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View of “De Profundis,” a performance by Mikes Poppe (all screenshots via YouTube)

An artist who chained his leg to a block of marble and attempted to free himself as a metaphor for how the “inescapable burden of history” ensnares artists had to be cut loose when he realized he was trapped in his own performance. The public piece by Belgian artist Mikes Poppe, titled “De Profundis,” was cut short this week after having lasted 438 hours, or 19 days, during which he attempted to chisel the four-ton block of Carrara marble to dust. Men with tools swooped in to save him and broke the long chain that he had clamped on his shin, its other end embedded in the block’s core.

Installed in the courthouse of the Belgian city Ostend as part of an exhibition, The Raft. Art is (not) Lonely, “De Profundis” was intended to show how “sometimes one has to break through the fixed mindset to find one’s own voice.” Poppe slept, ate, and worked in the courthouse as he chiseled his way to freedom, and had a desk and sleeping bag installed near his mini quarry. Visitors, who watched from the courthouse’s entryway, were invited to leave their thoughts in a book. Poppe’s artist statement reads as follows:

In the court house of Ostend,
I will attach myself to a block of Carrara marble.
Day and night, 24/7,
I will live and work in this space.
Eating, sleeping, drawing.
Working. No phone, no computer.
With hammer and chissel [sic], I will try to free myself.

View of “De Profundis,” a performance by Mikes Poppe

According to The Telegraph, Poppe had initially thought that breaking up the marble would require 10 days at the most, then realized he had “underestimated the marble.” The decision to cut the chain was reportedly made after the exhibition’s curator spoke with the courthouse. The entire performance, including its unexpected ending, was livestreamed on YouTube.

“I was released, I don’t see that as a failure,” Poppe told reporters upon his liberation. “On the contrary. I have been able to communicate with the public. I am now going to read the many comments in the guestbook and take a warm bath.”

View of “De Profundis,” a performance by Mikes Poppe

Preparing something new. #DeProfundis #performanceart #hetvlotoostende #muzee #theraft

A post shared by Mikes Poppe (@mikespoppe) on

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Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...