Our Lady of Detritus


Our Lady of Detritus

In five public, outdoor NYC sites, August-October 2009

A portable, interdisciplinary performance installation about trash and transcendence; a traveling grassroots campaign fueled by experimentation, green energy sources and community interaction.
Conceived by longtime collaborators choreographer/performer Jill Sigman and composer/vocalist Kristin Norderval, and performed by Sigman, Norderval and Mariana Ferreira, Our Lady of Detritus traveled on a funky “food for thought” cart made of an orange cargo tricycle decorated with fluorescent junk foods and equipped with a portable sound system powered by a combination of solar panels, rechargeable batteries and a 12V hand crank. Using improvisational dance structures and an interactive sound system, Sigman and Norderval enticed passersby into participating in the event and considering questions such as “What’s the last thing you threw away and how long did you have it?” and “Are there things you’ve discarded that you regret?” Audience response in the form of written words, gestures and stories were collected, recycled and combined with Sigman’s personal movement language and Norderval’s original score to raise questions about waste, energy, consumption and what we value.

Choreographer and Visual Designer: Jill Sigman
Composer and Vocalist: Kristin Norderval
Performer: Mariana L. Ferreira
Costume: Zuzka Kurtz
Trike: Stephen Horcha
Portable speaker: Holland Hopson
Solar power design: R. David Gibbs
Project Team: Bethany Wall, Christiana Axelsen, Liz Jenetopulos, Sarah Leonard, Roarke Menzies, Alessandra Larson, Solar One

about building the hemispherical speaker

jill sigman/thinkdance
jill sigman/thinkdance
Solar One: Stuyvesant Cove Park, NYC • September 5–6, 10, 12, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

One man’s trash might be another man’s treasure, but in Our Lady of Detritus, Jill Sigman gives us a good measure of both. From late summer to early fall, Sigman toured this “portable, interdisciplinary performance installation” to several New York City parks, providing a free spectacle and a blend of wonder, mystification, education, expiation, and motivation to folks who just happened to be hanging around or passing through. I caught it on a perfect day by the East River at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Cove Park, home of the green energy arts and education center Solar One.

Sigman portrays the hallowed lady, festooned in flourescent orange and hot pink and—look closely now—recycled plastic doodads, found or donated. In a procession launched from Solar One’s headquarters, Our Lady is borne on an elaborately decorated wagon, pulled through the park’s esplanade by her composer/singer/DJ (Kristin Norderval) on a pedal-powered “food for thought” vending cart, and heralded by a carnival barker (Mariana Ferreira). The remarkable sights and sounds might remind viewers of religious processions honoring Hindu deities or Mediterranean, Mexican, or Afro-Atlantic saints.

The Lady has come to hear our sins—all about the trash that individuals and industries discard without concern for environmental and health consequences. She has come laden with the green tech of solar panels and rechargeable batteries; a voicemail system that, when called from our cellphones, serves as a 21st-century confessional booth; and a wagonload of Cheez Doodles, apparently the saint’s sacrificial offering of choice.

The description sounds nutty, but the visual and aural effects—particularly the colorful, exacting display designed by Sig­man and Norderval’s operatic chant­ing—can be captivating. All the better to get folks to stop, look, listen, and maybe pick up an informational brochure on composting or a postcard listing numerous green-friendly resources. And, if that’s not enough, there’s Ferreira holding a contorted pose—she rolls herself up like a blanket—while manically chattering about a floating garbage patch in the Pacific. It’s huge, and she suggests that we might like to vacation or even relocate. “Celebrities buy land there,” she cries, “because it will last forever!”

When the heat of the late summer sun got to be too much—and the sight of the Sainted One walking around with orange snack food stuck to her butt too absurd—I made my way past the gibbering Ferreira, the fishermen dipping rods into the toxic river, and the imposing view of Con Edison’s plant just south of the park’s end. All the way home, though, I noticed, with more intensity, all the trash on our streets.