Animals: They were here first
The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project
When was the last time you ate chicken? Lunch today or dinner last night? Maybe you had eggs for breakfast. When was the last time you saw a live chicken? Most of us go to the grocery store, look at the expansive selection of packaged chicken parts, toss what we want into our cart, and head for the checkout never giving much thought to the actual chicken.
Koen Vanmechelen thinks about chickens every day. He lives with them, studies their behavior, knows each one by name, and carefully breeds them to promote a healthy stock. Sounds like a good farmer, but Vanmechelen is by profession, a world-renown artist and advocate for all 65 billion chickens that share the planet with us humans.
When he was five years old, a relative gave him two tiny chicks. Vanmechelen fell in love. Ever since, he has devoted his time to combining his natural ability as an artist with his deep curiosity as a scientist. Thus was born the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project whose mission is: “to support the artistic projects of artist Koen Vanmechelen, and more specifically to assist in building a bridge between art and science. It does so by stimulating scientific research, supporting socially relevant initiatives and promoting certain art projects.”
I heard Vanmechelen interviewed on the BBC’s program, “Outlook” - (the second interview on the show that day). He talked about the history of chickens, how they came out of the jungle and became an integral part of the human diet. He mentioned that people have changed the code of chickens. He cautioned that because of inbreeding, chickens are now facing ill health, sterility, and eventual extinction. It’s Vanmechelen’s mission to inform the rest of us on how we can help chickens restore their genetic integrity.
Rather than write research papers on the plight of chickens and hope to raise awareness in the scientific community, Vanmechelen is using his artistic talent to reach a far wider audience. He takes his pet chickens into his studio, sets them up as if they’re human models, and creates portraits.
Matthew Bannister, the BBC interviewer, asked, “How do you get them to look into the camera?”
“They know me. They trust me,” Vanmechelen replied.
Here's more about his project from the website:
Koen Vanmechelen launched his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) during the late nineties. Central to this artistic undertaking is a chicken crossbreeding project. More specifically, the artist interbreeds domestic chickens from different countries aiming at the creation of a true cosmopolitan chicken as a symbol for global diversity.
The project occupies a unique place in art history and gained fast international recognition. It positions art categorically in the middle of society: between people, and always committed. Vanmechelen is using a diverse range of media to translate the core idea of the CCP to our society, from very expressive paintings and drawings, to photography, video, glassware, performances and sculpture. The unifying theme is the chicken and the egg, symbols that link scientific, political, philosophical and ethical issues.
In addition to using art to educate the public about chickens, VanMechelen also has spoken at the United Nations and at the World Economic Forum on the value of chickens to the global economy. Vanmechelen emphasized the importance of his chicken project when he stated at the end of the interview on the BBC, “Never give up on diversity. If we do, then the story ends.”