From whipping mountains to crocheting over urban monuments, we've seen some pretty extreme examples of environment-related performance art. But French performance artist Abraham Poincheval may best them all in his strange piece titled "Dans la peau de l'ours" ("In the skin of a bear"), which involves him living inside the preserved carcass of bear for thirteen days -- eating, sleeping and relieving himself without leaving its confines -- and with two cameras trained on him so the entire experience will be livestreamed online.
According to Oddity Central, the 42-year-old artist began the ordeal on April 1 and will continue his residency inside the bear until April 13 at the Hunting and Wildlife Museum of Paris. It's not clear where Poincheval found the dead bear, but the bear was "excavated" by the artist himself, and remade with plywood, plaster, foam and polystyrene tubes, so that all the water, food, and waste storage needed will be held within the bear's legs, allowing Poincheval to stay inside a space of half a square meter for almost two weeks.
Poincheval describes the work as symbolizing "rebirth and the rite of passage," and drawing upon ancestral and shamanic ideas of the cave bear, which we humans once shared much in common with:
Thought as being the intermediary between the world of men and the world of animals, for a long time the bear was believed to be man’s ancestor. Characteristics such as standing on its hind legs or looking up to admire the sky and the stars earned him this anthropomorphic status. According to medieval historian, Michel Pastoureau “men and societies seem haunted by the memory, more or less conscious, of these ancient times when they shared the same spaces and the same prey, the same fears and the same caves, sometimes the same dreams.” [..] Abraham Poincheval is experimenting, and re-enacts the powerful sensitivity that once brought these two creatures together. Becoming bear (ursum facere), and the wearing of a skin is to bring about a liberating choice between human nature and animal nature. [..] The confined space must no longer feel like a constraint but, paradoxically, must feel like an aperture and become the gate to a state of cosmicity.
Poincheval is no stranger to extreme acts; one of his recent works had him entombed in a hole underneath a bookstore for a week. But one has to wonder how one would access this "state of cosmicity" while confined within a dead bearskin that has been outfitted with electric plugs for electronic devices, and which will be surrounded by curious onlookers day in and day out -- all in the stuffy framework of a museum, no less. Perhaps the performance seems a bit too Cartesian and materialistic in its approach toward shamanistic practices; but it is just so crazy that perhaps Poincheval may succeed in going where no one has gone before -- at least, not like this.
In any case, hopefully, the work will ultimately initiate dialogue about our ancient connections with this majestic animal and the limits of art; you can read more over at Oddity Central, or check out the museum's livestreaming of the performance here.