January 5, 2016
Performed: 7 hours
Studio management: Anna Shpilko
Photo: Igor Afrikyan
In the northeast of Brazil, which is the state of Alagoas, by a deserted stretch of sea-side, I find a very tall and lonely coconut palm-tree, and begin my training. My instructor, a local 70-year old fisherman Misa, is working me on a daily basis. It takes Misa himself only a minute to climb up any palm-tree – that's how he makes his living. The first time I manage to climb up the trunk I tremble and have a hard time hanging on. Still, my daily endurance limit quickly increases: from half an hour to start, to an hour the next day, then to almost 3 hours in a row. I begin the performance at sunset on the 9th day of my training. I climb up and hang on for 7 hours, from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m., switching position every 10 minutes. While doing this, I am thinking about the slaves who were lucky to be born not too long before the abolishment (1888) – and climbed up the palm tree to buy their freedom.
Here is the story. The coconut palm, coqueiro, has been imported to Brazil from across the ocean, so its seeds were precious, worth their weight in gold. Procuring them was a life-risking adventure, but worth undertaking for those seeking freedom at all cost. Once, one of the slaves had the idea of climbing up a palm tree at night, when visibility is low, so he could get the seeds. He was successful, and many followed his example. Up high, close to the moon, they would swallow the seeds, so that if they were caught, they didn't lose their precious cargo. The seeds would then be passed on to friends, themselves former slaves, who had gained freedom earlier, to be sold at the market. After several cycles of climbing the tree and selling the seeds, the slave would save enough money to have one of the friends buy out his freedom.
After almost 7 hours, my photographer, Igor, is finally able to capture the image of me at the top –the tree finally isn’t shaking.
My performance is over, when in the early morning the wind stops all together.