Hatch Twelve: Kathryn Cooper

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Kathryn Cooper: Union, Connection, Contact – The Gesture Perfection Class

There are further virtual/real crossovers in Nottingham based artist and performer Kathryn Cooper’s Union, Connection, Contact – The Gesture Perfection Class, a series of deadpan participatory self-development workshops in which Cooper promises to help those who have lost their real-world social skills during too many hours interacting with other people only on social media to regain their ability to function offline, in the ‘meat space’ of actual handshakes, introductions and raised-glasses rather than the ‘cyberspace’ of clicking like and adding or deleting friends in your digital accounts.

Structured as a yoga class, participants begin by reclining on mats and joining Cooper in a visualisation exercise to prepare themselves for the exercises to come, a segment that seems to be done pretty straight. Once everyone is suitably prepared, both mentally and in terms of awareness of the body, Cooper begins a series of exercises designed to reintroduce  us to concepts like ‘saying hello to an actual person’, ‘bidding farewell to an actual person’ and – for those unavoidable family and work occasions that can’t be attended via a Skype link from your laptop – how to hold a glass of wine and raise it in a convincing imitation of a toast.

It’s everyday stuff presented as elaborate ritual, which much of what we take for granted as basic social nicety really is. But Cooper’s ability to keep a straight face and play the session in an entirely persuasive imitation of the approach of any genuine corporate skills workshop raises the humour bar substantially and allows her smaller subversive flourishes to hit neatly home. Near the end of one session, in a closing relaxation exercise, she invites her group to picture their own gravestone embedded with a small screen, where their last Facebook posts – probably a comment on a cat photo – will be preserved as something to remember them by for all eternity.

The execution is light but the core material’s exploration of the social downsides of over-reliance on digital communication and online anonymity is not so different to many rather more serious and academic treatments of the same notions elsewhere. Somehow, the idea that we might need corporate re-training in even the most basic social skills, the kinds of introductory ‘getting to know each other’ stuff that precedes everything else, is both darkly comic (the market will over-complicate and sell back to us even the most stupidly obvious things if we let it) and perhaps even a little touching in its urge to rebuild real connections between individuals.

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