September 14, 2016
Of the tiny tidbits, sweeping issues, and overarching ideas in Jill Sigman’s
Weed Heart, the most effective convergence is plant conversation. Sigman sets up
Gibney Dance Center’s downtown space appropriately for audiences to take up the
practice. On the second floor, pillows intersperse with plants. At once a meeting
ground, meditation center, and library, one easily hears the sheer presence of
organisms used to being chopped away. Tracing the dignified history of plants we
have learned to consider pests, Sigman preps us to tackle analogous issues of racism
without diminishing the botanical content of her metaphor.
Downstairs in the Agnes Varis Performance Lab, doors open to a hanging
garden: a fishing cage sheltering bundles of sprouts in soil-filled t-shirts, ruined
siding perfectly arced to cradle grass, and a bedframe holding more bundles in its
springs. Welcomed with tea brewed with a weed once known as loveage, we connect
biologically to the performance’s elements.
Though wearing a large leaf as a mask, the proceeding fiery accumulation of
articulations is the same person who greeted us with a cup of tea. Sigman lightly
traces a circle, between a jig and a spar. Her weight gradually increases, feet widen,
and chest drops to slowly descend a wall, stiffly planked for the duration.
Accompanying this journey is Kristin Norderval with a computer and
additional found objects. Electronic drones underpin live vocalizations – tribal
yodels, angelically soaring tones, and gruff ornamentations.
The test of interdisciplinary work is the intersecting of media. Katrina De
Wees, functioning as an acolyte, places bundles onto Sigman’s sternum and waters
them, as though the roots could pierce down her torso. Norderval steps in to hum on
her throat – at once the jaws of life and the bite of a vampire. Sigman herself
vocalizes, facedown, increasing volume and pitch to invigorate what lies below.
This downward yearning is no accident.
It just so happens Gibney sits over a
fraction of grounds designated for African burials in colonial New York. Across the
street in City Hall Park was the Commons where one could forage and practice
rituals openly and safely (until it was later privatized), meanwhile City Hall itself
was for rebel executions. The layers of the land are so loaded, the only direction to
go is down, and deeply so.
Sigman’s costume becomes all the more charged: a
hoodie clenched tightly around her face, acknowledging those endangered for
strolling in a comfortable article of clothing. Wearing the greenery parallels
advocacy for weeds and Black Lives alike.
As an audience, we are offered, invited, but never pressured with
participation. We remember collectively. Bypassing the problematic recollecting of
something not experienced through someone else’s interpretation, Sigman proposes
a definition of reversed dismemberment (“re-limbing”) with the help of a soup
additionally made with the installation’s leafy components.
Such tender interaction
generates consent for a post-show trip to the parking lot, situated above more
bones, home to the tree bearing the masking leaf. Sigman waters it despite the
asphalt’s stranglehold around which whose mere existence is a feat.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews