A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Paris with my old friend Sarah Maxwell who lives in the city and works as an illustrator. After surviving the eight lane (I say eight but that’s just a guess because, and I kid you not, there were no lane lines) Arc De Triomphe roundabout and heading into the center of the city, I met up with my friend at a tattoo parlor near the Pompidou center. After we got done with the usual catchings-up and I-cant-believe I’m heres Sarah asked me what I wanted to do with my time in Paris. I told her that I had done very little (i.e. no) research and that I just wanted to see the things that she liked and eat bread all day. She suggested a museum I hadn’t heard of and with her friend Allison in tow and bread in hand we hopped on the underground and headed west. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting but it certainly had something to do with ornate frames, low lighting, and a beret or two. I was way off. Instead the Louvre or the Orsay she opted for the Palais De Tokyo, a massive installation gallery tucked away on the north bank of the Seine, just a bit east of the Eiffel Tower.
As we wandered through the first few rooms, Sarah told me about this wild guy who recently had an exhibit at the Palais De Tokyo where he lived in a hollowed out rock for a week, in complete darkness with just a feeding tube for company. After some high minded musings on his olfactory situation vis a vis a week’s worth of excrement, she mentioned he had a new exhibit planned that had something to do with hatching eggs. And live streaming it… Duh. As it turned out we were in luck. Abraham Poincheval, the man himself, was in the building. Not only was he in the building, he was in a little Plexiglas box in a room inside the building. When one hears that a guy is hatching eggs and, moreover, that guy in question is nearby one tends to move quickly in that direction. So we scurried over to see a very singular thing indeed. A greying, scruffy, white-sock-wearing guy in his mid 40s sitting on a weird chair (referred to professionally as a “laying table”) covered in a big duvet type thing, and sure enough, nestled in a recessed portion of the laying table, were the little buggers themselves, the eggs. We spent a few giggle filled minutes circling the cube and making occasional eye contact with Poincheval, almost as a kind of dare. He returned our shifty glances willingly, openly, and with the confidence of a man who once pooped himself for a week and became the toast of the town because of it. Afterwards, we left the museum and went to meet up with some more of Sarah’s friends in the north part of town. As the sun went down drank wine on a roof and told our story of the egg man, he who would be a hen, and mused about his motivations and mental fortitude.
For a while, Poincheval’s exhibit was just that: a fun story to tell at parties. “Ah yes, Spring, rebirth, very cool” – sip sip – “and this guy goes to the bathroom where?” – sip sip. But honestly I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, not obsessively or anything, it just keeps returning to mind like a border collie who knows that you definitely have a ball in your pocket. First of all, I will be the first to admit that I don’t get it. I dig it, but I don’t get it. It doesn’t speak to me in the way that good music or beautiful buildings do, however I respect Poincheval as an athlete, both on mental and physical levels. As someone who enjoys nothing more than watching a season or two of Boardwalk Empire in one sitting, I can appreciate the amount of lower back pain that kind of premier league laziness can induce. Also, his mental fortitude is out of this world. Sure, he has a few books to read in there and gawkers to stare down, but at the end of the day he is totally alone, and frankly that prospect scares the living shit out of me.
There’s another point that I can’t let go. Aesthetics aside, what if the eggs don’t hatch? I just read the news and apparently one did yesterday, but that doesn’t mean all of them are bound to. Chickens have a core temperature about five or six degrees higher than humans and a special butt pouch which helps incubate the little critters. If the embryos aren’t kept at a minimum of 100 degrees around the clock they will hatch malformed or not at all, and that seems kind of cruel. But then again, is that any different than me eating a breakfast taco? I like mine with potatoes / eggs / cheese, and it just so happens that one third of those ingredients could have been a chicken at some point. In Poincheval’s defense, he is eating a largely ginger based diet during the exhibit in an effort to raise his core temperature. There is definitely animal sacrifice in both cases, one pairs great with hot sauce and one for spectacle, and perhaps the distinction I want to exist just doesn’t.
The more I think about what there is to “get” about Poincheval’s work, the more I’m convinced that there isn’t one right answer, or maybe there are no right answers and i’m just asking the wrong questions. Perhaps he just wanted to do something so eye catching you have no choice but to talk about it; an exercise in pure spectacle. When asked about what the work would mean for him, Poincheval replied, “I will, broadly speaking, become a chicken”. For me, that’s a frustrating answer. What would it mean to become a chicken in a more narrow sense? Later he was asked why the chicken and egg motif appealed to him in the first place. Poincheval answered with what I can only assume was a dismissive flick of his cigarette, saying “(It) interests me because it raises the question of metamorphosis and gender.” I think he answers things this way on purpose – to stir the pot. I kind of get what he’s alluding to but his lack of specificity is vein poppingly aggravating at times like these. Metamorphosis and gender are two things, yet they are not questions unless posed as such. Anyhoo, the amount of wound up those quotes can get me probably brings a smile to Poincheval’s face. And maybe that’s good enough. For me to struggle with what the hell his work even is, to obsess over how he takes his shits in there, to be compelled to write an article about the whole thing in the hopes that someone will agree with me, or disagree, or anything really, maybe that’s what he’s after. And I dig that. As much as I want to dismiss what he does as vapid and self-serving, I can’t help being charmed by it.
I leave you with a final thought. Poincheval’s father, Christian Poincheval, got a lot of public attention in 2014 when he created a pill which, when taken orally, makes one’s flatulence smell of roses. So perhaps we have an answer after all. We know how he survived a week in that boulder.
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