Metamorphosis: Cocoon, The Tongue of a Singing Tree

Metamorphosis: Cocoon, The Tongue of a Singing Tree, was a 12 hours long sculptural performance created in cling wrap with integrated 6-channel spatialized sound installation by Marguerite Bobey based on The Tongue of a Singing Tree by Davi Kopenawa (translated by Hannah Silva, recorded with Sam Spreckley), 2012, Park in Progress (PIP), WEYA, Nottingham, UK. The piece was created on-site in Nottingham Castle Park and lit in the evening with a Lanta Micro Buster II laser and 3 LED light sources.

Cocoon was a collaborative work where I methodically wrapped a living tree as if it was being packaged for shipment in a gesture that evoked both protection and asphyxiation. By wrapping a living tree in plastic, I wanted to create an ambiguous symbol through a gesture that at once protected the plant from external influences and deprived it of air. The resulting plastic cocoon covered the tree bark and extended into other surrounding trees, at once connecting together and contaminating distinct elements of the landscape in the castle park. The sound installation included both recorded sounds, noise, and a spoken text describing an out-of-body experience that the Shaman, Kopenawa, had during an initiation ceremony among an indigenous Bralizian tribe, the Yanomami.

The Tongue of a Singing Tree

After cutting me apart, the xapiri quickly ran away with different parts of my body, far away from our forest, far beyond the land of the white men. I lost consciousness and they stripped away my image while my skin lay on the ground. They flew from either side of my chest with my kidneys and my legs. They took my head in one direction and my tongue in another. The “Yorixiama” blackbirds, “Ayokora” cassiques and “Sitipari if” birds, masters of song, tore out my tongue. They remade it, to render it at once more beautiful and more able to accept their ideas. They washed, scraped and smoothed it in order to fill it with their melodies. The spirits of the cicadas covered it with white feathers and drawings. The bee spirits, “remoremo moxi,” licked it little by little to get rid of old ways of speaking. The blackbird and cassique spirits added their magnificent songs, making it vibrate with the sound”Arerererere!”. They made it into something else, bright and shining as if it emitted flashes of light. This is how the “xapiri” prepared my language! They made it light and refined. They made it supple and agile. They transformed my language into the song of a tree, a spirit tongue. I was finally able to imitate their voices and respond to their words with a song that was direct and clear.

Later, the “xapiri” returned to assemble the dismembered pieces of my body. They set my head and my chest in the place of my lower body and my lower body became my arms and my head. It’s true! They reversed my body, placing my ass where once was my face, and mouth is in the place of my anus! Then, at the glued joining of the two parts of my body, they set a broad belt of colorful feathers “Heima si” and “wisawisama si.” They replaced my entrails with those possessed by spirits: smaller, bright white, carefully wraped on themselves and covered with light and soft down. Then they replaced my tongue with one they had constructed and set it in my mouth with teeth as beautiful as theirs, colored like the plumage of birds – it was like this – They also replaced my throat with a tube, we call it “purunaki” – so that I can continue to learn their songs with skill and speak with clarity. This tube is the larynx of the spirits. It is there they hold the breath of their voice. This is a door through which our words can emerge – beautiful and direct.

I had taken the “yakoana” with an elder for the first time and as I was not yet known to them, the spirits had tested me. It happened like this. Yet, despite the painful injuries they had inflicted on me, I was still alive. My blood had not flowed and I could not even see traces of my wounds! As they reconstructed the parts of my body, little by little my mind gradually began to bloom anew. I felt so overwhelmed by the smell of the dye annatto that they had coated me with and fragrance of their magical plants “yaro xi” and “aroari.” The “xapiri” stood with me, motionless, magnificently adorned. They had finished their presentation dance. Now they were eager to build a house for us to settle in.

(taken from La Chute du Ciel: Paroles d’un chaman Yanomami by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, Terre humaine, 2010, translated by Hannah Silva)

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