Koen Vanmechelen is a Belgian conceptual artist, world famous for his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. He has spent the last 20 years crossbreeding different chickens. This has thusfar resulted in the Mechelse Fayoumi which contains genes from 50 different countries.
For this art project, Vanmechelen started by crossbreeding a French and a Belgian chicken and then bringing that chicken to England. It appeared that the infertile English chickens (due to inbreeding) became fertile again when confronted with Koen’s Mechelse Brest. This made him think about topics such as diversity, globalization and genetic engineering.
“This is not a chicken, it’s a piece of art,” the artist exclaims, showing a giant sized picture of one of his breeds. That chicken was also featured in TIME magazine, were it was praised as “being better than the European Union.”
In 2003 he was confronted with the worldwide outbreak of the chicken flu. He planned on crossbreeding European races with native African chickens. Unfortunately, due to the disease, he wasn’t allowed to bring his chickens into Africa or to bring African chickens home. Which led him to do research, together with a few universities, on crossbreeding and increasing immunity.
Another well known project he launched was giving a rooster without spores, who was regarded as an outcast, golden replacements. He immediately became the king of his group, which Koen proudly displayed in one of his exhibits.
One of the key questions Vanmechelen raised was “Did the chicken come to us, or did we come to the chicken?” They’ve found tribes of wild chicken in the Himalayan region who tend to live on the border between the jungle and civilization. The chicken is also the only animal that signals the coming of day and night, something that was pretty useful in a time where “time” (as in watches) wasn’t invented yet. Nature also teaches us the lesson that every organism is looking for other organisms to survive.
Koen started a new project named the “University of Diversity”, coupled with a well thought out exhibit to teach people about this new endeavour. The ultimate goal, according to it’s founder, is “bringing thoughts together and archive them,” something Jimmy Wales, another speaker today, might full-heartedly agree with.