Koen VANMECHELEN is an internationally recognized conceptual artist, works on diversity and biocultural identity. His work is as diverse and hybrid as the cosmopolitan chicken: a unique blend of paintings, drawings, photographs, innovative 3D techniques, videos, installations and wood sculptures. The unifying theme remains the chicken and the egg. But nothing is what it seems. The core of the project is not the chicken or the egg, but the crossbreeding and diversity that results.
Exhibitions & art fairs
2016 : «Planetary Community Chiken », National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
2008 : « Breaking the Cage – The art of Koen Vanmechelen” Victoria and Albert Museum, Arts & Business, London, Britain ; « The Chicken’s Appeal », Museum Valkenhof, Nijmegen, Netherlands
2007 : « Genesis », The Cosmopolitan Chicken, Central Museum Utrecht, Netherlands
2006 : « Handle with care», Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia
2005 : « Slow Art – Neue Akzente aus Flandern und den Niederlanden », Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany ; « Two Asias, Two Europes », Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
2003 : « The Mechelse Owlbeard », Museum Barneveld, Barneveld, Netherlands ; « The Mechelse Owlbeard », Museum GEM , KunstRAI Amsterdam, Netherlands ; « The Walking Egg », Shinchu Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
1999 : « Walking Eggs », Museo del Vetro, Venezia-Murano, Italy
1998 : « Beeld B3 », Stedelijk Museum, Göteborg, Sweden
Belgium : Brussels (Lucas Gallery, Marijke Scheurs Gallery) ; Chimay (Chimay Castle) ; Genk (CosmOpolitan Gallery) ; Knokke (Guy Pieters Gallery) ; Leuven (Cultureel Centrum ) ; Otegem (Gallery Deweer) ; Vichte (Chateau de Vichte)
Britain : London (Saint Pancras Church)
France : Paris (Galerie Arcturus)
Germany : Berlin (Cube) ; Munich (Galerie K4)
Italy : Turin (William Gallery), Venise (Berengo Free Space)
Netherlands : Amsterdam (De Brakke Grond), Rotterdam (Studium Generale)
Slovenia : Ljubljana ( Galerija Kapelica)
Sweden : Malmö (Galerie Tapper)
United States : Detroit (Wasserman Projects Gallery) ; Washington (Connersmith Gallery)
Belgum : Art Brussels, Brussels
Italy : Biennal of Venise, Venise
Japan : Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair, Tokyo
Russia : Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow
Spain : ARCO, Madrid
Swiss : Art Basel, Basel
United States : Miami Art Fair, Miami
2008 : The Chicken’s Appeal, Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, Netherlands
2007 : Koen Vanmechelen/The Accident, Het Glazen Huis, Lommel, Belgium
2005 : The Walking Egg/Born,P. Dupont, Fertility Hospital, Genk, Belgium ; The Virtual Mechelse Fighter, Deweert Art Gallery, Otegem, Belgium
2003 : “The Cosmopolitan Chicken”, edition Ludion, Ostende, Belgium ; Koen Vanmechelen/Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Barbara Simons & Wouter Keirse, Ludion Gent-Amsterdam, De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2001 : Cosmopolitan Chicken Project – Between Natural Breeding and Genetic Engineering, Deweert Art Gallery, Otegem, Belgium
1998 : “Manneke van Glas” with Gregie De Maeyer and Peter Labarque, Averbode, Netherlands
1997 : “De Kooi”, with Gregie De Maeyer, Averbode, Netherlands
1996 : “Juul”, with Gregie De Maeyer, Loguez Ediciones
Ever since my earliest youth I always felt the urge over and over again to create new things, tear them apart, and rebuild them and to fulfill other and better desires.
Fascinated with the things nature offers to me,I started as a youngster to collect fowl. The amazement for their plumage, their courtship behavior, the laying of an egg, the breaking of the scale, making the housing of gigantic wooden cages and the efforts to breed these extraordinary animals in breeding machines occupied me day in day out.
Not knowing this would determine my whole life.
The urge and the unrest to, over and over again, search for a new construction resulted with a strange symbiosis with wood. Wood and the way I understand wood, gave me the possibility to give freedom to creatures who had everything and nothing to do with bipeds.
A bird walking with its own cage without wings or roots, always on its way. Attracted by my studio, I started with a serie of sculptures and installations with wooden birds, humans, cages and eggs.
Always on the road and searching, I met through my exposition of dismantled wooden human and birth construction the youth author Gregie de Mayer, who became interested or using these sculptures in books.
First there was « Juul » after which he wrote – based upon my philosophy about a cage – the book « The cage » as a kind of a catalogue of my work.
Thinking about concepts as construction and destruction I landed up in the world of glass. Next to the development of a glass little man, used in the book of the same name, the urge grew to go a step further.
This resulted with a combination of metal with glass, amongst others « the walking eggs », instantly born in the glass ovens of Murano in Venice.
This was a fascinating start to continue my exploratory expedition in this fragile world. At this moment, I made a collection of assembled fowls made of clay, glass and iron frames captivating the glass.
The world is small and behind every corner a new adventure pops up.
On 7.5 acres of land in the wooden area of Dilsem – Stokkem, I started with a breeding program, « the Mechelbres ».
This a hybridization of the famous chickens Mechelse Koekoek and Poulet de Bresse. A living work of art of which the first results form the first generation are ready in eight different blood lines to continue to work at the ultimate chicken and everything involved.
At the same time, I traveled to Nepal and India to study their ancestors, the Bankiva chicken, to learn more about the different steps in their evolution and to connect them through this to the existing cultures as textile, music, religion etcetera.
Today, the second generation « Mechelbres » is already born with the unexpected result : a beautiful « blue chicken ».
The Mechelbres on its turn is the start of an « chain » interbreeding program with famous chickens form all over the world. The final result of this interbreeding program will be the « cosmopolitan » or the superbastard.
I have known already for a while that Koen VANMECHELEN had something to do with animals, more in particular with those two-footed feathered specimens that belong to the walking species rather than the flying species. He seems to be fascinated by the limitations of the species and goes deeply into their mode of living. Some examples of these galliforms walk around in a fenced off pasture behind his home. I’m surprised to see a couple of emus that, although not endemic, feel perfectly accomodated. During the past years the artist was permanently inspired by these animals to create imaginary non-existing representations in wood, iron, plaster, textile and glass. He tells me about a primitive breed of pheasants that live somewhere high up in the Himalayan Mountains and compares them to breeds that live in the valleys of India or Malaysia. He talks about vultures : about stupas in the far East, decorated with the heads of eagles, about his plans to create a glass bicentipede for the year 2000, measuring over 400 meters and switches back to tell me about the mating dance of the satyr fowls. For an artist something does not emerge out of nothing. The sources of inspiration are numerous : nature, the neighbourhood, man and often also the past history of art. In the conflict between figuration and abstraction, between art inspired by nature and art as an autonomous discipline not inspired by the surrounding world, Koen VANMECHELEN has clearly chosen for the first. However, his representations of animals do not follow the natural patterns. They are somehow immature, examples of different stages of a process that never ends : wondering passers-by on their way to the indefinable. He looks for the ambiguities and contradictions between perfection and faultlessness, between the constructive and the destructive. The many occupied or non occupied cages he constructs yet never really closed illustrate the relation man-animal. However, imaginary representations of reality now seem to have become adequate to satisfy VANMECHELEN’s desire for the adventure of creation. The creation of a new breed of chicken, the Mechelse-Bresse, still a non-existing hybrid between two famous varieties, the Mechelse Koekoek and the French Poulet de Bresse, has caught his full attention. An artistic program ? It poses a problem to me. The scientific breeding program does not fulfill the requirements of what art is or should be. Or does it ? Until early this century it was accepted that art was a substitute of reality : in the reflection of the reality, the artist brings the image back to life. It is the power of imagination that creates the discontinuity between the represented and the representation. Therefore, the representation leaves to a great extent freedom in the relation with the represented. It is always an interpretation of the artist who shows us a special or different perspective on the reality that is recognisable evoked by the image. As a simulation the representation determines to a great extent the meaning of the represented. Marcel Duchamp has opened the
idea of art as a substitute of reality for discussion. With his Fontaine (1912) he does not expose an image but the real object itself. In 1964, Warhol regained the idea with the Brillo Boxes. The representation and the represented coincide, become identical. The object from the reality is declared to be a piece of art, solely on the base of the concept that the context is determinant for the meaning we attribute to the object. From now on art becomes dependent on the context – the environment where the work of art appears (from the real world into the museum) – and the formulation. The meaning does not only evolve from the nature of the representation but also from the location (context) of the presentation. Therefore there is nothing wrong in the fact that Koen VANMECHELEN presents a chicken, if it were not that this chicken, the Mechelse-Bresse, is not reality but in the process of becoming one. He does not present an image of reality, nor a real object in a different context, but a still non-existing living entity that will become real. Whether or not empireal, during the course of time.
If it is required for a work of art that it is new or renewing, this is definitely the case with the Mechelse-Bresse. The spectator becomes the witness of the adventure of the artist who gives nature a little push to produce a new creature in a complete natural and non-manipulated way. The expectations are great.
We are looking forward to the ultimate moment of surprise. In the meantime I can only conclude that artists are a strange breed.
By Florent BEX