This Belgian Bioartist is deconstructing Chicken Evolution

October 1, 2016 - 3 minutes

Koen Vanmechelen is an artist that works in the intersection of art and research. His art focuses on exploring biocultural diversity… using chickens!

Koen Vanmechelen‘s core artistic work is the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP), in which the artist cross-breeds chickens from all around the world. The aim: to create the ultimate chicken that will combine genes from all the planet’s breeds.

The Red Junglefowl is thought to be the ancestor of today’s chicken breeds. After 5,000 years of domestication, the variety of breeds is huge and, according to Vanmechelen, each one reflects the culture of the community that bred them.

Cosmopolitan Chicken Project Breeds
Figure 1. Family tree of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project

Over the more than 15 years he’s been working in CCP, the artist has found that with each generation, the chicken hybrids become less susceptible to disease, live longer and are less aggressive. Vanmechelen interprets this as a metaphor for the benefits that the mix of culture and genes brings to humans, which have been co-evolving with the chicken for the last few millenia.

So far, the ongoing project includes breeds from 18 countries. The artist is saving the genetic material of each of the hybrids for research in collaboration with geneticist Jean-Jacques Cassiman at the Catholic University of Leuven. With the resulting extensive database, Vanmechelen has created 3D-printed sculptures that represent the DNA of his chickens.

Evolution of a Hybrid Chicken Cosmopolitan Research Project Koen Vanmechelen
Figure 1. “Evolution of a Hybrid” is a 3D sculpture installation in Leuven representing the DNA from the Chicken Cosmopolitan Research Project by Koen Vanmechelen.

Stemming from the CCP, Vanmechelen is working in multiple projects that aim to make a difference in culture and society. One of them is the Planetary Community Chicken, where, each year, he cross-breeds one of his chickens with a breed somewhere in the world. In this year’s edition, the artist visited Zimbabwe, where local communities will benefit from a new breed that is more resilient but still maintains the heritage of the community.

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His current work focuses in the creation of La Biomista, a new studio that will open in 2018 in Genk, Belgium. It will be a natural space open to the public where animals like wolfs, llamas, emus and eagles will live together. It will also house the Open University of Diversity, a space designed for people to discuss the artistic, scientific and philosophical implications of biocultural diversity.

Who would have thought that chickens could convey such a powerful message? This artist’s point of view is a refreshing perspective on culture that shows tangible examples of the benefits of diversity. Keep up the good work!


Featured image and Figures 1 and 2 credit: koenvanmechelen.allyou.net

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