A Performance Artist Chained Himself to a Block of Marble Symbolizing the Burden of History. Then He Got Stuck.

Even a chisel couldn't help Mikes Poppe free himself from the symbolic weight of history.

Mikes Poppe's De Profondis (2017). Photo: Mikes Poppe via Facebook.

Turns out you can’t escape the shackles of art history—at least not without with a power tool. A Belgian performance artist who chained himself to a four-ton block of marble symbolizing the “inescapable burden of history” had to be cut free after he failed to chisel through the block after 19 days.

Shackled at the ankle to a 10-foot chain attached to the immense Carrara stone, artist Mikes Poppe spent over two weeks in a courthouse in the Belgian town of Ostend hammering away at the slab before throwing in the towel. Throughout the duration of the performance, which was live streamed, Poppe ate, washed, and slept through his self-imposed captivity before being liberated by a workman with an angle grinder.

It was curator Joanna Devos who made the difficult decision to free the artist from his chains. She told the Telegraph that she extended the deadline to end the performance several times before finally deciding to call in the heavy machinery at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday after speaking to officials at the courthouse.

Mikes Poppe’s De Profondis (2017). Photo courtesy of Mikes Poppe via Facebook.

“This block was symbolic of history, the history of art, which I am trying to free myself from,” Poppe told the British daily. “I discovered this is not possible. It is [a] burden which I must always carry,” he said.

The Telegraph did not get comment from the workman on the symbolism of the angle grinder.

The performance project was titled De Profondis, which translates to “heartfelt cry of anguish.” Poppe, however, didn’t appear to be particularly anguished over the outcome. The artist admitted that he “underestimated the marble” but insisted that he wasn’t disappointed by his inability to cut through the enormous slab. “I was released. I don’t see that as a failure. On the contrary, I have been able to communicate with the public.”

Before leaving the venue Poppe said, “I am now going to read the many comments in the guestbook and take a warm bath.”

And who could blame him? Being prisoner of your own machinations is hard work.


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