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An Artist Incubating Chicken Eggs Is No Joke. But Is It Art?

French artist Abraham Poincheval sits over real chicken eggs until they hatch at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Stephane de Sakutin
AFP/Getty Images
French artist Abraham Poincheval sits over real chicken eggs until they hatch at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

An artist is sitting on a chair in a Paris art museum over a dozen chicken eggs until they hatch. This is not an April Fools' joke.

"I will, broadly speaking, become a chicken," says Abraham Poincheval, a French performance artist who has recently also had himself encased inside a bear, where he ate worms and beetles, and then inside a limestone rock, where he thought, slept and slurped soup.

This time, Abraham Poincheval is sealed inside a glass "vivarium," where he sits on a small seat slightly above the eggs to incubate them, like a mother hen, for 21 to 26 days. To raise his body temperature, the artist has robed himself in a blanket and says he'll eat a lot of ginger. He's told interviewers that sitting on eggs to hatch them, "interests me because it raises the question of metamorphosis and gender."

But R. Michael Hulet, an associate professor of animal science at Penn State University, finds this art piece inhumane. He told Timemagazine that humans can't maintain a temperature high enough to hatch healthy chicks.

"It's a welfare situation," he says. "I think that life is more important than some of those things that are called art."

I don't bring up Abraham Poincheval's project to rail against performance art. John Cage spent time in a soundproof chamber at Harvard in 1951; he got inspired to compose, if that's quite the word, a piece called "4'33" " in which a pianist gets ready to play, but stays silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. You really hear dimensions in the quiet.

I wish I had seen Allan Kaprow's 1960s installation, Yard, where people were invited to crawl and jump over a jumble of rubber tires. "The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible," he said.

And there is much to offend many in the lyrics the art collective Pussy Riot sang when they burst into a Moscow cathedral to perform their "Punk Prayer," which ends with, "Virgin birth-Giver of God, drive away Putin!" But you can also admire the spirit and courage of women who knew they would be jailed for their art.

I am stumped to see much performance or art in a man who sits on eggs that may never hatch. Motherhood, and chickenhood, for that matter, is more than just sitting on eggs. Abraham Poincheval says he wants to inhabit objects. But I like to think the joy of art is to share what you do with an audience so that they can inhabit other lives, ideas and dreams. There are lots of ways to get people to stare; the art is in helping them to feel.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.