Koen Vanmechelen (b. 1965), from Belgium, is a multidisciplinary artist whose output includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos and installations. He is best known, however, for his work over many decades with living animals such as chickens.
The Vanmechelen exhibition brings the full range of his art to Gösta Museum and its surrounding park. Vanmechelen is one of Belgium’s most famous contemporary artists. His works were last exhibited at Kassel Documenta 2012 and Venice Bienniale 2017. This is his first solo exhibition in the Nordic countries.
Key concepts in Vanmechelen’s art are diversity, identity, freedom, balance and human rights. He is a deeply ethical artist, who is concerned about the state of the Earth and humankind’s future as a species. He seeks both symbolically and concretely to open perspectives into a future where people do not exploit nature or each other but live in a state of balance. Art plays a key role in this work. “An artist is motivated by the desire to change the world, not by the power to possess it,” he says. The exhibition is curated by Timo Valjakka.
The Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen (1965) is an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist. His ground-breaking work deals with biocultural diversity and identity. Central to his oeuvre is the chicken, which, through his projects, is revealed as both an artwork and a metaphor for society. By bringing together and exploring the interplay between art, science and philosophy in his work, Vanmechelen reflects upon our global heritage and examines the way that we choose to live and evolve. Multi-disciplinary scientific collaborations and community engagement are integral to Vanmechelen’s approach.
Vanmechelen’s work first gained worldwide recognition in the late nineties, with the launch of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP), an artistic crossbreeding project with chickens. Since its inception nearly twenty years ago, the resulting art work has been shown in exhibitions all over the world. It has also attracted growing interest amongst scientists. Each successive generation of the CCP has proven to be more resilient, longer living, less susceptible to disease, and less aggressive than the previous one. In collaboration with the University of Leuven, the Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project (CC®P) now studies the genetic make-up of the various CCP crossings and its potential implications for science. Vanmechelen’s scientific collaborations have earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Hasselt (2010) and the Golden Nica Hybrid Art award (2013).
Vanmechelen’s art work is as diverse and hybrid as the Cosmopolitan Chicken itself: a unique mix of paintings, drawings, photography, innovative 3D-techniques, video, installations and wooden sculptures. All of it flows from Vanmechelen’s belief that art belongs in society, engaging with people. The artist’s major on-going projects have a consistent community focus: Cosmogolem, a global art-based children’s rights project; the Walking Egg, a developing world fertility project; and Combat, a WW1 remembrance project. In 2011, the foundations supporting these works were grouped into a new institute called the Open University of Diversity.
In 2016, Vanmechelen launched his Planetary Community Chicken (PCC) project. As the new cross-breed is being introduced to underserved communities worldwide, the MOUTH foundation leads on the sustainable development aspects of the initiative. MOUTH is a not-for-profit organization set up by a group of European doctors and scientists in partnership with Vanmechelen in 2016. It brings together art, science and people to explore the applications and impact of biocultural diversity.
Vanmechelen has presented his work on almost every continent, from the U.S. to China and Iceland to Senegal. In Belgium his work has been shown at numerous museums and locations: the Verbeke Foundation, Watou, Museum M and Z33. He has also participated in solo and group exhibitions in, amongst others, The National Gallery (London), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Museum Kunst Palast (Düsseldorf), Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ (Amsterdam), Macro (Rome), MAD Museum (NY), Belvedere (Vienna), ZKM (Karlsruhe) and Pushkin Museum (Moscow). Besides making regular appearances at the Venice Biennale, his work has been shown at the Biennials of Moscow, Havana, Dakar and Poznan, at the Triennial of Guangzhou, at the World Expo Shanghai 2010, at Manifesta 9, and at DOCUMENTA (13).
Vanmechelen lives in Meeuwen-Gruitrode, in the northeast of Belgium. He is an honorary citizen of his native town of Sint-Truiden. Since 2017, the artist has been based at his new studio, La Biomista, built by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Occupying the grounds of a former public zoo in Genk, LABIOMISTA will open to the public in spring 2019. Alongside the artist’s studio, it will host a culture and animal park, and an educational and research center, including the Open University of Diversity.