Cosmopolitan Chicken Project
Throughout his life, artist Koen Vanmechelen has been fascinated by the chicken and the egg. Even as a child, he was building cages and aviaries, and had an incubator in his room. Then came the insight: the domesticated chicken carries its cage inside itself. Its egg is its prison. The chick piercing the egg-shell is a symbol of liberation.
Man has created a frame for this wild animal, fundamentally changing this bird’s essence. Breaking the cage releases energy, creates a future and kickstarts evolution. The chicken, that’s us.
The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) started in 1999 by crossing a Mechelen Cuckoo (B) and a Poulet de Bresse (FR). Over the years, it has evolved into a universal breeding project and into a metaphorical, global narrative with offshoots into philosophy, science, medicine and sociology. The intended end point is a cosmopolitan chicken that carries the genes of all chicken breeds from all over the world.
Scientific research shows that Vanmechelen's crossings increase diversity. Each crossing appears to ramp up the next generation’s resilience. The chickens live longer, are less susceptible to diseases and are less aggressive.
Meanwhile, exhibitions, installations and the breeding process shed light on a host of human issues, related to diversity, identity, evolution and the sustainable cohabitation of our species with the other species on the planet.
Nothing is what it seems. At its heart, the project is not about chickens or eggs, but rather about crossbreeding, and the diversity that results from it. The cosmopolitan chicken holds up a mirror to us. Crossbreeding is not just a practical necessity but also a philosophical one – and perhaps even a moral duty. Today’s chicken breeds are failing. New blood is needed to prevent inbreeding and degeneration. "Every organism needs another organism to survive."
The breeding Project
Central to Vanmechelen's work is the idea that all existing chicken breeds evolved from a ‘primal chicken’, the Red Jungle Fowl. It was domesticated 7,500 years ago in the foothills of the Himalayas. From there, the species spread out over the rest of the planet, together with the human animal. In isolated spots, it often evolved into the enigmatic chicken breeds so well known today. The explosion of diversity that followed the covenant between chickens and with humans, and its spread along with us across the rest of the planet, is at the basis of Vanmechelen's quest for the origins of diversity and identity. Something comes from nothing, and from something follows a tsunami of diversity that, if unbalanced, retreats back into monoculture, and eventually nothing. How to counter the latter trend is a question that has been on the artist’s mind for decades.
The chicken is a man-made end result. A centuries-long process of inbreeding and selection has resulted in chicken species displaying the cultural characteristics of their environments. In my art, I want to overcome that limitative principle and reflect on a new kind of evolution. The Cosmopolitan Chicken is the starting point for a new form of evolution, one that never stops: a perpetuum mobile of genetic diversification and combination.