The French performance artist Abraham Pointcheval has announced that he will be locked in a bear carcass for 13 days in the name of art.The habitat has been specially fitted into the remains of a black bear and it has been designed to allow the artists to reside completely self-sufficiently, like an astronaut . Abraham Pointcheval will lie in the belly of the bear. He can just about move his arms and legs. The front legs of the bear will store 30 liters of water . The other two legs will be for the excretions of the artist. The enclosed structure is fitted with air vents and storage for food. Pointcheval works largely outside the workshop, he invents itinerant or sedentary experiences to discover the world in still unexplored angles.
It raises questions about how one lives, eats, drinks, reliefs oneself and sleeps. These questions may seem amusing, but they highlight the many constraints that the artist will have to face. In order to accomplish this exploit, he has worked hand in hand with Jean-Paul Désidéri, production technical coordinator of the Gassendi Museum and the CAIRN Centre of Art. Together they have examined the various problems and constraints he may encounter. The outcome of their research, which relates to the bear itself, will be shown in the exhibition space. Beyond the bounds of the physical and technical achievements of this project lies a subjective dimension, so, is there a more profound meaning to such an act?
Abraham Poincheval’s need to become one with such an animal came to him when he repeatedly encountered animal carcasses along his journey during another one of his performances in Gyrovague in the heart of the French Alps. For him this act signifies a rebirth, a rite of passage, to pass from the world of the dead to that of the living.
This transcendence between man and bears endures since the dawn of time. A profound symbolism has existed since the prehistory, a symbolism that is still gripping the Western world’s imagination today. Tales and legends exist in abundance, confounding the boundaries between man and animal. Throughout the ages man has revered the bear and has dedicated a plethora of rituals to the animal such as totems, and shamanic or warrior rites. Symbolising strength, the bear appeared on kings’ heraldry and on the coats of arms of important towns.
At one time, the bear was thought to be the king of the animals. It lost this status during the Middle Ages when Christians, trying to discredit pagan rituals, that often had the bear at their core, ridiculed and replaced it with the lion. The bear was then chastised, hunted and exterminated. It was only at the end of the 19th Century and at the dawn of the 20th that it recouped its rights. Having become an endangered species by then, many countries have banned the humiliation of the bear in circuses and forbidden their hunting. Despite this, there were only a few dozen left in the French Alps when it became extinct in the Piedmont. The last wild bear disappeared from the French Alps in 1921, so to choose Digne as the location for such an occasion; one of rebirth, really does makes sense.
It also relates to the history of our origins and situates us at the crossroads of the animal and the human being. This idea, whilst at first outrageous, is resistant to his unwavering state. Influenced by the ancestral rituals, the spirit of the bear will once again be intertwined with that of man’s.
Abraham Poincheval first performed Dans La Peau de l’Ours – Inside the Skin of the Bear – at the CAIRN Centre for Contemporary Art in Digne last year. He is reprising the piece at the Hunting and Wildlife Museum in Paris, where he will remain until 13 April.