Cooper House does not look like a building that’d house contemporary live art performance pieces and an audio-visual installation. In fact, it took me about four trips around the outside before I realised that this 70s tower block was very definitely the home of Manchester based organisation ‘Word of Warning’s’ new mini-festival, Domestic. Kitchens, bathrooms and balconies were the stages of Domestic, scattered in flats dotted all over the huge Cooper House, coexisting alongside the building’s permanent residents and it was this confrontation with reality that made it such an interesting weekend. For me, Domestic began with a 55 minute long performance by Belgian artist Leentje Van de Cruys entitled ‘Kitsch N Sync’ which explored the significance of the kitchen as a domestic space. As me, and eleven other nervous looking audience members shuffled into the dingy flat on the building’s top floor, I realised that these performances were going to be something special. Dressed in stilettos and a gold-sequined dress, Van de Cruys comically stumbled and tripped her way over the potatoes lining the kitchen’s floor whilst reflecting on her role as a wife and a lover. It felt like her eyes never left yours as we stared earnestly up at her while she moved around the room, pulling potatoes from her heels and revealing mysterious blue lights within cupboards. The most striking moment in the piece came when Van de Cruys physically imitated the cycle of a washing machine, shaking and convulsing whilst holding a packet of washing powder. She revealed her breasts and suddenly became a fragile, vulnerable embodiment of the monotonous, beige life she portrayed. With two short pieces booked on Saturday, I set out for Cooper House expecting a similar experience to ‘Kitsch N Sync’ that had still maintained some theatrical conventions. However, my preconceptions were soon to be proved wrong. The first piece was Jo Bannon’s ‘Exposure’, a one-on-one encounter, described as ‘an investigation into how we look’. I was nervous as I entered the dimly lit living room where one of the festival’s helping hands took my coat and bag before showing me to a door in the corner of the room. The nine minute encounter behind this door was hugely powerful and inspired a mood of self-reflection which may not have been entirely helpful leading into the next free ‘encounter’ of the day – Julia Wilson’s ‘Shower Scenes’. With only a short break between the two, I barely had any time to recover from ‘Exposure’ before I found myself undressing in the living room of another flat! Don’t worry, prior to this I had been shown in to the flat by the artist and instructed to undress – I hadn’t gone completely insane. These instructions were issued by a mysterious pre-recorded electronic voice over an intercom system and before I knew it, I found myself having a full-on, real shower while the voice instructed me which shampoos and shower gels to use! However, the tone of the voice began to change and I soon realised quite how dark the bathroom really was. Abstract and threatening projections began to appear on the shower curtain, quickly manipulating the atmosphere from one of comfort to one of unease and tension, as images of pools of blood and terrifying silhouettes seemed to dominate my vision. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the projections ended and I found myself, fully clothed, back in the living room. The usher that had shown me to and from all of the other performances was nowhere to be found when I left the flat and it gave me a chance to reflect on a performance that truly engaged with the idea of the voyeur and surely, when living in culture where we can see and hear most of the world from the comfort of our home, this is a topic that needs addressing. I left Cooper House in the early evening, satisfied that I had ‘witnessed’ two incredibly different but both equally gut-wrenching ‘encounters’. I approached Sunday’s performances with a slight apprehension after Saturday’s experiences. I began by seeing J. Fergus Evans’ ‘My Heart Is Hitchhiking Down Peachtree Street’, the longest performance of Domestic so far at an hour and ten minutes in length and, in many ways, the most like a piece of theatre so far. We were ushered into the sweltering (we were soon to discover that this was a deliberate heating choice in order to imitate summer in the State of Georgia) Cooper House apartment where Fergus proceeded to outline what life is like in Georgia, focusing in particular on his experiences as a young homosexual man and using animation, storytelling and spoken word to create a well-rounded experience. I enjoyed touches such as the passing round of Bourbon and peaches but on the whole, I found the piece slightly jarring as I was unsure to what degree Fergus himself was ‘acting’ as he often suddenly moved from seemingly natural, unrehearsed conversation to completely scripted spoken word piece with no transition or word of warning. The next, and final, piece of the Domestic festival was similar to ‘My Heart Is Hitchhiking Down Peachtree Street’ but, in my opinion, far more engaging. The artist’s, Greg Woohead, made minimal but imaginative use of the video camera and had a comic performance style. This provided an uplifting end to a weekend of many ups-downs, ins and outs. I came away from the festival hugely satisfied and with the feeling that I had truly witnessed some really intimate, personal and thought-provoking encounters. Look out for Word of Warning’s final performance of the season with Stacy Makishi’s one-night only performance at Z-Arts on Friday, definitely will be worth a watch!
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