Through Saturday, March 31
The Fruit, Durham
At sunset we stood amid construction cones. On the roof of The Fruit, a trumpeter serenaded the fading light and the silhouette of downtown. Ginger Wagg, bulbous in a suit of crumpled blue paper and netting, waddled into the crowd, fishing out tiny multicolored slips and handing them to us. Mine read, “To free from difficulties.”
I’m expecting at some point to not know what’s going on, I heard one audience member admit to another about the show to come.
It reminded me of some promotional text I’d read about Ginger Wagg and Wild Actions’ Frivolous Artist: “If you come away with more questions than answers, have you wasted your night?” The show offers, if not answers, then carefully constructed pathways toward questions about art-making and participation. These pathways feel more deliberate than those in AndAlwaysWhy, Wagg’s choose-your-own-adventure-like show, which inaugurated the Carrack Modern Art’s new location in June 2016.
Frivolous Artist, a work that travels through The Fruit’s nooks and crannies under the guidance of its performers, offers just the right amount of nudging to move the audience between a handful of scenes. For me, each invitation to advance through the work—a slowly opened door, a movement sequence that continued lunging forward—encouraged a reappraisal of present action and a fear of leaving something behind. The dance is the feeling of yourself caught between urges. As a performer, Wagg stokes this feeling, chatty and natural with the crowd one moment, piercingly preoccupied with another world the next. Her presence is formidable and singular.
Having mostly shed her paper and netting, Wagg leads us around The Fruit’s perimeter. Along the train tracks, Carley McCready, wearing a beige jumpsuit, presides over a rectangle of dirt as we gather on a platform, stairs, and the ground near her bounded lot. It’s a playground full of irreverently arranged objects: brick stacks, a sledgehammer, an empty glove atop a cement dome. McCready works with these pieces for several minutes, sidling up to them, seeing how she fits into their negative space. She punctures her organizing with an exaggerated sigh and a wink. Overt theatricality bleeds into mundane handiwork.
Before long, muffled music (Kate Bush’s caustic riff on theater stardom, “Wow”) begins to sound from inside. A portal has been opened. The crowd is gradually ushered in. Outside, “Wow” gives way to the roar of a passing train, the unwitting accompaniment to so many performances in downtown Durham. McCready, now wearing the dome on her head, senses the train’s approach and thrusts up an arm to wave at the passing cars. When McCready’s pose commingles with the blue-and-silver blur, a performance that had seemed flung wide to the sloped roads just past downtown narrows into something small, special, and finite. I felt compelled to film it on my phone, to fashion it into a keepsake.
There is always the question of what remains when the dance is done. What do we take away? Where’s the evidence that anything happened? (Later in the show, there’s a particularly satisfying group-photo-that-isn’t.) We’re conditioned to think that the more concrete and illustrative the art and its documentation are, the better—the more valuable and less frivolous.
But throughout Frivolous Artist, Wagg is choreographing us. Whether we realize it or not, we carry the kinesthetic memory of watching and making this set of encounters, of moving through this living museum. There’s no overly prescribed end, no clean takeaway—only a set of containers and conditions that we populate with our individual and collective energy. (On Monday evening, the final sequence was led by a portion of the audience excitedly banging metal objects together.)
What we leave with is ourselves: the choices we made, the paths we didn’t take. What could be less frivolous?