The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project
Koen Vanmechelen first gained international recognition in the late nineties, with the launch of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP). He began to crossbreed domesticated chickens from different countries with the ultimate aim of creating a truly cosmopolitan chicken.
Behind the project is the understanding that all chickens alive today are themselves a story of diversity - all originally descended from a single bird, the Red Jungle Fowl. But, as Vanmechelen sees it, these purebred industrial or domesticated chickens are artificial human design constructs and representations of monocultures. The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project began as his attempt to disrupt that process and open up new evolutionary pathways to allow complexity back in. It has become a never-ending exploration of the impact of cultural and biological diversity on society as a whole.
Rather than choosing and crossing different breeds selected for specific purposes or superior traits and efficiency, Vanmechelen’s breeds are chosen for their various cultural histories. After nearly two decades, the CCP now encompasses the genetic diversity of over 20 different strains of purebred chickens from all over the world. Its genetic diversity is three to five times that of a normal commercial chicken, strengthening its resilience, immunity and fertility and providing living proof of ‘survival through the other’. The chickens all live on the artist’s farm until they die a natural death, typically surviving several years longer than the purebred chickens who live alongside them.
“My work is guided by the belief in ‘the other’. I believe that art needs to engage with what’s around it. Every organism needs another organism to survive. To me, the purebred industrial or domesticated chickens we know today are artificial human design constructs – framed and contained pieces of art. I’m not sure it’s right to create a frame around a living object. The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project is my attempt to disrupt that process and explore a new kind of evolution that lets the complexity back in.” Koen Vanmechelen.