“The Chicken is already a kind of sculpture,” says Belgian-born Koen Vanmechelen of his Cosmopolitan Chicken project. Since 1999, Vanmechelen has been cross-breeding different chicken species from across the globe in his exploration of the relationships between humans and the natural world we inhabit.
The Cosmopolitan Chicken project works together with the University of Leven to document and research every generation of chicken Vanmechelen cross-breads. He has created 18 so far. This is done not only to track the development of species but also to document the improvements in fertility and lifespan.
Vanmechelen, who does not believe in killing his chickens, creates art out of the chickens he tends to. Using photography, videography and 3D sculpture, Vanmechelen creates pieces and installations that have travelled the world. Vanmechelen also uses the feathers of chickens to create clothing while he preserves the body of each one of his chickens after they die.
Speaking to Wired Magazine, Vanmechelen said that one could follow human evolution through the DNA of chickens after 7000 years of selective breeding. "In every country, there's one related to the culture. In France, the Poulet de Bresse contains the colours of the French flag. Americans breed the biggest chicken in the world. In Germany, they created one for the liberation after the second world war," he said.
The Cosmopolitan Chicken project started after Vanmechelen requested a plot of land from a former employer. From there he crossed a French Poulet de Bresse with a Belgian Mechelse Koekoek, which is now in its 18th generation. Vanmechelen works inside of a former glue and gelatin factory in a small town of Hasselt, Belgium. He has dubbed his studio “the University of Diversity.” Vanmechelen work has earned him an honorary doctorate at the University of Hasselt in 2010.
Vanmechelen and his team are currently working to develop a new studio called La Biomista, meaning “mixed life” according to the artist, in the former zoo of Zwartberg, Belguim. Set to open in 2018, La Biomista will house the new “University of Diversity” that will include Vanmechelen’s studio, his foundation’s work as well as research apparatus.