Interactive cookies and scares

A baking show and an augmented reality game at the online Fertile Ground festival of new works mix viewing with performing

Interactive art has the power to blur the line between audience and performer—or even turn an audience member into a performer. That’s what happens during Fold in Gently: Recipes for Friendship and Forgiveness (and Fucking Up) and RE: Lilith Lopez, two inventive entries in this year’s Fertile Ground festival that could not have existed if the festival hadn’t gone virtual.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Fold in Gently is a podcast-style performance that was dreamed up by Elsa Dougherty and Rachel Wells. While not all post-COVID 19 podcasts are created equal (Sir Roger Deakins may be a brilliant cinematographer, but he should stay away off the airwaves), Dougherty and Wells have cooked up something ingenious—a communal experience that is as much about memory as it is about food.

“Fold in Gently”: cookies and advice. Photo: Mantel media

Fold in Gently offers a crash course in baking chocolate chip cookies. I was relieved when I realized that I had all of the necessary ingredients (thank god I bought cornstarch!) and when I managed to avoid mangling the cookies, which had a rich, vanilla-y flavor that contrasted delectably with the semisweet chocolate chips I dumped into the batter.

In between talking you through the recipe, Dougherty and Wells interview guests about food-centric recollections. A man recalls devouring a bag of sugar cookies; a woman remembers her deceased brother’s passion for cheese potatoes. For Dougherty and Wells, food isn’t just about consumption. It’s about aging, love and rituals.

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Giovanni Alva, through a shattered glass in “RE: Lilith Lopez.” Photo: Sean Doran

Ritual is also the subject of RE: Lilith Lopez, an impressively bizarre augmented reality game (ARG). Created by the experimental performing arts collective The Reformers (story by Mishelle Apalategui and Caitlin Nolan), it mixes film and social media into a creepy cocktail by serving up narrative fragments that form a tale of supernatural shenanigans.

Like The Blair Witch Project, RE: Lilith Lopez is presented as nonfiction. When I asked to be admitted to the game, I received an email from the assistant to paranormal investigator Tamsin Walsh. I then sifted through Walsh’s blog, which is filled with cryptic videos, including a sinister monologue from Lilith (who may or may not be possessed) and a hearing for a lawyer accused of indecent exposure (he defends himself by declaring that his “penis is not a monster”).

RE: Lilith Lopez can be complicated (the blog requires multiple passwords), but it is consistently fascinating. Like Fold in Gently, it is buoyed by a belief that has improbably made 2021 a breakthrough year for Fertile Ground—that keeping art vital during a pandemic requires more than bringing it to audiences. Audiences also must bring themselves to art.

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