All the city is a stage in this captivating project from curators Lola Arias and Stefan Kaegi, and all the players merely men and women.
Embedding performances in functional spaces, Ciudades Paralelas (Parallel Cities) places real people (including audience members) at the centre of playful installations or documentaries, asking us to take a closer look at familiar places.
Viewed together, the eight pieces provide an alternative tour of the city, but its true agenda is to examine experience rather than space.
Each encounter with a factory worker, a cleaner, or a young blind man suggests an alternative title, were it not already taken: Parallel Lives.
In Chamber Maids (****), for which we visit a succession of hotel rooms, Arias lets five participants tell vivid stories through various methods; one as modest and direct as a letter on a desk, another as elaborate as an audio installation in a room impressively transformed into a forest. Alive to its discreet examination of migrant labour, Arias is equally sensitive to the voices she encounters, flooring you with their history, dreams and candour and telling us an awful lot about the unsavoury habits of guests, who most frequently forget two appliances: phone chargers and vibrators. “The mobile chargers, we give back,” smiles one Latvian maid.
Less socially engaged, but no less fascinating, The Quiet Volume (****) in UCC’s Boole library asks you to consider the act of reading.
Taking instruction from a synchronised MP3 player, two people observe their surroundings, dip in and out of different texts, constantly entering or being roused from the near dream state of fiction. Playing Italo Calvino-style games of appreciation and confusion, it is, in short, essential reading.
The haunting choir of composer Christian Garcia’s In The Name of the People (****) do something similar with text, lifting Renaissance liturgical hymns through the grand atrium of Cork Courthouse, then singing or stating details of Irish cases either curious or sombre.
Those reports seem poised between satire and criticism, but the ethereal harmonies seem less interested in justice than reconciliation.
Ciudades Paralelas, which has been performed in several countries, imposes its own map on the city, but the city always asserts its own character. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than Stefan Kaegi’s Review (***), which recruits a blind musician to lead our way to Cork City Hall’s rooftop. Charming and brisk, Robert Creed also brings a devout Catholicism to the project and although Kaegi is primarily interested in how he negotiates the world physically, he lets Creed’s religion colour the piece, from his mother’s prayers and his experience of a miracle to a composition entitled God Lightens the Darkened Path. The point is subtle and sensitive; in the city we all find our own way.
In La Fábrica (****), though, we’re carefully led through the Barry’s Tea factory, and again the marvel of Gerardo Naumann’s piece is how forthcoming and unaffected his participants can be within a corporate structure. From managing director Tony Barry, whom we first glimpse in his executive saloon car, to general operative Krystian Waligora, everyone is paid due attention and equal respect, and Naumann finds telling personal details or nimble devices to expand personal stories into global narratives.
It is warm, yes, but mercifully not too cosy; a collaborative and illuminating documentarian effort, which, like the rest of the project, keeps voyeurism and exploitation carefully at bay. That may be the project’s most important and hard-won asset. We are guests in these parallel cities, not tourists.