Take culture plunge to see if some "arts" is good for you

Culture-shy Katy Harrington decides to try out Cork Midsummer Festival to see if a little arts can be a good experience.

Take culture plunge to see if some "arts" is good for you

I AM what cultured types would refer to as a philistine. I wasn’t always so indifferent to the arts, but years of amateur drama in college and being forced to sit through art house films has somewhat quelled my love of the arts.

Now, if someone asks if I want to see a play, my first question is not ‘what’s it about?’, but ‘how long is it?’ and descriptions of dance performances ‘exploring who we are as individuals’ strike fear in my heart.

Yet when one of the biggest Irish cultural events of the year (Cork’s Midsummer Festival) is happening on your own doorstep, promising ‘unique events in unexpected places’, it seems rude not to at least try to expand my cultural horizons. The challenge is to get to as many events on the opening day as possible, and to keep an open mind.

Thursday 9.30pm: With tickets to an advance screening of a new Cork play the night before the festival officially opens, I take a friend to see Deep, a one-man-show written and performed by Raymond Scannell. The play is about Cork’s best, most-loved and now extinct nightclub, Sir Henry’s.

The script is imaginative, clever, original and Scannell is clearly a gifted writer and actor. He is also distractingly handsome; like Cork’s answer to Colin Farrell, but by 11pm, I am beginning to flag. It’s a dark play, extremely intense and not always easy to watch. Still, if this is the standard-setter for the rest of the festival, I have high hopes.

Friday 11am: The first official day of the festival and I am determined to pack in as much as I can. I start at We Live by the River, an exhibition in CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery. The show focuses on the work of three German artists and celebrates Cork City’s 25th anniversary of twinning with Cologne (who knew?).

Each of the artists brings something new and interesting — from ink and charcoal drawings to video installations of footage captured from inside the cavity of a bridge (which sounds as fun-filled as watching paint dry, but makes you feel like a stowaway). In the visitor’s book, one person sums the show up perfectly: ‘simple is best’.

Friday 12pm: Next stop is the Triskel Christchurch, a trendy spot where effortlessly dressed art students, dapper looking old timers and Cork ‘heads’ gather for leisurely coffees and meetings.

The John Russell exhibition is part of Brinks Helm ‘a micro festival of video and performance art’ and curated by The Black Mariah, ‘an artist-led project and exhibition space’. The exhibition is tiny — a handful of dark paintings that look like they came from the recesses of a very dark mind. . There is also a video installation showing a short film. Watching it feels like being in the mosh pit at a Slayer gig while taking mushrooms and reading the bible, but in a good way.

Friday 1pm: I decide to feast my eyes on some Cubism. My knowledge of Cubism extends to being able to name a few Picassos from what I call his ‘boxy’ period, but that’s why this exhibition is important — to educate thickos like me about the Irish exponents of Cubism. It’s really very good.

Friday 2pm: The Cork Vision Centre isn’t part of the Midsummer festival programme but I want to check out a new show by Cork artist Bill Griffin. It is called Song to Deirdre and is imaginative and joyous, sad and poignant, a little bit weird and a lot brilliant all at the same time.

Friday 3pm: I feel like I have overdosed on art, so I book a ticket to a film called Day is Done by Mike Kelley. I am the only person at the screening, and within minutes I know why. No matter what it is supposed to be — a parody, black comedy or social commentary, it fails miserably for me. It is also three hours long. After 25 minutes, I get up and leave.

Friday 6pm: Last year my friend allowed a primary school child to cut her hair for art. This year the same people are hosting Eat the Street events across Cork restaurants, turning kids to turn food critics. It’s a brilliant idea, but next year I think they should let 10 year olds choose some of the Midsummer programme.

Friday 7pm: Next on the agenda is the Midsummer launch party. This is of no cultural value at all, I just need a drink.

Friday 8pm: I opt for Mick Flannery in the City Hall. The crowd’s reaction reminds me of how appreciative and enthusiastic Irish crowds are.

Friday 10.45pm: The last gig of the day is ‘industrial music legends’ Chris & Cosey. It sounds like someone keeps dropping their keys on my old Casio keyboard from the 80’s. I need to go to bed.

Saturday 4am: There are few things I will get out of bed for at 4am, and it turns out that an outdoor contemporary dance performance exploring ‘the forgotten female’ is not one of them. Witches takes place an ungodly hour, and when my alarm clock goes off at 3.30am, I feel a momentary twinge of guilt and then roll back under the covers. There is a limit to how much I am prepared to suffer for other people’s art.

Saturday 8pm: The only way I can describe The Tale of Ancient Lights is this: a sexy samurai, wearing All Saints A/W 2010 collection loses his mind in the lighting section of Ikea. It is nothing short of brilliant.

I am at the end of my cultural marathon. It’s been both good, bad and indifferent. It’s not easy to make something from nothing, so artists and organisers should be applauded, but maybe there should be a pat on the back for the audiences too.

* For the full programme see: www.corkmidsummer.com

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