French artist Abraham Poincheval recently entombed himself in a 12 ton limestone boulder for a week in the Paris Palais de Tokyo museum in a piece he so creatively named “Stone.” From the picture of the artist with his stone, you can see there is a larger cut-out in the form of the artist’s silhouette where he was spent a week in a seated position. The rock was divided in two and then pushed together once the Poincheval took his place. There were air holes and a place for a heart monitor. Poincheval subsisted on soup and dried meat for the duration of the stunt. I don’t really want to know what he did with his bodily waste or how he dealt with the stench. I’m puzzled as to why anyone would put themselves at such risk for deep vein thrombosis.
Poincheval said "The purpose is to feel the aging stone inside the rock" prior to his entombment. After he spoke of his experience as "There is my own breathing, and then the rock which lives, still humid because it was extracted not so long ago from the quarry. So there is that flow, that coming and going, between myself and the stone." Last time I checked rocks were not living.
Although the argument can be made for the stone as a sculpture, this wasn’t the focus of the art, it was merely a prop. I have trouble considering this performance art. Some of Poincheval’s past works include a two- week long stint inside the belly of a taxidermied bear and living on top of a platform for six days. Poincheval has been likened to ascetics living on pillars or stylites in the practice of subjecting themselves to great personal discomfort, danger and the elements on raised towers to reach a deeper connection or understanding of God. I can see that comparison, but why is it in a museum? I see ‘Stone” as more of a feat of endurance than art, and although extreme, a form of posting your workout stats for everyone else to enjoy on facebook. In my opinion “Stone” is more about headlines, notoriety, and the myth of the artist than anything else.
The viewer sees nothing of the main event which is Poincheval’s experience or communion with the stone. On the contrary there seems plenty for Poincheval in terms of engendering a unique experience for himself. I’m playing devil’s advocate in my head. Much of art created signifies a personal journey on the part of the artist, which has little or nothing to do with the viewer. By defining art we shut down possibility of what it can be, we close down the world and this seems dangerous especially in light of the current ideals about freedom of expression and the self. Yet, his work irritates me. I find it ridiculous that Poincheval’s next “piece” called “Egg” will consist of him sitting on chicken eggs for twenty days for 23.5 hours a day in order to see if they will hatch. If they do, the chickens will go to live out the remainder of their lives on his parent’s farm.
“Egg” seems to me to be the lowest common denominator designed to grab headlines because it’s weird, rather than actually asking an interesting question. I might even go so far as to say he is the Kim Kardashian of the art world. Frankly I think it’s hilarious that the BBC even took this seriously, this article seems respectful and is uncharacteristic for the network, which usually has a sense of humor. I prefer the Guardian’s handling of the subject which seems to quietly suggest the absurdity of the work.
The real value of Poincheval’s work may lie in people being able to one-up each other with stories of the ridiculous, guess what I saw “A man sitting on a nest!” I can make the argument that this man, not having the ability to become pregnant has decided to dedicate almost three weeks of his life to nurturing embryonic chickens with his own body (he plans to eat a lot of ginger to keep his body at the proper temperature) and connect with his fellow creatures and therefore it is profound, but it just seems such a hollow silly stunt to me, I won’t.
I will give him this, he took my mind off of the travesties occurring around the world for a brief moment.
Check out this Complex Style post for more bizarre performance art. I actually think the Courbet Origin of the World performance makes a good point. I HATE that painting.