The Bendy Tree

On September 14, a group of people led by performance artist Bill Talen (“Reverend Billy”) met in Tompkins Square Park to “pray and sing” at the site of the bent elm, the bendy tree.

The performance was supposed to start at 8:30pm, but at 8:30, people were still milling about.

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People milling about the bendy tree.

It didn’t get underway until around 8:40pm, when Talen enjoined people to surround the tree. They climbed over the fence that surrounded the tree and circled it. There were about a dozen people, most of whom were part of Talen’s Stop Shopping Choir.

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Once around the tree, Talen began his speech. I commented on it the next day on EVGrieve’s report of this performance:

    It wasn’t so much a prayer for the tree as a challenge to the science used to determine that the tree was structurally unsound, criticizing “professional arborists,” “academics,” etc., equating the removal of the tree to gentrification at one point, to removing anything “different”. It was pretty appalling to listen to (except for the singing, which was very good, I’ll say!).

    If it had just been a farewell to the tree, I’d have thought it was silly enough to do at night, but not worth commenting on. As it was, if you exchanged a few of the nouns, it could have been a global warming denial sermon.

Gamma, from Gammablog, was there shooting a video (below). I don’t know if he read what I wrote above, and decided not to include Talen’s anti-academic screed, or if he himself was embarrassed by it, or if he just wasn’t there when it happened, but that part of the speech (which occurred at the beginning) is missing from the video, although there are other disparaging comments about those whose conclusion it was that the tree was unsafe.


 
* * *

Saturday morning, September 20, the people from the Parks Department showed up to remove the tree. This is the video I shot of that event:


 
While taping, a guy standing next to me said “You know, there’s nothing wrong with this tree.”

“Yes there is,” I said. “It’s not safe.” He went on to tell me arborists agree with him, and I should talk to arborists.

I told the guy “They’ve been studying this tree for years.1 They didn’t just walk in one day and say “This tree has to come down! There isn’t some Earth Spirit that’s going to come save it,” but you can’t reason with a man of faith.

Towards the end, I moved to the other side. This same guy there too, with his iPhone. When they cut through the tree, exposing the hollowed-out center, I said to him “There’s your proof,” but he didn’t respond.

* * *

About half way through the process of cutting it down, Bill Talen showed up, in costume, but alone. He attempted to climb the tree, or at least acted as if he was attempting it, then mounted the top of the workers’ truck, and did a modified version of his performance from earlier in the week. He spoke this time of Anne Frank, and the tree she wrote about in her diary2, and what people did when that tree was dying. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and threw it into the crowd I was in, exhorting someone to go to a hardware store and buy a ladder, using his credit card. A guy next to me picked up the wallet, but didn’t leave to buy the ladder.

I haven’t processed the video of him on the truck, and subsequently being arrested, because I don’t want to promote his nonsense. As I wrote before, I’m tired of the preacher schtick. But that by itself wouldn’t prevent me from posting a video of one of his performances. It’s the anti-rational argument he gives regarding the tree that I won’t promote. Some other time, some other performance, and I’ll put it on YouTube, but not this one.

Tomorrow, Sunday, September 28, he will be at the tree again, this time for a memorial. I will be there with my video camera; maybe I’ll be able to post it!

In conclusion, I just want to say that this looks way better now!

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* * *

Meanwhile, not a word was uttered regarding a tree at the Avenue A and 7th Street entrance to the park, that was cut down on Monday, September 15. No memorials were held, no prayers, no circus acts. It was so… normal!

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1 There was a cable attached to the taller tree behind it, holding it up. It was put there years ago. People have been aware of the precariousness of this tree for a long time, and did what they could to preserve it.

2 My god! Where do you even begin?! The significance of Anne Frank; the significance of fascism, and specifically Nazism; even the significance of the chestnut tree (it was the roots of a chestnut tree that revealed the meaning of existence to Antoine Roquentin in Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea). This elm doesn’t come close to any of those. Talen debases them all with his comparison!

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