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Marina Abramović: “Complain to a tree”
Marina Abramović: “Complain to a tree”Courtesy of Sky Arts

Marina Abramović’s advice for healing: complain to a tree

The artist talks through some more left-field techniques for managing emotions in her Sky Arts takeover this week

Iconic artist Marina Abramović will debut a new documentary this week, in which she aims to introduce viewers to her world of pioneering performance art. She goes one better too, with some personally approved exercises for healing trauma. ”Trees are like human beings,” she explains. “They have intelligence. They have feelings. They communicate with each other. And, also they are perfectly silent listeners You can complain to them.” Developed by the performance artist as part of her Abramović Method (a series of techniques enabling artists to reach a higher plane of consciousness), “Complain to a tree” is a new exercise advocated by the performance artist as a way to heal and being more present in time and space. “Please,” she urges, “Go to the park near you. Pick the tree you like. Hold the tree tight. Really tight. And just pour your heart into it. Complain to the tree, for a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s the best healing that you can do.”

Abramović will share this restorative exercise in a new Sky Arts documentary on December 5, when she will take over the channel for five hours to initiate viewers into the world of performance art. Assisted by guests including Jarvis Cocker, the pioneering artist promises to bring performance art to a wider audience. Exploring the origins and history of the art form, she will reveal her personal inspirations and survey some of her own key works, concluding the evening in a mass-participation performance.

“We developed this programme to show as much variety of material as possible over five hours,” Abramović told The Art Newspaper. “And actually for Sky Arts to give an artist five hours to do what they want is like a revolution. I feel an incredible responsibility that it should not be the last time: we have to really work, and we have to reach as many viewers as possible – especially, we’re targeting young viewers. After the five hours of this programme, everybody will know what performance art is, I hope.”

Above, take a look at the gallery to remind yourself of some of Marina Abramović's controversial early works. Below, read her full instructions for “Complain to a Tree”:

One important thing is that you really choose a tree that you like. It can be small and even not that beautiful a tree. But you have some relation to this tree, emotionally. Don't pick the tree because of the beauty of the tree. Pick the tree because of its smell, the bark, the leaves. Whatever triggers your affection. So look around, and take the tree you like.

Don't immediately hug the tree. Just feel the energy of the tree. Even not touching it but just holding your hands a little bit above.

And then complain your heart into it. This is the whole idea. Have any of you ever complained to a tree before? No. So this is something that you will be doing for the first time. This is like a journey into the unknown. So get out of your security box and do something that is different.

I hope we can create some kind of trend, that actually people are going to run to the parks and start complaining to the trees. This is one way of healing at this moment of our history.

Complaining to the tree is also a way of getting energy out of the tree – to you. And healing you. So the tree is actually healing the complaint. You're opening your heart. You're just telling all your negativity and what bothers you in your life. And the tree is a silent listener. And everything is absorbed into the bark of the tree. And you feel rejuvenated. You feel happy after that. 

This is the message for the public. Please – go to the park near you. Pick the tree you like. Hold the tree tight. Really tight. And just pour your heart into it. Complain to the tree, for a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s the best healing that you can do.