Daniel Barrow’s Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry

Interview—Winnipeg artist Daniel Barrow

– by Shawn Conner

Last year, I had my mind blown by Winnipeg Babysitter.

It’s a collection of clips curated by Winnipeg artist Daniel Barrow. Barrow has spliced together pieces from the Videon channel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The anthology brought back memories with clips from Survival (a mockapolyptic talk show with director Guy “My Winnipeg” Maddin, among others), Alternative Rockstand with Dan Pachet (the first time I saw Madonna! and Sylvester!) and The Cosmopolitans. The Cosmopolitans were two Scandinavian ladies who moved to Winnipeg, took up performing at old folks’ homes—and filmed it! That time—the late seventies to mid-eighties—was a kind of Wild West period for public access cable TV.

Johnny Zhivago (Winnipeg band) on Alternative Rockstand (video):

But it also exposed me to some shows I hadn’t been aware of. These include such classics of DIY programming as “Math with Marty” and “Metal Inquisition” (featuring Fearless Pig and Terrible Dog).

Some of the participants, like the two high school students putting on a surprisingly funny comedy show, were fully aware of what they were doing. Others were engaged in, whether they knew it or not, a kind of outsider art.

Winnipeg Babysitter is not just a collection of clips though. Barrow has been touring it around, presenting the footage along with additional info about the makers and creators. Barrow projects these delicious little factoids onto the screen via an overhead projector.

Barrow uses overhead projections in his other work as well. The Face of Everything was inspired by the story of Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson. Barrow’ s new “manual animation” show is titled Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry (yes, after the Luba song). I talked to Barrow about his various projects.

Watch – The Cosmopolitans, “Make Love to Me”:

Overhead projectors facts

Shawn Conner: Is there a Cadillac of overhead projectors, like a model of German engineering or something?

Daniel Barrow: I think there is. I have my favourite. It’s a Bell and Howell 3016. The light is different, it puts a gold cast on the image. And the focus is also different, and it has a wicked throw. I can work with it in any space. But it doesn’t have a spare bulb, and I usually opt for something that does.

SC: Is there a community of overhead projector types?

DB: There is now. I wasn’t aware when I first started. But now there are quite a few people, especially out of Toronto*, who use overhead projectors now.

SC: I saw a Final Fantasy show where someone was using an overhead projector.

DB: Yeah. I used to perform with Hidden Cameras, and Owen [Pallet] left the band and got someone else to do it when he formed Final Fantasy.

SC: Were you the go-to student in high school when it came to overhead projectors?

DB: No, but that’s where I started using them. I was pretty inspired by an art history professor who used an overhead projector. She was like an ex-nun who’d been working at the school probably for probably close to 50 years, and she’d been using the same lectures, so they were very structured, and almost theatrical because the script was totally locked and had been for decades.

And she would always use two spy projections, and do a compare and contrast. She would do this kind of theatrical presentation, then turn off the slide projectors and walk over to the overhead projector, and everything she’d just said had been condensed into point-form notation. She wanted everyone to have the same notes. And then she would read her notes while she hand-cranked this whole ream of text. And she had a very beautiful, lilting voice, and there was something very evocative about this combination of her voice and scrolling imagery. I started parodying her in my studio classes. It was a big hit so I kept doing it, and gradually it became more pictorial and more narrative.

On Winnipeg Babysitter

SC: How did Winnipeg Babysitter come about?

DB: There used to be two cable companies in Winnipeg: Winnipeg Cablevision on the east side of the river and Videon on the west side. Videon purchased Winnipeg Cablevision, and set up this archive of public acces television from Winnipeg in their studios. Eventually Shaw purchased Videon, and they came in and did a lot of restructuring. They had no attachment to this history, and they just trashed the entire archive.

So it was gone; at the time, when I’d heard this, I was a distribution coordinator at Video Pool. I was in charge of the archive and we’d just built this climate and humidity controlled vault for videotape, so it occurred to me then that someone should start recompiling that history. But I didn’t do anything about it immediately. I only really started ambitiously compiling that archive three years later, in 2004.

The Pollock and Pollock Show from Winnipeg Babysitter
The Pollock and Pollock Show.

SC: Where did you find the clips?

DB: Almost everyone had VHS copies they’d taped for themselves off television.

SC: How much was lost?

DB: Oh, who knows. Winnipeg Babysitter really is an archive that starts around 1983, 1984, which represents the advent of the consumer-grade VCR. Because that’s when started people started taping off TV. Everything before that is lost.

SC: So is there more where that came from?

DB: Yeah, when I presented it in Winnipeg it was two programs. It was about four hours, and I have way more than that. I watched hours and hours of TV to compile the 90-minutes that you saw. We got a grant to create the Winnipeg Babysitter DVD, so I’m putting that together. I’m just working on the bonus extras section now.

Barrow’s Every Time I See Your Picture

SC: Is Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry a more autobiographical for you?

DB: If you’re looking for it, you’ll see parallels between Winnipeg Babysitter and Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry, because it’s about this garbage man who is compiling an independently produced phone book. He’s sifting through everyone’s garbage to include personal information to include in this book, he’s peering through the windows of their homes. I was working on the two projects simultaneously so there are parallels.

SC: It seems like the theme might be someone’s life being consumed by an art project.

DB: Or failed artists trying to kickstart their own creative process with their own quasi-art project. That’s the case with Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry. It’s about a garbage man who has art-school training but never imagined any other destiny for himself. But he’s decided to use the circumstances to create this piece of artwork that will benefit his community. But what he doesn’t realize is, he’s being followed by this serial killer, who’s murdering everyone he includes in his phone book. Thereby rendering it obsolete.

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