Hatch at NEAT14: Wealth’s Last Caprice by Chris. Dugrenier

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Chris. Dugrenier‘s last appearance at Hatch took the form of Elan Vital, a scratch piece in which she combined an exercise class for her audience with her own quest to perform a perfect gymnastic back-walkover, all at an age when such a thing was liable to be difficult if not entirely beyond her physical reach. Perhaps there’s a certain intentional irony, then, in the fact that Wealth’s Last Caprice explores Elan Vital‘s opposite, the fact that we will inevitably run out of time and leave behind not just unfinished business and unrealised goals, but quite a lot of accumulated stuff.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Taking the form of a will-writing session (staged, appropriately enough for a legal process, in a neutral office space inside the Galleries of Justice), those of us in the audience are asked to be her witnesses and partial beneficiaries. The will made is, incidentally, genuine and legally binding – though it is revoked by that made in any subsequent performance. Dugrenier begins by printing out a copy of her last will and testament. She has, she explains, carefully itemised every single item in her possession, several thousand things ranging from books in French and English and a hundred and sixty-plus pens, to an easel, a silver pilates ball, a box of cassette tapes and a lot of socks. Not content with merely counting and listing her material possessions, she also photographs them, screening images of tangled cables, single socks, swimming goggles and caps along the way.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The question she poses is what all this stuff means. Imagining herself gone, she wonders what use these things will be to those who might inherit them. We learn her estate’s total purchase cost, then divide it by the number of objects to find the average value of its contents. We hear personal stories attached to certain objects. One sequence maps the process of falling in love through the objects – saucepans, an artist’s print, an engagement ring – to which Dugrenier’s memories are connected. The debris on some level represents a life – specifically the eighteen years since Dugrenier arrived in England – but on another level is mostly a heap of everyday junk that only means anything because Dugrenier herself invests it with meaning.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Dropped in among Dugrenier’s explanations of her will’s intentions and her valuation of her own estate are projected sequences of handwritten ledger pages with readings from other wills, made in other times and places. One husband leaves his estate to a wife on the condition that she spends a year with her mouth taped shut, another expresses unconditional love in a single phrase: “what is mine is thine”. One will leaves nothing tangible at all, merely lists memories and some of the moments experienced in life, while another leaves only a letter and its author’s own body, reduced to a candle, to the object of his unrequited love.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Whatever the motive behind its drafting, a will reveals its potential to be a weapon of vengeance, an appeal to the future, a kind of eulogy, declaration and self-portrait all at once. Dugrenier, like many of us, has little of material value to bequeath – and seems burdened by the weight of even what she does have, despite a temperamental inability to get rid of even the least useful or sentimentally charged things. But Dugrenier is keen to redefine her estate as the traces of a life, perhaps lived well – something other than the physical things left behind even as those things might, occasionally, feel connected to us. In short, Wealth’s Last Caprice is a light, touching and optimistic piece about the inevitability of death – which is surely a harder balance to find than Dugrenier makes it seem here.

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