Abraham Poincheval, Pierre (Stone), 2017, limestone performance object on steel plate. Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Abraham Poincheval, Pierre (Stone), 2017, limestone performance object on steel plate. Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Abraham Poincheval

Palais de Tokyo

Abraham Poincheval, Pierre (Stone), 2017, limestone performance object on steel plate. Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Living within a sculpture, becoming one with it as an object: This is the obsession of Abraham Poincheval, who, like a character in a Werner Herzog film, is an explorer of extremes. For Ours (Bear), 2014, at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris, he enclosed himself inside the carcass of a bear, remaining there for thirteen days. More recently, Poincheval has hatched eggs, sitting like a hen for a three-week incubation period (allowing himself a half-hour break every day), inside a transparent display case with a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, covered with a traditional Korean blanket designed by artist Seulgi Lee (Oeuf [Egg], 2017).

These performances may evoke other famous endurance works, such as those of Marina Abramović or Chris Burden, but Poincheval’s aesthetic of camouflage is less indebted to art-historical precedents than to the mythical tale of the Trojan horse.

Scattered throughout the expansive spaces of the Palais de Tokyo, a recent exhibition of Poincheval’s work, curated by Adélaïde Blanc, introduced visitors to the remnants of these feats of endurance, as well as other projects: a transparent bottle approximately nineteen feet long inside which Poincheval traveled up the Rhône River (Bouteille [Bottle], 2015–17); a metal capsule weighing over 154 pounds, in which he traversed more than 186 miles of the Alps (Gyrovague, le voyage invisible [Gyrovague, the Invisible Journey], 2011–12); a platform on which he remained for a week, like a fifth-century ascetic, suspended more than sixty-five feet above the esplanade of the Gare de Lyon in Paris (Vigie/ Stylite [Lookout/Stylite], 2016).

But the most characteristic work on view was undoubtedly Pierre (Stone), 2017, a limestone in which Poincheval had a silhouette carved of exactly his own size. He had previously spent a week underground in a Marseille bookstore, seated in a hole just under two feet in diameter, with a stone blocking the way out (604800s, 2012). This time, the challenge was to enter the stone, breathe it in, assume a mineral state. Before stepping in, he stated, “Its dampness will be in permanent contact with me. It will act on me, just as I will act on it. There will be an exchange of information between the rock and me, while I’m living inside it.” With the two halves closed, viewers apprehensively observed this sculpture, shaped like a brain and inhabited by a human being. In it, the artist was invisible except for a closed-circuit video camera. The video image, streamed on a monitor installed nearby, made him seem far away, even though he was just behind us.

When, in the course of the exhibition, Poincheval finally emerged from his mineral state, he was immediately checked by a doctor, then asked to describe this telluric experience. Not yet accustomed to the open space around him, he hesitated; he found it difficult to verbalize what he had gone through. In this primitive time machine, he tested his human limits, experiencing on his own skin a temporality quite different from the one that measures our everyday existence: a geological temporality, something we normally find difficult even to imagine. Should we think of Poincheval, traveling into the depths of the earth, not out into the universe, as a “geonaut” rather than an astronaut? Not necessarily: His next, inevitably ethereal project—walking inside a cloud—allows us to understand that his journey into the elements is only just beginning. For him, what is essential is to be enclosed in a void—to create a void inside and outside himself.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.