Abraham Poincheval, a performance artist from France, specializes in confining himself to the smallest possible spaces for long periods of time. A couple of years ago, he spent a whole week buried in a tiny underground hole in a bookstore, with just a pile of books for company. Now he has fashioned a new task for himself – he’s spending nearly a fortnight (1 to 13 April) crammed inside the carcass of a grizzly bear, in a space measuring only half a square meter. He won’t be coming out at all, not even to eat, drink, sleep or relieve himself. Two cameras will be on him at all times, recording the whole experience.
The bear itself was excavated by Abraham and has been partly reconstructed to support the project, using plywood, plaster, foam and polystyrene tubes. The bizarre installation is completely covered with the bear’s original skin and fur. When empty, the entire structure weighs 115 pounds. Inside it is a semi-upright chair on which the 42-year-old artist will be spending all his time. Rubber exercise bands will help him get some movement and he has some room by his feet for a stretch. There’s also a kettle and an odd assortment of foods that only a bear could appreciate – frozen dried fruits, insects and worms. Too bad the bear isn’t Winnie the Pooh, or Abraham could have had some honey as well.
The project is a visual performance called ‘Dans La Peau de l’Ours’, which means ‘Inside the Skin of a Bear’. It is currently taking place at the Hunting and Wildlife Museum in Paris, where visitors will be compelled to think about ‘rebirth and the rite of passage’. I can’t help saying this – the only thing I’m compelled to think about is where all his waste is going. In case you’re also wondering about that, it’s supposed to go out through two of the bear’s legs. The other two legs are filled with sufficient water to see Abraham through the 13-day ordeal.
No one seems to be more delighted about the whole affair than the director of the museum, Claude D’Anphenaise. “It is very interesting and our visitors are very excited,” he said. “He had to work for a long time perfecting his menu to work out what could be kept in there, and working out a way he can get some exercise. He has to live in total isolation and be totally self-sufficient in a space not dissimilar from what an astronaut would experience in a rocket. It will be very difficult for him.”
Claude also said that the museum helped Abraham to come up with a few book titles that could keep him company during his isolation. “Inside he has some more light-hearted books, a bit of escapism. On a table outside, we have a set of books relating to his experience, like Walden by Thoreau. Visitors can hold it up to the eyes and he can read it from inside. They could even choose to read the books to Abraham.”
According to Abraham, this new experience draws its inspiration from shamanism. “For the performer, it is to access a meditative state to experience the lives of animals and their perception of the world,” he said.
The crazy artist got into the bear at exactly 11 am on April Fool’s day. At first I thought it might have been a prank, but from the looks of it, Abraham’s cozied up in his bear, all right. I watched a bit of the live stream from the cameras on the museum website – I felt suffocated just looking at Abraham all cooped up like that. It has been two days so far, and we’ll have to just wait to see how long he can make it. But Claude is pretty confident of Abraham’s abilities, as a man who is ‘familiar with extreme situations’. “He has already attracted a crowd of people. Everyone wants to go near a big grizzly anyway, and this is even more intriguing for them.”