In Brief

Why Did the Tree Cross the Road? Because Performance Art

A performance artist dressed as a tree went for a walk in Portland, Maine, and the police had something to say about it.

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Arboreal antics in Portland, Maine (GIF by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic via @TVTEDDY/Twitter)

It was a sunny afternoon in downtown Portland, Maine, and a tree was lumbering across a crosswalk in front of the Portland Museum of Art, causing a traffic jam. It was, of course, performance art — executed yesterday by local artist Asher Woodworth — and it ended in arrest.

The woody perennial plant imposter had his act axed by police who charged him with obstructing a public walkway. Our arboreal man was moving at a glacial pace, apparently attempting to bring “attention to the everyday dances that we’re doing,” as he told the New York Daily News. “We’re executing certain socially construed choreographies that we often take for granted.”

Officers had attempted to guide the tree off the roads and gave it multiple warnings, but it was all pine and no ears, giving them no other option but to nip its dance in the bud and trim it down to human form. They had even tried to identify it during the performance, according to WCSH, but perhaps failed since no one thought to call a dendrologist. (Woodworth told the Daily News that the branches all came from Maine’s wilderness, and took two hours to assemble on his person.)

Evading status as an ex-conifer, Woodworth, according to WMTV, was later released on $60 bail. Rather than a sporadic germination, this latest performance seems to have taken root a while ago: on his website, Woodward posted photographs of straw and tree figures from rituals, captured by Marcus Leatherdale and Charles Fréger. The Portland artist describes himself as “interested in facilitating diverse experiences of being-in-the-world.” Previously, he staged a performance in a supermarket (the description is vague, but it seems to have involved prolonged gazing at coolers that attracted many stares from other shoppers). He also made headlines in 2009, when another intervention to remove the sign from a Chili’s and gift it to a friend as a symbolic gesture — attracted the police.

You might say he has not branched out much since.

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