Shannon Cochrane on Trees (Ávores) by Clarice Lima

I have never – in all my on-again, off-again yoga practice – been able to make a headstand until quite recently. The first headstand I managed on my own, without the aid of a wall, or my teacher spotting me, was a revelation, an a-ha moment. The upward impulse is in your belly, it has nothing to do with your head (figuratively or literally). Opening your hips helps, another a-ha moment that your right side-up mind had tried to convince you was exactly the wrong thing to do. And suddenly, without much effort at all you’re there. Headstands increase circulation, prevent strokes and varicose veins, and some yogis say that a consistent headstand practice will prevent your hair from greying. All of this might be true (or not), but the real benefit of taking this view of the world means being in direct engagement with your fear (what if I fall?), and allowing yourself to relax into your disorientation.

I’m glad I arrived on time for Clarice Lima’s Trees (Ávores) at the Platform Figovec because like many very long performances (or very short performances, like this one), the most poetic moments are the start and the end. Watching the handful of women cross the square, each wearing a colourful, patterned, full floor length skirt, I can feel my mind buzzing with questions (not a very yoga state of mind). How will they get into the headstand position? How long can each of them stay that way? How will they exit?

The ways people get into the headstand are as varied as the people themselves. I see my preferred approach in a few of the bodies. Crown of the head on the ground, hands interlaced, hips pushed higher and higher until being on tippy toes is the only border between the right side up and the up side down world. And then a good push, and lift off, feet are in the air.

All the participants enter their pose, and its only moments before three of them fall. The women crumple to the ground and hold a new child’s pose, wrapping their skirts around them. The others hang on and on, the top halves of their bodies concealed, which make their familiar silhouettes appear even more abstracted, feet where we expect to see a face. It’s a bit unsettling somehow. I watch a couple walk hand in hand through three quarters of the square before they really notice what is going on, and the man does a comical double-take. Bikes zip through the square and the headstands are unaffected. After a few minutes, a few more of the bodies fall, and then another, and another. In the end there are two remaining. The woman closest to me (wearing the most elaborate skirt of the group, a sequenced covered leaf pattern) starts to quiver and tremble. It’s hard to know if this is a result of the physical strain or the lightly falling rain, or the both. I find myself on the edge of my seat, watching as her legs twitch and sway. I imagine that she is readjusting her focus from moment to moment. Several times, I am convinced she is going to come out of it, but she steadies herself and remains just a little bit longer. Eventually she falls. One remains. The last solo headstand, when she does fall a few moments later, comes out of it backwards landing on her feet in a bridge pose before lowering herself to the ground.

It’s a wonderful image to have in my mind, this group of “metaphorical trees in the city”. The artist describes her project as an exercise in desire for permanence, which I think is only half of the equation. The participants attempt to turn the static and fixed world upside down with the knowledge that this state will only ever be short lived, impermanent. I imagine a city (a city of women perhaps) in which an alternative view is always the right side up, and we move around in public space at all times with our heads resting on the ceiling of the world, and our feet dipped into the sky. It’s a touching reminder to always look for a new perspective no matter to view.



Related project: 
Trees (Árvores)