As It Happens

Police arrest tree in Portland, Maine for blocking traffic at busy intersection

Police in Portland, Maine arrest a tree for blocking traffic. The evergreen tells us that he's a "tree spirit" whose art was impeded by the choreography of arrest.
Asher Woodworth is an artist who dressed up like an evergreen tree. (Twitter/@CurtFletcher)

Police arrested a tree in Portland, Maine on Monday for impeding traffic at a busy intersection.

Underneath the evergreen branches was Asher Woodworth, 30, an artist who was inspired by a book of photographic portraits by Charles Fréger called "Wilder Mann." 

"It's all these wonderful, rural, ceremonial costumes throughout Europe" Woodworth tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "So, these images were just kind of in my head of people in Switzerland or Germany covered in evergreens. I guess the vision of doing this performance came to me out of the blue one day while I was meditating. Just a very clear image of this performance in a pine bough or an evergreen bough costume. So, when I have a very clear image like that I tend to go with it."

It's not the first time Woodworth has been arrested. In 2009, Woodworth attempted to steal a giant pepper from a Chili's restaurant in Vermont. He ran nearly 150 metres of extension cord from the Home Depot across the street to the restaurant.

I was also in a bit of a trance just focusing on the physicality of doing the movement.- Asher Woodworth, Artist

Woodworth says he couldn't see very well while wearing the tree costume. A number of people stopped to watch — some posting photos to Twitter. Others even tried to talk to the tree, but Woodworth says he didn't respond.

"I was also in a bit of a trance just focusing on the physicality of doing the movement," he says.

Woodworth guesses that he stayed at the intersection for about an hour before the police arrived.

"I think the police were a bit flummoxed about how to begin interacting with this tree or tree spirit. I wasn't responding to them. So, they wanted to see my hands. You know, all the normal scripts and choreographies of police encounters."

The police escorted Woodworth out of the intersection. However, Woodworth says he felt "a very strong compulsion" to return. That's when police arrested him.

Assistant police chief Vern Malloch told the Portland Press Herald that Woodworth's motivation "was to see how people would react to what he called his 'performance' and how he might impact 'people's natural choreography.'"

Woodworth, however, says he doesn't think the police really understood what he was doing. He clarifies that the way people behave in a public square isn't "natural choreography," but "social choreography — which is constructed."

Further, he asks, "What does it mean if you maybe disrupt these natural choreographies and do we value getting through the intersection more than we value slowness or magic?"

On Monday night, Woodworth was released on bail from Cumberland County Jail. He won't yet comment on whether he'll fight the charge. Woodworth says he has a lawyer.

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