by Nuala Murphy © 2012
On an inclement day in Cork City, I'm standing on the street, happily hanging tea-cups of different colours and patterns, onto the façade of a pink house, musing that certain members of my family might just veer off the road if they drive past and see me! This delightful madness is for an excellent cause! It's the Cork mid-summer festival, when for ten days in June every year, Corkonians revel in concerts, plays, dance performances and the arts in general.
This year, while volunteering as a steward for the festival, I've encountered a true house of wonders- Hungry Tea. Hungry Tea is a live art installation taking place on the Watercourse Road, Blackpool. An English artist called Mark Storor, and the women of a community-based art group called Creative Connections, have taken over a slightly dilapidated house and transformed it for a few days, into something extraordinary.
As a volunteer, my job is to stand outside the house and distribute pens and paper to visitors, so they can give feedback on their experience as they leave. These pieces of paper are then hung up on the house's façade. I also keep an eye on visitors' handbags and personal possessions when they enter the installation. Visitors are requested by the artist not to bring anything into the house; the idea being I think, to leave all baggage, whether literal or metaphorical, outside!
I don't know exactly what is going on inside, but standing outside the house, it's interesting to hear the comments of curious passers-by, some of whom are on their way home from the pub, and are unsure what's going on!
"Come 'ere, all these cups up on the wall, but no saucers? I'd just like to know, where are all the saucers?"
"What's it about anyway? I just want to know that, what's it about?"
From my vantage point on the street, I catch a few glimpses of a woman standing in a long white dress in one of the upstairs windows of the house, smoking a cigarette.
Towards the end of the afternoon, I go for a tour of the art installation myself.
Inside Hungry Tea
In one of the first rooms on the ground floor of the house, is a Congolese woman, standing in traditional dress, surrounded by African maps. We chat for a while, about different topics, including Congolese mountain gorillas. (Gorillas in the mist is a favourite film for me).
Back to Hungry Tea, and one of its themes is domesticity. Domestic implements feature in unexpected places in the house. In a corridor on the ground floor, spoons and other items of cutlery protrude from a wall. Also on the wall are little pieces of text, in which a woman has described her feelings and her struggle to cope with life's challenges.
Further inside the ground floor of the house is the kitchen. Up next to the sink, in a place where it might be more usual to find washing-up liquid or pot-scrubbers, is a woman sitting in silence. Is she really sitting there with her feet in the kitchen sink, or am I imagining it?
Also on the ground floor is the bathroom, every square inch of which has been decorated with traditional J (cleaning) cloths.
There are another two floors of the art installation upstairs. In one bedroom, the floor is strewn with the personal items of a woman's life, clothes, high-heels, books and a box of tampons. The woman in the white dress flits past as I stand there.
Another bedroom is decorated as an upside-down room. A small table hangs upside-down from the ceiling, while a ceiling light-fitting graces the floor of the room.
Also upstairs is another African woman with a suitcase in front of her. The suitcase is full of pairs of socks which she offers to visitors of Hungry Tea. I thank her, but decline her offer, deciding that I am ok for socks!
Finally, I enter a room, the walls of which are decorated with interesting charcoal drawings. The scene in front of me is touching, and Cinderella-like. The room is dusty with the charcoal, and kneeling on the floor is a woman, grey from the charcoal herself, busy sweeping with a dust-pan and brush.
I found the whole art installation wonderful. Surreal, beautiful, domestic, zany, creative…. Hungry Tea brought a house to life with the stories of a group of interesting women, and touched visitors and volunteers alike during the 2012 midsummer festival.