Two Day Performance Action with Felled Birch, Coventry

by | Nov 8, 2021 | 0 comments

On 15 and 16 October 2021 from dawn until dusk a felled tree moved through the streets of Coventry, carried by a group of women in an act of endurance and love for the planet and future generations, mourning the loss of forests and ecosystems around the world and planting seeds of courage.

We bear our collective grief over our loss of the natural world, species, ancient woodlands, as women, as ancestors. We demonstrate courage and vulnerability, creating space for lament, but also inspiring hope, the feeling we are not alone.
Alice, tree carrier, Coventry

We invited women and children to walk with us for 10 minutes or the whole day or to meet us and take part at different stopping points on the journey where the tree became a space to gather to eat, reflect, listen and exchange stories.

What needs to be exchanged and heard under the canopy of a felled tree?

The carried tree stopped at different city locations, chosen by the Walking Forest Coventry women who we supported to curate each ‘under the tree moment’. At each stop one of the tree branches was continuously held by the women.

The tree became a space to gather including:

– A speakers’ corner outside the old council buildings for women to express their hopes and fears

– A shelter for free food, feasting and discussing how Coventry can feed itself at Volgograd place

– A site for reflection and mourning at the Cathedral ruins

– Sharing the importance of our parks and green spaces at Lady Herbert’s Garden
– Conversations across generations about climate change at Greyfriars Green
– Performance poetry at the Sherbourne Valley. Allotments

– Dances of gratitude and celebration outside the Belgrade Theatre

– A climate cafe to share concerns about changing weather and its impact in Coventry and in other parts of the world at Shelton Square

The tree we carried was a birch, felled in Coventry in its prime close to the Heart of England Way to make way for the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link. Woodland pioneers, birch trees are often the first tree species to populate open ground living up to two hundred years and with a folklore including strong associations with loss, renewal and new beginnings. In honouring the death of this tree we held a space to mark the relentless and ongoing destruction of trees and nature around the world.

A map and timetable shared online and with passers by indicated where we would be in the city and the activities that took place. 

Our performance action emerged from the Walking Forest Coventry camp (see previous post) and the imagination and vision of all of those who took part. The route, choreography, costume and props were all designed together working since July through creative sessions, workshops and rehearsals. These included custom and co-designed tool belts and split leg aprons embellished with patches embroidered, decorated or hand printed by each woman. These included more-than-human woodland beings that each woman chose to stand for or ‘carry’ throughout the two days. Production materials were natural, recycled, found, borrowed or repurposed. Walking Forest has grown to include many other women who are tree carrying and walking with us. Following its time in Coventry, the tree made its way to Glasgow for the COP 26 climate talks where it continues its role as a gathering and convening space for women’s voices to be heard and hidden stories to be shared.
Each day had a different feeling with day one holding a space for mourning, loss and lament and shared grief and anger. Day two moved us into a space for learning how to move forward holding drawing on the strength of fellow activists from the past and courage drawn from those around us to act and respond at this time of crisis.
A Soundscape was created for each day of the performance action by Mira Calix to be played through portable speakers and hand bells. This work was commissioned by Coventry 2021 as part of the Green Futures programme supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund and by Season for Change.

‘I want to demonstrate that actions speak louder than words. What we are producing is something that is visible to people – offscreen and on the street’
Martina, tree carrier

This post includes a selection of images and will be updated soon with more after this busy end to the year!