Hug a Tree for 15 Minutes (and Complain to It)

After this challenging year, Marina Abramović, perhaps the world’s most famous performance artist, recommends everyone vent their frustrations to a favorite tree in a public park. She tells you to hug one tightly for no less than 15 minutes and pour out your woes to it. Your angst will be “absorbed in the bark,” and you will feel “rejuvenated.” This is tree-hugging on a whole other level.

Abramović believes there is a degree of energy flow between us and our arboreal friends. “Complaining to the tree is also a way of getting energy out of the tree—to you. And healing you.”

Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom
Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom
Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom

This participatory performance work — Complain to a Tree — is part of series of exercises called the “Abramović Method,” which was developed by the artist to “practice being present.” In Abramović’s most well-known art work, The Artist Is Present, she sat nearly immobile at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City for 736 hours, facing 1,545 visitors over the span of weeks. Being present became a form of “endurance art.”

In the video, Abramović states that “trees are like human beings. They have intelligence. They have feelings. They communicate with each other. And also, they are perfectly silent listeners. You can complain to them.” And she notes that many cultures worship and commune with trees.

For those inclined to try this out in public, Abramović offers guidance:

“One important thing is that you really choose a tree that you like. It can be small and even not that beautiful a tree. But you have some relation to this tree, emotionally. Don’t pick the tree because of the beauty of the tree. Pick the tree because of its smell, the bark, the leaves. Whatever triggers your affection. So look around, and take the tree you like.

Don’t immediately hug the tree. Just feel the energy of the tree. Even not touching it but just holding your hands a little bit above.

And then complain your heart into it. This is the whole idea. Have any of you ever complained to a tree before? No. So this is something that you will be doing for the first time. This is like a journey into the unknown. So get out of your security box and do something that is different.

I hope we can create some kind of trend, that actually people are going to run to the parks and start complaining to the trees. This is one way of healing at this moment of our history.

Complaining to the tree is also a way of getting energy out of the tree—to you. And healing you. So the tree is actually healing the complaint. You’re opening your heart. You’re just telling all your negativity and what bothers you in your life. And the tree is a silent listener. And everything is absorbed into the bark of the tree. And you feel rejuvenated. You feel happy after that.

This is the message for the public. Please—go to the park near you. Pick the tree you like. Hold the tree tight. Really tight. And just pour your heart into it. Complain to the tree for a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s the best healing that you can do.”

The performance was part of a 5-hour public program Abramović produced for the Sky Arts TV channel in the United Kingdom in early December.

One thought on “Hug a Tree for 15 Minutes (and Complain to It)

  1. milliontrees 12/23/2020 / 10:40 am

    That is EXCELLENT advice! Most people have a lot to complain about this year, some more than others. It’s been particularly hard on health professionals, mothers, and children. But the suffering is so widespread that it’s not fair to complain to someone who could be suffering more than you and is certainly suffering as much as you are.
    So why not complain to the trees who have had a tough climate year, but have been spared some of the troubles of human society?
    But this article sends an even more important message that the trees are capable of communication. They have much in common with human society with respect to our mutual need for cooperation and generosity to our neighbors. This article is also an opportunity to inform the public about those capabilities, which we hope will increase the public’s respect for our partners in nature.
    THANKS!!

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