The man arrested in downtown Portland dressed as a tree said Tuesday that his glacial march across a busy intersection was not a prank, but a piece of performance art intended to explore the choreography of everyday life.

Asher A. Woodworth was charged with obstructing a public way after police were called Monday to the intersection of Congress and High streets. There they found Woodworth moving slowly across Congress Street with only his boots visible under the arrangement of evergreen boughs.

Woodworth, who studied dance and philosophy at Bennington College in Vermont, said he is an advocate for slowness and quiet in his life, and that he hoped to explore in Monday’s performance how the movement of people and cars through an urban space contrast with the slowness and magic of nature.

“I didn’t intend to create a spectacle or get arrested,” said Woodworth, 30. “I’m interested in asking, ‘Why can’t you walk slowly in front of a car?’ ”

Woodworth’s performance piece also was inspired by the work of Charles Fréger, a French photographer who went to 18 countries to document the rituals and traditions held from medieval times.

Fréger’s photography series, “Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage,” explores the idea of the mythical “wild man” and the many forms it has taken in societies across continental Europe.


It was with those images in mind, Woodworth said, that he conceived of the performance.

“I was meditating one day and this very, very strong vision of this performance came into my empty mind and I felt compelled to do it,” Woodworth said. “I think what I visualized was the meeting of these two kind of distinct energies, the energies of economy and efficiency, and the energies of slowness and magic.”

Although the urban environment was a part of Woodworth’s original vision, the particular intersection at Congress and High street also was convenient: Woodworth rents a studio in the State Theatre building, and the intersection is only a short walk away.

In phone interviews, two of Woodworth’s friends said the performance was in line with Woodworth’s previous works, and his propensity to create scenes in public that sometimes draw police or other authorities.

Nate Luce, 29, who went to college with Woodworth and now lives on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, said he and Woodworth have been swapping ideas about Fréger’s work for a year. Last week, Luce said Woodworth sent him a selfie showing an early version of the tree garb.

“I had texted him letting him know that (Fréger) had published a new book about Japanese costumes, and he wrote me back and sent me a picture of the prototype for this costume on his head, and said he was ready to do a performance in it,” Luce said.


Woodworth has used slow movement in his performances before. In college, he designed a piece in which he moved inch by inch through a grocery store. On his website, he describes an almost dream-like sequence involving frozen beef:

“When at last I reached the meat cooler I did not turn right or left,” Woodworth wrote. “My empty cart pressed into the glass of the cooler door. My gaze was now fixated on a package of frozen pre-made hamburgers stuffed with Velveeta cheese. Some time passed, and I found myself moving again. My cart was still empty. At this point I had been in the store for almost an hour. I continued to cruise the store, deep inside my head, feeling almost completely blank.”

Other projects include a stint as a dancer in an interpretive work choreographed by Dean Moss that dealt with the legacy of the abolitionist John Brown and his failed raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

Woodworth also has performed in Europe and extensively in New York, Massachusetts and Maine, according to his website and media reports, including his “Boring Angel” project, a grant-funded piece that debuted at the SPACE gallery in December 2015 and also was performed in Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Another friend from college, Hamilton Poe, hadn’t spoken with Woodworth in about a year and didn’t even know he had been arrested when a reporter called him Tuesday, but surmised that something unusual might have occurred with his friend.

“He, from time to time, can get into trouble in funny ways, but never in malicious ways,” said Poe, 30, who lives in Detroit.


When told of Woodworth’s performance Monday, Poe chuckled uninterrupted for about 60 seconds.

“From time to time he will have these performances, and they’re partially based off of dance,” Poe said. “Sometimes they’re very strongly pushed toward activism, and how to think about how certain things can be thought about in a larger context. At the same time, they can be practical jokes.”

Woodworth said his fixation on slowness is due in part to training he received in Hakushu, Japan, from Min Tanaka, a prominent Japanese dancer and actor.

Monday’s incident reminded Poe, who was studying sculpture at Bennington when he and Woodworth met, of an incident in 2009 when the picturesque town experienced a spurt of development that brought a Home Depot, a grocery store and a Chili’s restaurant.

Poe said he was drawn to the bulbous, red-and-green pepper logo that topped the chain restaurant’s entryway.

“My sculptor friends always joked that we should steal the chili pepper and turn it into something,” Poe said. “I guess Asher caught wind of that.”


So one night, after borrowing more than 450 feet of extension cords from the Bennington College sculpture department, Woodworth and three friends stretched the extension cords from the nearby Home Depot, across four lanes of traffic and onto the roof of the restaurant, where they used power tools to remove the $8,000 chili pepper before getting caught, according to media reports.

News of the attempted theft made headlines, including a piece on National Public Radio, where Poe first heard about the caper.

For that incident, Woodworth and his friends were charged with felony grand larceny, but later agreed to plead to petty theft if they stayed out of trouble for two years, according to the Rutland Herald.

They also were ordered to write an essay about the waste of taxpayer resources, and to hold a car wash in the Chili’s parking lot.

At the 2009 sentencing, Judge David Suntag also gave Woodworth and his friends some advice. “Try not to do stupid things in the future of this magnitude,” Suntag said. “Smaller stupid things are better.”


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