Artist Jill Sigman, left, with her installation “Hut #4.” — Photos by Rachel Eisley
Entering One Grattan Street yields a familiar Bushwick sight: an industrial stairway leading to snaking hallways full of metal doors, behind each an artist’s studio. On Tuesday evening, one door was wide open, and welcoming to anyone passing by. Jill Sigman, Artistic Director of ThinkDance, has opened her studio to the public on multiple occasions this month in conjunction with her Hut project, which involves constructing a series of site-specific huts out of found and discarded materials.
Hut #4, which currently occupies her studio, is comprised of trash she found in and around her studio building as well as natural materials such as wormwood that she wrangled from Newtown Creek, the nearby toxic inlet. While dance movement is usually central to Sigman’s work, the Hut project is installation-based.
Sigman’s involvement with the community, especially her invitation to enter the Hut to sustain targeted conversations, adds interactive performance to her repertoire.
"I make experimental dance theater, and lately its gone in the direction of involving performance/installation, so there are a lot of pieces that have a specific environment, or objects and movement," said Sigman. "The Hut project is a sort of environment which has grown out of a previous project, in which we had a portable performance installation that traveled publicly from borough to borough, raising awareness about trash, and what people do with their trash."
When first surveying Hut #4, the fact that it is constructed of found materials and refuse is not initially obvious because of its incredibly elegant and engaging construction. Translucent and lithe, Hut #4 glows from the inside due to a single compact fluorescent light bulb hung from the center. The light penetrates the roof and sides of the structure which are largely made of discarded plastic and bubble wrap. It is reminiscent of a large jellyfish, buttressed with delicate wormwood branches, moving gently in the light breeze from the open windows of the studio. This combination of qualities is meant to raise questions about the environment, consumption, real estate, and, says the artist, "more personal questions about what a home is, and what a home will be in the future."
On Tuesday, visitors sat within the hut, figures in silhouette against the walls, drinking tea prepared by Sigman, conversing. They bemoaned the closing of art space Rubulad, the recent Loft Laws were debated, and the issues of gentrification and preserving neighborhood integrity were examined.
"I feel like it’s really important to have these questions raised artistically or poetically," said Sigman, "but also have a very real-world information and application which they can apply if they want to do something about it."
Through the site-specificity of the Hut project (e.g., in Bushwick), Sigman hopes to initiate a series of conversations meaningful to the local community. The interactivity of the installations has become central to their form: during another open studio a few days prior, Sigman asked visitors to draw floor plans of their apartments which she incorporated into Hut #4; the drawings are suspended by ribbon and clothespins inside. The conversation has become central to the work.
"Sunday’s open hut day involved visitors calling a phone number which had a secret message on the voicemail, which lead them to me in the hut," recounted Sigman. "We talked about their earliest memories of home, and their wishes for their current neighborhood, and whether they think the world will end or not."
Although Tuesday evening didn’t draw a crowd of town-meeting size, those who attended had plenty to offer the conversation. Several members of local organization Arts in Bushwick were present, clearly well versed in all topics covered. The Hut project sheds further light on community involvement in Bushwick, and what Sigman hopes to accomplish by having conversations with the community.
For more information on the Hut project and the interactive activities surrounding them, visit thinkdance.wordpress.com.