The Accident Chronicles of The Cosmopolitan Chicken December 2009
â&#x20AC;&#x153;The chicken is a metaphor for human existence and the egg is a metaphor for the world and the laboratory of the future.â&#x20AC;?
HIS second edition of the Accident is devoted to some important evolutions of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project and the Cosmogolem Project.
In 2008 ‘Human Reproduction Updates’ (Oxford Journals) published an article about fertility in the developing countries. This took my cooperation with professor Willem Ombelet to a higher level. My selection for the Venice and Moscow Biennale in 2009 and the erection of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project (CC®P) are indelible steps. The CC®P is my foundation that enables the genetic research of chickens, under the expert guidance of professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman (Catholic University of Leuven). The CC®P found its shelter in the architecture’s firm of CC®P-chairman Alfredo De Gregorio. De Gregorio is supported by cochairman dr. Luc Vrielinck and other enthousiastic members (see colofon). The CC®P also supports the non-profit projects of Koen Vanmechelen: the Cosmogolem Project and this magazine ‘The Accident’. The Cosmogolem Project was received very well in Warsaw and Arusha and lots of other countries and cities. It remains a permanent symbol of hope and revolution for children. The thinktank of The Accident, guided by journalist Peter Dupont, has chosen to work on the concept of islands, places where interesting biotopes emerge. Islands are also places that can get isolated and lead to inbreed. I see an island as an egg or an ultimate cage. Thinking about birds and fishes, about the animal in man and the man in the animal, I conceived the concept of the cage as a metaphor for art. The ongoing cycle as liberating and catching, fertilizing and being fertilized. The egg represents fertility and a break through porous confinement. The egg is the most beautiful cage; it is impossible to predict what will emerge from it. The egg is the perfect tool or metaphor; a symbol for the world. The creature inside is as a paradise in which the world originates and grows. The chicken bears these two elements in itself. I want to go my own way, influenced by as few symbols as possible and without burdens of the past. In this way I can look for and find new meanings. The transparent globe, of which my egg is made, lets me to see without boundaries. Koen Vanmechelen
‘Against Exclusions’ 3rd Moscou Biennale
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’ 13 generations
The Buddha’s umbrella The Biennials of Venice and Moscow, the first solo exhibit in the US, the ukases in Toronto, Beijing and Tokyo, the amazing solo exhibits in Amsterdam, Brussels and Otegem, Without forgetting the expeditions in Morocco and Cambodia. In the Darwin year and the year of change that was 2009, Koen Vanmechelen traded in his crossed globe or Salvator globe for a Buddha with an umbrella. “The most memorable event for me was the start of the scientific research into my 12 generations of chickens at KULeuven”, says Vanmechelen.
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
The skin, the surface in Koen Vanmechelen’s artistic work, was finally replaced in 2009, which became the year of the movement towards what is within. Koen Vanmechelen’s work became more complex, as did the questions that require an artistic answer. What potential does a chicken have to inspire fear in humans or to love humans? What does interspeciality mean? Why do some elements, such as the work, ‘The Unicorn’, have to be visible or invisible? Which boundaries prevent the representation of diversity? Previous expeditions to Tibet, Nepal, Northern India and
Cuba already lifted part of the veil for Koen Vanmechelen. But 2009 yielded many answers as well as new and even more complex questions. How important are your travels for The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project? The expeditions to Cambodia and Morocco for example? ‘The airplane trip on my birthday was very symbolic: travelling from one side of the world to the other. I was never as cosmopoli-
tan as on my 44th birthday. Only travelling can give me that cosmopolitan feeling: acquiring a better sense of time and space by relinquishing time and space. This sense of being an orphan – of leaving the soil of one’s homeland behind - makes my work much more universal. But because the borders have been forced open, I tend to no longer feel them as such. Am I in Europe, Asia, America or Asia? Often I no longer know. I like that because it enables me to create a highly open relation with everyone, and with his or her diversity; individually, no longer in group.”
“This is a consequence of lighting. I have been liberated from a given pressure, because I broke through my own boundaries. I no longer focus on myself. It makes my work different, more colourful, lighter, but still not easy to digest. Previously my work was more tormented. The core still had to shake off a number of layers. Typical of a reverse romantic, I guess. I started with a very critical and remote attitude to society. I still have that but yesterday’s scepticism has been replaced with great surprise. By discovering how complex and full life, reality and the cosmos can be.”
What is the difference? “In the group, fear prevails. Where do you break in? What’s the group like? How does it feel about you? If you are a universal thinker, then you step across this boundary and you encounter people. I feel that our world is making steps towards this cosmopolitan feeling. Relations have become much more open. A consequence of the crossings and of the curiosity that have made us overcome our archaeology. This, by the way, is a key element in our existence: you need to overcome something – break it even – in order to be.”
Does it make it easier for you to function in reality? In your own biotope. (After a long think). Maybe, but I don’t think of myself as important. Yesterday I spoke with an artist, who continuously emphasized the individual’s interests. I think more globally. An individual is nothing, he is part of a larger universe.”
And that is the sense of being orphaned? “Without this, you will always remain attached to your ‘place of birth’. The place where you always have to be, over and over again. This umbilical cord needs to be cut. Maybe, one day, it will grab me again, but at the moment that is most certainly not the case. This has nothing to do with a sense of eradication. I don’t feel this, precisely because I have become part of this universal way of thinking. All the rules of play for my existence also apply on the other side of the world. This makes my work so different.” Can you give a practical example? “Immediately after Cambodia, I started working on an installation that is equally Latin American, Asian and European. It manages to bridge the three continents. Sticks studded with feathers, cage structures with light, a bronze sculpture of a cockerel: ingredients from three different continents. Such a work is never far removed from my original art, which was created as a result of the uncontrollable rationality of our European way of thinking.” The first steps are never far from the nest. ‘That is correct and originally it allowed me to elicit deep emotions and to reveal the core of our very existence: our procreation, our biological motive. I am trying to show this moment, just before the rational step is taken: the result of the crossing. Our history is but a small part of global history. If I make a crossed globe, then I highlight only one aspect and I discuss a small part of the world. In my next work I’d like to use the parasol of the Buddha. I would like to create an installation on the cusp of two different crossings, in order to capture the chaotic moment in between – the moment of crossing.” Do your drawings play a key role in this? “My drawings are the raw emotions, the inspiration for the energy that facilitates the crossing. The discharge that I need. My crossings with 13 generations of chickens are becoming increasingly complex, as are my other works. They already encompass thirteen countries, cultures and ways of thinking and being. And so do I. That is a heavy burden to shoulder. I can feel that my mind is continuously storing information and processing it. It becomes more fascinating, richer, more complex, but it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to formulate analyses and answers artistically.” A striking feature of your work is the highly exuberant use of colour, which is far removed from the dark hues of the past.
What do you think is the most pressing theme of our times? “Showcasing diversity, my main theme, is the biggest challenge of our time. What is it? What does it look like? Where can we find it and how do we portray it? In my art I do this through chickens: diversity as a natural given. So many differences, but in essence, everything on this planet is related to one another. My exhibition ‘Connection’ touches on the diversity beyond and between species. The common elements between the lama, the camel, the chicken and man. In the past these different species crossed one another’s paths repeatedly. Now they have arrived at a turning point, where they can once again determine one another’s future in a radical manner. But remember, my starting point is always rational, is always man.”
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
What did Cambodia come to mean to you? “It was a tough experience, both physically and mentally. It meant a lot to me, it was so amazing and pure that I decided to spend a few weeks there. I learnt to feel that by travelling: follow your nose, change your plans if you feel that this is where the action is. First and foremost, I met people, Cambodians. I saw how they try to save themselves; in comparison with Thailand where people are less creative and on the job, as they have been more pampered by life.”
Does your work elicit the same questions in all cultures? “The basic questions are the same. What does strike me is the growing openness in relation to my work. More of a connection, even on the other side of the world, in China for example. This gives me a whole different sense of confidence in what I do. In the past, for example, I could be stumped when somebody would ask me, after a long-winded explanation, ‘now what’s up with the chicken?’ I’ve put that behind me now. I think that I have become better at conveying the essence. The foundation is there, the story fits.”
What crossed your path? “The quest for the chicken always leads to contact with people first and foremost, with the manner in which they try to survive. This requires sharpness and creativity, far away from the numbing comfort of being pampered. Thanks to the country’s terrible past, you are confronted with Cambodians’ amazing skills, sharpness and intelligence. From a very young age, very interesting. That is what I need at that moment. It teaches me how dangerous our society really is. Our pampering results in dissatisfaction and finally a struggle. In Cambodia there is a desire to move beyond this, away from the dissatisfaction. We need to continue to be aware of this.”
Are you religious? “Yes, insofar as I see religion as the instant that precedes knowledge. After which religion intervenes once again: the instant in which you cannot yet explain that which cannot be explained. The discovery is yet to happen. That is why I think that science is so important, it provides us with the knowledge to continue, to move. That is what motivates our history. I think it doesn’t make sense to reject or deny science. I reject ignorance.” Does art have to contain a smidgeon of tragedy to be valuable? ‘Tragedy is inherent in a good message. My golem carries that tragedy within. He helps and destroys. As a wood fire, he burns or creates.” It is worth noting that you were very much in demand as a speaker during the Darwin year. “My work is disseminated at other levels. There is an increasing understanding that you can fuel thinking in other disciplines based on art. The crossing of ideas with so many people from other disciplines is intellectually and creatively stimulating. It makes me think more, incites me to think about the Other/about what is different. I am no longer interested in discussions on inbreeding
with other artists. At the end of the day, the main issue in such discussions is always the same: how much do you ask?
What was the initial aim of this trip? “I wanted to go see chickens in Cambodian society. Chickens live very close to and in harmony with people. Which brings me back to the Golem. By chance, as is always the case. Things come to me. Over the years, I have learnt to follow my nose, in search of purity. On the bus, a woman started talking to me and within a short time I had found a place for my giant in Sihanoukville. A port city in the Bay of Thailand, the most important sea port in Cambodia. The golem will be placed in an orphanage ran by Australian, Shirley Hew.”
We haven’t discussed your Morocco experience yet. “It was highly fascinating. A novelty for me was the fact that I could sense the cultural and social changes in Morocco in the chicken. Berbers are starting to defend their chickens against the imported industrial chickens. You see the difference once again, the translation of a nationalistic reflex in the genes. It is wonderful to see this happen. This does not mean that I intend to start a crossing project with the Moroccan chicken anytime soon.” Did the road from the first to the provisional twelfth generation go as planned? “Entirely. Everything went as it should have. From the very outset, I looked for the genetics, I had the feeling that something valuable was growing within. Now I am at an important crossroads: my Foundation has been established, the blood samples of all of my generations of chickens have been taken in order to start DNA research at UZ Leuven. In the next two years, researchers will work on this. The fact that funds were found to contribute to this complex system’s success is the big change this year. This makes the movement towards what is within much stronger. What is our internal make-up? I am starting a different type of research within my chicken research. This will take me through the arteries.” Why is this movement towards what is within so important? “Research into the exterior is old-fashioned. Looking at the surface forces us to blow up things. Bigger, bigger and even bigger than that. A typical example of this approach is the giant inflatable duck that was recently presented as art in Hasselt. The Venice Biennial was also representative of superficial staring. “The Making Worlds” remains on the outside in a rather dramatic manner. I think ‘it’ should always fit in a cup of coffee.” What do you expect from the scientific research? “I try to expect nothing. I know that there is a lot going on in my head in relation to this research, but I have no idea what. The best is yet to come.”
The Art and Science of Monstrosity Koen Vanmechelen has issued a call for biological variety as a metaphor for human society. As he explains, his long-term art project, ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’ has grown into a society next to a society, which makes us think in a metaphorical way about our own culture and nature. In other words, if all is well with the chicken, all is well with us.” (Koen Vanmechelen)
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
By Susan M. Squier Vanmechelen’s artistic vision of a society whose development is engineered by interventions into chicken breeding, and which articulates the complex relations between nature and culture has a precedent in a work by zoologist Julian Huxley in the early twentieth century. We know Huxley as the architect behind the modern evolutionary synthesis, but he was also the author of a science fiction short story, “The Tissue-Culture King”(1926), exploring themes that would later take a central place in Vanmechelen’s “Cosmopolitan Chicken Project”: the infinite variety of forms available in nature, the generative position of monsters in science and society, the spiritual or religious dimensions of reproduction, and the powerful if invisible connections between science and the state. While Huxley’s story offers a critique of the drive for control and power underlying modern medicine, it also suggests some of the originality and emancipatory vision of Vanmechelen’s notion of the world of difference springing from, and articulated through, his chicken breeding project. In “The Tissue-Culture King,” Huxley tells the story of a British researcher kidnapped by an African tribe. In order to save his life, Dr. Hascombe promises the tribesmen that he can “render visible the blood’s hidden nature and reality” and thus safeguard the life of their king. Renowned for his research on tissue culture, cancer, and developmental physiology, Hascombe pulls together all his scientific knowledge and develops a technique for rendering the king—or more precisely his tissues—immortal. “Our aim was to multiply the King’s tissues indefinitely, to en-
sure that some of their protecting power should reside everywhere in the country.” Working with “quite good cultures, first of chick tissues and later, by the aid of embryo-extract, of various adult mammalian tissues,” he removes “small portions of His Majesty’s subcutaneous connective tissue under a local anaesthetic, . . . [puts] fragments of this into a culture medium,” and once they have shown “abundant growth”, distributes small amounts of them to tribal citizens throughout the country, until “there was hardly a family in the country which did not possess at least one sacred culture.” Having demonstrated his value to the state, Hascombe becomes “religious adviser to His Majesty King Mgobe,” and begins to create a strange mirror image of Western medicine in this African nation by founding “the Factory of Kingship or Majesty, and the Wellspring of Ancestral Immortality” or, as he describes it the “Institute of Religious Tissue Culture.”
Tussentitel Hascombe’s Institute recalls its Western medical siblings, but always with a distortion. It is well funded through the tithing of livestock which is required of each citizen obtaining a culture of the king’s tissues; it trains its own laboratory technicians--tribal women, who ultimately take on the permanent status of “Sisters of the Sacred Tissue”; it offers a program of regenerative medicine through culturing the tissues of aged citizens before they die so that the customary ancestor worship can be carried out with living ancestral remains; and it maintains a vast tissue bank though it serves not pathology but emergent biology, for it is “[n]
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
ot a necropolis, but a histopolis . . . not a cemetery, but a place of eternal growth.” Despite its structural similarities to Western medical institutions, Hascombe’s Institute is also a dramatic departure in the application of its research. The endocrinology laboratory specializes in the creation of deliberate monstrosities. Another laboratory attempts to extend parthenogenesis from avian and reptilian eggs to mammalian ones. Deciding he would “see whether art could not improve upon nature” Hascombe there applies his knowledge of experimental embryology to the production of grotesque animals such as “double-headed and cyclopean monsters . . . threeheaded snakes, and toads with an extra heaven-pointing head.”
Tussentitel What is Hascombe’s purpose in creating these “incredible animal monstrosities?” The question Huxley’s short story raised to readers of The Yale Review in 1926 has recently taken on interest to artists and scholars alike. Hascombe’s work is an extension in fiction of a tradition of teratological and teratogenic research that according to a recent article in the BMJ Medical Humanities can be traced from the 19th century to our contemporary work with embryonic stem cells. Early 19th-century embryologists Etienne Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire and his son Isidore tried to “reproduce monsters through the manipulation of fertilised chicken eggs.”. With the publication of his Recherches sur la Production Artificielle des Monstruosites ou, Essais de Teratogenie Experimentale, embryologist Camille Dareste founded the field of teratogeny—a field he hoped would be “a science of all possible bodies,” which would reveal an “unlimited variability” of forms. Unlike the Saint-Hilaires, who
hoped to catalogue the vast variety of different shapes and structures possible in embryological life, Dareste viewed monstrosity not as pathological but as profoundly creative, seeing it as “an expanding horizon of variability, an open ended exploration of the possibilities of life, in which the experimental science of teratogeny participates.” He carried out a series of experiments on chick embryos, exposing them to conditions that would produce mutations, in order to achieve “some transformisme experimentale of breeds or even species.”
standing of development is to be found by looking at how tissues interact with their surroundings at the level of the cell.
Tussentitel Later biologists followed in this tradition of the deliberate production of monsters. Swiss physiologists Hermann Fol and Stanislas Warynski used a thermometer to destroy the rudimentary head of a chick embryo aged between 24 and 48 hours, in order to see how such an abnormal embryo would develop, in comparison to a normal one. They were able to create, at will, embryos missing most of their brain, or with duplicate hearts. Then in the early 1930s, British embryologist C.H. Waddington extended this research by carrying out a series of specific surgeries on chick embryos, severing, grafting, excising or stirring tissues so as to produce predictable, and meaningful, abnormalities. His results enabled him to theorize a central property of embryonic growth: that development occurred through an interaction between cells and their surroundings, consisting of chemical signaling. As he explained in his classic publication, The Epigenetics of Birds ,“The origin of morphogenetic forces can only be sought in places where there is contact between different elements. In multi-cellular embryos such as the chick, we must therefore seek them in interactions between cell-masses (tissues) and between such cell-masses and non-cellular media.” In other words, the scientific under-
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Waddington carried out his research by using the very same technique of tissue-culturing chick embryos that was central to Hascombe’s “Institute of Religious Tissue-Culture.” Working at Britain’s Strangeways Research Laboratory, he investigated normal and abnormal growth, working with both embryos and cancer cells because both shared a cellular propensity for uncontrolled growth. Indeed, he too was working in the tradition of the teratologists Saint-Hilaires, who not only worked on chick embryos but also explored tumors, in particular a kind of ovarian tumor known as a teratoma. Even Hascombe’s seemingly outrageous scientific practices--creating monstrous beings and eternal tissue-cultures to consolidate and disseminate the presence of the King throughout his African nation—have a connection to contemporary biomedical research. Pluripotent embryonic stem cells, which are central to the work in regenerative medicine, were initially confused with the cells of embryonal carcinomas. Those stem cell therapies have become potent sources of hope for extending life and curing devastating neurological diseases. Surgeons are working with trans-species organ grafts, while pharmacological researchers are using interspecies hybrids in the production of human medicines. All of these efforts reflect on a notion of monstrous development not as pathological but as promising. Huxley’s vision of a society in which a state-sponsored production of monstrous beings is represented to the populace as essential for personal longevity and state security may not at first seem to have applications for our era. But when we appreciate its relation-
ship to the teratological, endocrinological and embryological research that has laid the foundation for contemporary regenerative medicine, we realize that his story anticipated the profound shift that has taken place in our conception of health and medicine. As Cooper explains, “For the science of regenerative medicine . . . [h]ealth has become excessive rather than homeostatic. . . . the deregulated growth of the monstrosity, that ultimate countervalue to normative theories of organic life, comes to represent the most extreme potentiality of life itself.” The very speed and variety of development makes monstrous growth now a profoundly open signifier. To quote Huxley’s Dr. Hascombe, “it is all growing so fast—I can see every kind of possibility ahead.”
Tussentitel In its distorted mirroring of biomedicine in the 20th century, as in its uncannily accurate anticipation of the medicine of our day, Huxley’s little story offers a critique of the drive for control and power he saw as central to its practices. Despite its obvious fascination with the endless possibilities raised by tissue-culture and experimental embryology, Huxley’s short story is unambiguous in its condemnation of Hascombe’s science. When the explorernarrator escapes Africa, he leaves Dr. Hascombe behind. Nor does he carry news of his scientific achievements back to Britain. “[A]lthough I was interested enough in his past achievements, I did not feel willing to sacrifice my future to his perverted intellectual ambitions.” The tale concludes with a question whose social and ethical challenge rings out clearly even today: “The question I want to raise is this: Dr. Hascombe attained to an unsurpassed power in a number of the applications of science—but to what end did all this power serve?”
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Breaking the cage is part of evolution transported by generationsâ&#x20AC;&#x153;
© Koen Vanmechelen, Cosmogolem Project.
Cosmogolem Project in action, 2003 - 2007. • Antwerpen, Brasschaat, Brugge, Brussel, Genk, Hasselt, Leuven, Maasmechelen, Meeuwen, Sint-Ttruiden, Tongeren (B). • Heerlen, Landgraaf, Tilburg (NL). • Mumbai (India). • Bhai Pheru (Pakistan). • Arusha (Tanzania). • Warchau (Polen). • Mapuche (Chili).
Cosmogolem Project in progress • Pakistan, Cambodja, China, Namibië, Lommel, Nicaragua, Japan ...
Wood giant connects Angkor Wat with Warsaw In the shadow of Angkor Vat and a mere stone’s throw from the former Warsaw ghetto, two Golems are keeping an eye on their new flock. In 2009, Cambodian orphans and Polish children joined the growing numbers that gather under the enormous hands of Koen Vanmechelen’s wood giant.
In the sixteenth century, Prague rabbi Yehudah Loew created a Homunculus with clay and water in order to protect the population in the Jewish ghettos in Prague and Warsaw. The creature, known as the Golem, was a guarantee for peace and safety in people’s heads. More than four centuries later, the Golem has returned to Warsaw, this time as a helper and friend of the children, bridging various cultures. A new Golem in the centre of the Polish capital is a strong symbol in the year in which we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a result, the project has a special significance for the Fundacja Dzieci Niczyje (Nobody’s Children Foundation), the foundation for child protection and welfare, which brought the Golem to Warsaw. In 2008, Nobody’s Children Foundation (NCF) witnessed Koen Vanmechelen’s project at Peter Adriaenssens’ Vertrouwenscentrum Kindermishandeling (Centre for Child Abuse). The Leuven child psychiatrist has been using the wood effigy since 2004 in his therapy for abused and traumatized children. The giant’s stony features are often reflected in the seemingly unmoving exterior of traumatized children. Meanwhile, their inner world is teeming with unprocessed feelings. In order to quieten the storm within, children can leave part of themselves behind in the Golem’s hollow interior: a drawing, a thought, something that they cannot confide in anyone else, leaving them with a sense of security and warmth. The NCF’s enthusiasm for the Golem soon inspired the involved organizations. The organization wants the Warsaw Golem to remind the Polish people of children’s rights, other cultures and discrimination. In this way, it wishes to create a place for children to learn about their rights, about the assistance that can be provided to them in difficult situations and about charity. The Golem in Warsaw is like a safe haven in which children can express their dreams and wishes and thus further develop themselves.
Tussentitel The Golem was set up in the city centre, in Pola Mokotowskie Park, not far from the former ghetto. Children from all over the city helped build the wood giant, especially children from support centres such as the NCF. The Foundation wishes to turn the Golem into an absolute must-see as a result of its central location, which attracts scores of people every day. A place where families can step into the world of the children’s friend. The Foundation will regularly organize events around the Golem, such as workshops for children on other cultures and aid. More than 8,500 kilometres away, in the shadow of the monumental Angkor Wat temple, the Golem has found a new place to guard. The Orphans & Disabled Arts Association (ODA) is established in Tbong, a remote village.
At first glance, you feel as if you are among a typical Khmer family. The place is bustling with children, the atmosphere is elated, and it is teeming with life. But then you realize you are in an orphanage. And the home of a grass-roots NGO, which was established in 2003 by artist Leng Touch. ‘Leng himself was an orphan of the Khmer Rouge,’ says the Australian volunteer Shirley Hawe. Almost by accident – or maybe not – she met Koen Vanmechelen on the bus tot Angkor Vat and brought him to ODA. ‘From 2003 onwards Leng, together with his wife Sri Om, has been taking in orphans from the area in and around his village. He teaches the kids drawing and painting as well as English. The children are often orphans living on the street or from poor families who are unable to feed them. Now they all live together as one big family.’
Tussentitel ODA, definitely not an institute, is based around basic village life, with Leng, his wife Sry On and Sophan Sen teaching them all the basics of village life: building, thatching, concreting, cooking on terra cotta pot fires. Shirley: ‘And of course the lovely art that allows them to express themselves and develops fine motor co ordination skills & imagination.’ Chickens run around and roost in the roof of the ‘school’ hut. Neighbours’ kids can join the English classes at any time. ‘The children are involved in everything and all care for each other,’ says Shirley. It’s an amazing experience to be able to share. And by the way: some of the kids are really amazing artists.’ Shirley met Leng in the fascinating Ta Prom Temple, where he was sketching and painting, capturing the magic of the temple in his work. ‘We began talking and I was drawn to this very genuine man who shares his family life with so many disadvantaged children. I was at the Temples with 48 children from an NGO from Sihanouk Ville: Cambodian Childrens Painting Project, which is also dedicated to the creative enrichment of these warm lovely kids. Leng was eager to share his studio with our children so we followed him back. He was so generous with his limited resources and eager to interact with our children with their art. Several months later he spent one week with us at our NGO and in just 3 to 4 days our talented children were painting very professional art works. Mr Leng is so generous with his sharing and teaching and we now partner with him wherever we can help each other. The world is certainly richer for lovely sharing people like him.’ In the beginning Leng and his wife worked on the restoration in the Temple complex using their meagre income to feed and care for the children. Shirley: ‘The orphanage is now funded through sales of paintings by himself and his children. Plus through donations and fund raising by tourists who are drawn to aid he and his wife’s efforts. There are currently 17 boys and 4 girls, housed un-
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
til early 2009 in simple palm huts. With some funding we started making concrete bricks, and now have a substantial building with a strong waterproof roof. Two rooms housing the boys and girls and a third separate room for Leng, Sry and their family.
Tussentitel ‘The financial crisis has had a tough impact this year, making it very hard sometimes to provide for the 21 children,’ says Shirley. ‘Even though their lives are very simple. Several children have HIV and others suffer asthma and the high fevers that most children in Cambodia experience. All these conditions involve trips to the hospitals in Siem Reap in the middle of the night, Leng’s brother in Phnom Penh has currently lent him his old car to transport them.’ The children contribute to the orphanage with cooking, cleaning and washing and with the sale of their paintings and very professional postcards. They share a percentage and Leng encourages them to save the majority of that money for their further education.’
Another volunteer is Andy Monfre. He knows that ODA is special. ‘As I travelled through the temples of Angkor, I came across an opportunity that soon became one of the best experiences of my time travelling. I enjoyed the time I spent helping ODA take small steps in its goal of becoming a self-sustaining home for Cambodian orphans. I had already had extensive experience working with children before coming to Cambodia, but nothing could compare to the happiness and excitement I witnessed from the children at ODA. They do so much with so little, and it is inspiring to see the beautiful art that they make look effortless. I was also taken in by the fact that even though the children technically were adoptable, it rarely ever happened and they were more like a big family.’
The Golem is more than welcome in the small village, the children are eager to construct their wooden giant. As was the case in Mumbai (India), Arusha (Tanzania) and Lahore (Pakistan), the giant has also been made for and by children; it reflects a commitment and art. It has been created for a common good, but also contributes to the individual development of young children. The distribution of the statues builds a network, a connection between all these young victims of injustice. As Vanmechelen says, these statues give rise to a constant cross-pollination between people and cultures, in view of the various classes and nationalities that have already contributed to the project. By bridging the divide, the Golem contributes to fostering more tolerance and commitment.
Tussentitel The Golem is nurturing more plans for the future, but closer to home, in Koen Vanmechelen’s Limburg. In the next few months, the municipality of Heusden-Zolder will be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of Children. To this end a Golem has been brought to the tiny village of Bolderberg. When the UN convention was created twenty years ago, children for the first time ever officially had a series of rights. ‘Together with the Department of Social Agogical Work of the Katholieke Hogeschool Limburg and with the Kinderrechtenhuis (Centre for Children’s Rights) in Alken, we will highlight this milestone with the Golem’, says Mayor Sonja Claes. In Bolderberg, the Golem will symbolize power. It was created by students of the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Houthalen. By working with KHLim, the city has provided for a follow-up project for the Golem, with input from children and young people. The aim is to ensure that difficult themes can be discussed in an accessible manner through the Golem.
“I consider my work and everything that exits in terms of thesis,antithesis and synthesis. But I don’t know to which of the three categories it belongs.”
24 The Accident The Accident 25
ÂŠ Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
People’s inner chicken and fish
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Palaeontologist Neil Shubin discovered the ‘missing link’ between fish and four-legged amphibians It was ecstasy at first glance, when Neil Shubin and Tiktaalik met one another for the first time four years ago on Ellesmere Island. He was a 45-year old palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist; she was a 375 million old fishapod. A primate walking upright vs. a fish with legs: the distance between both would prove to be much smaller than the millions of years indicated. ‘Your inner fish’ is the surprising, driven and highly fascinating tale of Neil Shubin’s (47) search for this fish in the Canadian polar area and in contemporary Homo sapiens. Shubin’s plan for a popular scientific book was born shortly after he and his team found concrete proof in 2004 of a crucial period in the history of the evolution: the moment at which primitive fish started to explore dry land for the first time ever. “We found Tiktaalik roseae, as we named this 1.3-metre long fossil fish, after four expeditions over a six-year period”, says Professor Shubin, whom we met in Amsterdam, one of the pit stops on his European tour. Between us lies a replica of the legendary fish fossil. Its snout resembles that of a crocodile, it has ribs, a neck and primitive limbs. Including an elbow and a wrist. “But this animal also had fins, gills and scales”, says Shubin. “The biotope of Tiktaalik, as he was named by the Inuit, was water and land. He is an ancestor of all reptiles, the dinosaurs, birds and amphibians. And also of mankind. Tiktaalik is both part of our history and that of Australopithecus afaransis, the African hominid Lucy or even chickens. The deep coherence between life on our planet is completely fascinating.”
Tussentitel Today Nunavut, the place where Shubin (University of Chicago), his colleagues, Edward Daeschler (Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia) and Farish Jenkins (Harvard University) and their team found Tiktaalik is a boundless polar landscape. At the tip of Canada, only 1,600 km from the North Pole. Populated by polar bears, who never eschew a bite of palaeontologist. In Tiktaalik’s day, during the Upper Devonian period, the scene was quite different. Shubin: “At the time, Nunavut was not far from the Equator. It was a tropical biotope, an enormous freshwater delta on the edge of an ocean. Tiktaalik lived in this shallow, slow-flowing water that was teeming with life: both flora and fauna. The first-known trees were here, the Eospermatopteris. There is a certain logic to the fact that Tiktaalik tended to trade this biotope for land. The water was teeming with predatory fish, some up to five metres long, with a beak full of nail-hard teeth. Some fish species defended themselves by inflating themselves or by developing a carapace. Tiktaalik left the water. Probably also to feed himself. At the time, there were a lot of large invertebrates on land, resembling giant caterpillars, which were easy preys and quite nutritious.” It is no coincidence that the expedition landed in Nunavut, but studies of the local geology and past research led the team to conclude that this had to be a productive site. “There we were, in the company of polar bears and muskoxes, but with an Amazon-like world under our feet that wanted to tell its story. Finding Tiktaa-
lik was a care of sheer luck and serendipity. Our colleague Jason Downs almost tripped over it.” With three, chest-sized pieces of Devonian rock, the excited palaeontologists left for home. Each block contained a flat-headed fish. In the next few months, this trio would be pain-stakingly released from their cages and prepared for research in order to be revealed to the rest of the world in 2006 in ‘Nature’. “A very important discovery was an appendage, that proved to be part fin, part leg”, says Neil Shubin. “This enabled the animal to push itself up and even hop about in the mud flats along the river banks. With a predecessor of arms, legs and paws.” Half of Shubin’s lab in San Francisco is dedicated to fossil research, while he studies embryos and DNA in the other. He shows how there are still traces of very early stages of evolution in our skeleton and in our DNA. “In the last 20 years, evolutionary history has been revealed in spectacular detail. Thanks to the multitude of fossils that are being discovered, especially in China, and genomics. But also as a result of the fast-growing field of DevoEvo (developmental evolution). For example, the Chinese bird, Confuciusornis sanctus, the feathered dinosaurs, the gigantic devil frog on Madagascar or the Ichthyostega, the oldest known tetrapod to live on land. And of course, the baby Australopithecus afarensis, who died 3.3 million years ago. The past 15 years have been marked by an incredibly long list of fantastic paleontological finds.”
Tussentitel The lab is just as important as field work, says Shubin. “DNA experiments can reveal the fish, the reptile and other species within us. As a species, we are also unique in many ways but we shared a common design with all creatures that have limbs. In the 1990s, Cliff Tabin used research on flies to trace a gene in chickens that told us something about human birth defects. Afterwards, Randy Dahn would use these discoveries to tell us something about relation with rays. In other words, a ‘fly’ helped us discover ‘our inner chicken’, which subsequently helped us discover our ‘inner ray’. The relations between living creatures run very deep.” “Tiktaalik made me focus on this deep continuity of life. And together with other fossils, this creature manages to answer questions that would normally remain unanswered. Why are our arteries so tortuous and bent, and why do our nerves, coronary arteries and blood vessels make so many detours, for example? Why do we experience sleep apnoea? Or why do we hiccough like so many other amphibians and frogs? All this is related to the contraction of our breathing muscles. As a result, the air in our lungs is compressed. The typical hiccoughing sound is a result of our glottis closing off our windpipe. This nerve spasm is a
Neil H. Shubin graduated in 1987 and went on to become one of the most important contemporary palaeontologists. He heads the department of ‘Organismal Biolog y and Anatomy’ at the University of Chicago and is Associate Dean of the Medical Faculty, as well as Provost of the Field Museum. Shubin studies the evolutionary origin of the anatomic characteristics of animals. He is one of the leading forces behind a new evolutionary synthesis of developmental genetics, genomics and field palaeontolog y. He carried out field work in Greenland, China, Canada, North America and Africa. His publications have been featured among others in the ‘Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontolog y and Paleobiolog y’, ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’. He lives in Chicago with his partner and two children.
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
product of our fish history; the hiccoughing movement is related to the history that we share with animals such as tadpoles. They have to make their defective lungs work together with their fish gills. In order to have oxygen, they need to swallow and breathe concomitantly. Oxygen-rich water for the gills can thus never enter the lungs, because the ‘hiccough’ closes of their windpipe. We still carry this mechanism within. All the animals are the same, but yet they are different.” Shubin travels even farther back in time when discussing femoral hernias. A shark’s testes are near his liver. In the human embryo, this is also the case initially, but the sexual glands descend further down, during the embryonic growth stage in the uterus. As a result, we have a weak spot in our body’s walls: additional space, meaning things can start to shift within. A potential hernia and a femoral hernia in the making. Women tend to be less affected by this, ‘because women don’t have a gigantic tube running through their abdominal wall’.
Tussentitel Shubin also thinks of his book as a necessary answer to the growing influence of creationists. “Not for the hard-core creationists. They will always believe their own story. I want to convince the
great contingent that knows nothing about science and is doubtful as a result. I show them how science works, how much fun it can be. Why we carry out research and what it tells us about the world. And finally: that evolution is not a theory that is experiencing a crisis, as some would have it. That is why I dedicated this book to my father, an author who is intimidated by science. He was my audience.” Tiktaalik’s tale is far from finished. “In fact, we know very little about this species”, says Shubin. “Was there a larval stage, as is the case with salamanders? How did this species feed? How old were our Tiktaaliks? Was their biotope a swamp? What was the ecosystem like? That is why we are planning a new, but smaller expedition to Nunavut. The fish stocks were abundant there during this period, which will maybe afford us an opportunity to find Tiktaalik’s ancestors and children. In the period between 380 and 360 million years ago. The geology of this site can tell us much more about this animal’s biotope. There are so many beautiful and wondrous things that are lying there waiting to be discovered in the glacial north. So many family members waiting to be dug up.”
The impossibility of an island Mapping a concept caught between the ideal of insularity and the infertility of isolation
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
When 16th-century scholar Johannes Goropius Becanus, Antwerp town doctor by day and linguistic chauvinist by candlelight, set out to prove that his town’s Brabantic dialect was in fact the original language of Paradise, he constructed the most absurd etymologies to prove his point. One of these was for the Dutch word eiland (‘island’), according to Becanus composed of the words ei and land (‘egg’ and ‘land’). This proved two things: that Adam and Eve had connected the concept of insularity with another of nature’s archetypal circularities; and that that connection had survived into the dialect of the Flemish port city. By Frank Jacobs Actually, not a single one of Becanus’ etymologies proves anything, except perhaps the centuries-old pedigree of Antwerp’s well-known penchant for self-centredness. The philosopher Leibniz, exasperated by the doctor’s philological pedantry, coined the term goropism for any etymology based on wishful thinking. Chauvinism as a motivation is a surprisingly accurate predictor of failure in scientific research. But the ultimate sterility of the theories of Becanus does chime with the particular etymology cited above. For failure in this case is also a function of the stubborn factual autarchy of the Becanus theory itself; of its island-like isolation. Throughout history, and more specifically the history of cartography, islands have all too often been the repositories for idle hopes (of treasure or freedom) and the symbols of false theories; generally, they have symbolised sterile self-involvement and intellectual cul-de-sacs. Atlantis, the oldest fictional island, has also proved the most time-consuming mirage of them all. First mentioned in Plato’s Dialogues, the veracity of its existence and violent destruction has never been established - but the island itself has been posited in over 50 different locations, from the Aegean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. As omnipresent in the imagination as it is absent in reality, Atlantis has become a meaningless cypher, a portmanteau for whichever theory anyone wants to promulgate.
Tussentitel Similarly fruitless searches have scoured countless real islands for treasure. In true fortean fashion, definite proof of the existence of these treasures is always within reach, but strangely elusive. The classic example is Oak Island, off the Nova Scotia coast. The tiny island has been the rumoured locus of pirate treasure, gold hidden by Spanish sailors, proof that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays and, inevitably, the Holy Grail (courtesy of the Knights Templar). But dozens of excavations of the so-called Money Pit have only succeeded in deepening the mystery, causing only the odd fatality now and again. The North Atlantic has always been a particularly fertile source of phantom islands - detected on what were then the extremite edges of the world. Islands with exotic names like Frisland, Estotiland, Buss and the Isle of Demons were mainstays of the nautical charts in the Age of Discovery, sometimes staying on the books for centuries. Buss didn’t disappear until the mid-19th century, its cartographic non-existence finally matching its factual absence. The persistence of Buss might be explained by Thomas Shepard’s claim to have visited the island in 1671. In a telling example of how science may deal with falsehood, the presumed
size of Buss first shrank before the island fell off the map - as if to diminish its size would diminish the error (or at least part explain its non-detection).
Tussentitel Phantom islands have been detected and seriously searched for until the first decades of the 20th century. Which more than anything else may prove our particular attraction to the insular. The ideal undiscovered island is an uninhabited, blank canvas for the discoverer, who can explore and settle the island, imprinting it with his culture, personality and craftsmanship. In this light, it is no coincidence that the names for two Atlantic phantom islands, Brazil and Antillia, eventually became attached to real places. But the old western ideal of colonisation and expansion flounders all too easily on the isolation of the island. Left to his own devices, the island’s coloniser becomes its captive. Shipwrecked, Robinson Crusoe reverts to a near-savage state. In The Tempest, Caliban the man-animal is the only inhabitant of an island that is otherwise “not honour’d with a human shape”. The Dutch sailors of the Batavia stranded on the Abrolhos off Australia’s west coast in 1629 reverted to a primitivism that eventually resulted in a terrible massacre (prefiguring a similar reversion to primitivism in The Lord of the Flies). If uninhabited islands are a blank canvas, then the pictures men paint on them are revealingly gruesome. The preceding examples stand in stark opposition to the idealised communism portrayed in Thomas More’s best-remembered work. The island utopia described in Utopia was meant to contrast with contemporary English society’s shortcomings, but this meant it was fatally sterile and unrealistic - a fact lampooned in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Here, the serially shipwrecked protagonist is confronted with bizarre island societies that redefine ‘normal’. The inhabitants of Lilliput, Brobdingnag and the other islands are amused, nonplussed and disgusted by his descriptions of home. The island as the idealised repository of content has remained popular in more recent culture - Stevenson’s Treasure Island started with the map he drew of it; the dinosaur-themed Jurassic Park is possible only because it is situated on the faraway Isla Nublar. The location for the tv series Lost is a mysterious unnamed island. The attractiveness of the island as a concept is also its original sin, without which it cannot exist: its isolation (derived from the Latin for island - really, not a goropism). And isolation is an evolutionary dead-end, both physically and spiritually. As John Donne already knew: “No man is an island, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine (...)” Website: http://strangemaps.wordpress.com.
Frank Jacobs is webmaster of Strange Maps, a blog about cartographic curiosities. A book based on the blog, Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities, is published on October 29 by Viking Studio (New York).
‘Pre-Columbian chickens came from Polynesia’ It is one of the most intriguing controversies in the history of chicken: was it present in the New World before the Europeans arrived? New Zealand bioarchaeologist Alice Storey is sure that the species arrived in South America around 600 Before Present: in 1350. Via Oceania.
In 1532, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro recorded the presence of chickens in Peru, where the Inca used them in religious ceremonies. In spite of that and other evidence, scientists have long assumed that the Spaniards first introduced chickens to the New World along with horses, cattle and pigs. In 2008 an international team, including bioarchaeologist Alice Storey of the University of Auckland, published an intriguing discovery after analyzing a recently excavated chicken bone from the Chilean site of El Arenal, a settlement of the Mapuche, a people who lived on the southern fringe of the Inca empire from about A.D. 1000 to 1500. Alice Storey: ‘Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of the chicken bone suggested that Polynesians in oceangoing canoes brought chickens to the west coast of South America well before Europe’s Age of Discovery. The chicken’s DNA sequence was related to that of chickens whose remains were unearthed from archaeological sites on the Polynesian islands of Tonga and American Samoa. Radiocarbon dating showed the El Arenal chicken lived sometime between a.d. 1321 and 1407, after Polynesians first settled Easter Island and the other easternmost islands of the Pacific.’ ‘Some of the sequences were like modern ones reported for China and Vietnam but that does not imply an ancient relationship. Since all chickens are Asian in origin we would expect that chickens all over the world would have mtDNA sequences reflecting Asian homelands (such as China, India, Burma, Thailand etc.). However, there has been a lot of trade and exchange in chickens in prehistory and thus science is currently unable to assign mtDNA sequences to specific domestication centres. Studies of chickens from archaeological sites in these regions will be required to do that in future.’ ‘Chickens were probably moved out of the Asian mainland, through Island Southeast Asia and into the Pacific, as were most parts of the Lapita Cultural Complex.‘ The Lapita were the first
settlers of the Pacific Islands. The Lapita culture is the name given to the artifactual remains associated with the people who settled the area east of the Solomon Islands called Remote Oceania between 3.400 and 2.900 years ago. Within 400 years, the Lapita had spread over an area of 3.400 kilometers, stretching through the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, and eastward to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. Located on small islands and the coasts of larger islands, the Lapita lived in villages of stilt-legged houses and earth-ovens, made distinctive pottery, fished and exploited marine and aquacultural resources, raised domestic chickens, pigs and dogs, and grew fruit- and nut-bearing trees. Storey: ‘ However, based on the available archaeological evidence the chicken took 2.400 years to spread across the Pacific from its first appearance in the Reef/Santa Cruz at around 3.000 Before Present to South America around 600 Before Present. Beyond that the available published information is still patchy.’
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Tussentitel In 2008 however, research by Jaime Gongora of the University of Sidney contradicted the findings of Storey. It suggested that the chicken bone is not prehistoric, but has the same genetic structure as modern chickens from around the world. The definite DNA signature from pre-historic chickens, found on Easter Island, appears to be missing in the collections studied from Chile, Tonga, and American Samoa. ‘Additional data shows that our evidence for pre-Columbian chickens at the site of El Arenal is secure,’ counters Storey. ‘Gongora and his colleagues gave no consideration to the fact that both European and prehistoric Pacific chickens are ultimately Asian derived and thus may be expected to share lineages. European stocks were further influenced by the 19th-century import of Chinese chickens to develop commercial and show breeds. Gongota and his colleagues also imply that the Indian/Asian/European mtDNA signature identified in our an-
cient Pacific and Chilean samples would not have been available for dispersal to the prehistoric Pacific. This has been refuted by linguistic, archaeological, and ethnohistoric evidence.’ Ultimately, the question rests on the antiquity of the El Arenal chickens. Storey: ‘All dates obtained from the site are securely pre-Columbian. Therefore, the most parsimonious explanation is that chickens were first introduced to South America by Polynesian voyagers as part of a welldocumented eastward expansion.’ The voyage of the chicken over the Pacific is still a mystery. Of the Pacific ‘domesticates’, the least is known about the species. Alice Storey has documented the density and distribution of the prehistoric chicken remains across Oceania. She analyzed the faunal remains from over 500 individual archaeological and natural sites from across the Pacific. ‘With two colleagues I examined the presence and absence of chicken in secure prehistoric contexts and the factors which may account for this: human choice, taphonomy, the influence of other animals on extinction events, differential access to resources and purposeful extirpation. Chickens have a unique and uneven distribution across prehistoric archaeological sites in the Pacific;. They provide key information for understanding the initial spread and subsequent interactions of Pacific peoples in prehistory.’
Chickens were an important part of the ‘imported landscape’ of Oceanic populations. Storey: ‘Some attempts have been made to document the density and distribution of prehistoric chicken remains, but data on chickens do not feature prominently in site reports nor in articles or books about regional archaeology. Yet for prehistoric Pacific peoples, chickens were clearly an important part of their diet and/or culture, as evidenced by their presence in archaeological sites which span the Pacific from Santa Cruz to Easter Island and Hawaii.’
‘Chicken remainss have been recovered from a limited number of sites and at low densities (3%) in Near Oceania. It seems to have been introduced by Lapita colonists. In Remote Oceania chickens appear in the earliest levels of Vanuatu and Tongan archaeological sites of Lapita age. Chickens were moved out of Western Polynesia into Central and East Polynesia with the Polynesian expansion. Chickens appear to have been introduced in Micronesia sometime around 2.000 BP. Chickens also seem to have been transported on colonising voyages in Eastern Polynesia around 1.000 BP. In some places, such as Mangaia, they became extinct while in others, such as Easter Island, they assumed an extreme importance possibly due to the absence of other domesticates.‘
Tussentitel Chickens have a patchy distribution, but tended to have an early presence, which supports the hypothesis that they were included among establishment species in specific contexts. Storey: ‘The distribution of animals and the timing of their introduction is important in the development of commensal models, which use mtDNA to trace relationships between populations of animals and by extension between groups of humans. Finally, the introduction of animals to specific places at certain times is important to understanding human behaviour in the past, and that is truly the goal of any archaeological investigation. Other investigations have shown the observed distribution of chicken in prehistory may be influenced by differential access to resources.’ Yet with 18% of all faunal assemblages not fully analysed, the true distribution of chicken in prehistory of Oceania is yet to be determined. Storey: ‘I certainly hope there are plans to continue to better classify existing archaeological collections, however, I am not qualified to undertake the full zooarchaeological analysis required for these assemblages. That would require an expert in Pacific island animal remains of all types - not just chickens.’
Art, Science, and the emergence of the Cosmopolitan Chicken By tradition artists play with every idea you can imagine. An outline of the development of European artistic techniques, may also serve as a map of how Western European art history reflects a network of ideas based on scientific experimentation and observation - scale, perspective, mathematical computations, anatomical discoveries, the effects of light and the chemical or physical analyses of substances all furnish Western art with a dynamic mobility.
ÂŠ Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
By dr. Mike Phillips, OBE, FRSL, FRSA Tate Consultant
Science also has also been a complex partner in the development of new ways of understanding the world, and Western artists have engaged in all the historical currents set off and completed by notable scientific discoveries, for example, the various phases of the Enlightenment, modernity and post-modernity.
From this perspective, it seems self evident that art and science are essentially linked in the enterprise of discovering new knowledge. On the other hand, the distance between the two disciplines has grown to an extent which might have been unimaginable even at the beginning of the 20th century. 19th century Romanticism was a crucial landmark. In the Romantic Canon the artist became a figure who was a link to another world, spiritual and immanent, a transmitter of messages from a dimension completely separate from the earthbound ma-
nipulations of physical science. The period isolated artists within the boundaries of aesthetics, emotion and fantasy. The onset of 20th century modernity introduced another perspective. Artists were no longer messengers of the divine, focusing instead on an aesthetic inspired by materials, shapes and textures. A picture can be about nothing except itself, as Van Doesberg remarked. Duchamp initiated a new relationship with objects, and Picasso’s retort to the question; “what is art?”, was, “What is not?” Oddly enough, in the splurge of ideas associated with modernity, the distance between art and science hardly narrowed during most of the century. The psychodrama of Romantic belief, Frankenstein, had sketched out the scientific mind as driven by a confused desire to tinker with nature and humanity, and little happened for a century and a half to change that popular view. Scientists released the power of the atom to a great and destructive effect. Pure science spoke in a jargon which had little purchase beyond the scientific community. If anything the refinements of scientific and research methods reinforced the barriers between the two different approaches. Until, that is, the tectonic plates shifted.
Tussentitel Up to midway through the 20th century the only framework for creating an intersection between art and science was the field of politics. Art and science could meet in the difficult terrain of the social world, usually on opposite sides of a fence which obscured purposes and outcomes, in an arena where they joined as competitors or deadly rivals in a struggle about the meaning of life. From halfway through the 20th century, however, both sides of the divide began a struggle with new and different issues. The advance of technology created new conditions in the sciences. Scientific discoveries had always been an act of imagination. From the perspective of a young child, both enterprises have their origins in an accessible act of creativity and imagination. The divisions arrive pre-packaged within the methodology associated with the two approaches. On the other hand, new technology had begun to alter the limitations of technique, with a computer in front of him, every lab rat could dream of being his own Einstein. And such dreams. The exploration of space, the mapping of the earth’s elements and history, and the constituents of life itself; DNA. Science was entering the world of the fabulous and the infinite at the very moment when art seemed to have abandoned such dreams. At the same time art itself had begun migrating to new arenas. In the final decades of the 20th century technology burst the
boundaries which contained the artwork. Video and video art demolished one wall of the cube which had, during the previous two centuries, shut artists in. In the new environment museums and galleries even began to mimic the accessibility of open public spaces. Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, for instance, delivers itself to the visitor as a continuation of the public thoroughfare along the river. In a similar way sculpture parks and monumental outdoor works have begun to proliferate. Conceptual art completed the challenge to traditional constructions of artistic meaning. The detritus of everyday life, animate and inanimate objects began to invade the space outlined within the canon of aesthetic sensibilities, which had been reinforced and confined in the framework of skills, such as draughtsmanship. Meaning now trumped technique, and if the conjunction of the artists gaze and the public’s attention could transform the most mundane object within the area of the gallery, it was only a matter of time before this transformation would apply outside the walls, in the real world. The cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996 created a new focus in the public perception of science and its interests. She was the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult cell at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Significantly, when she died six years later her stuffed remains went on display at Edinburgh’s Royal Museum. Up to that time the context in which most of the public saw the achievements of experimental science was to do with the splitting of the atom and the recondite obscurities of nuclear and space technology. Dolly was the signal for a new era of interest, the field of genetics, and a focus on the meaning of life, backed up by a concentration on the ethical and moral dimensions of the practical consequences for animal (both human and non-human) identity. Precisely the sandpit in which artists had been bred to play.
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Tussentitel This was the context in which Koen Vanmechelen, in roughly the year of Dolly’s birth, began the project which underpins and frames his work as an artist, and the context is important, largely because Vanmechelen’s work constitutes, in itself, a new arena within which art and science encounter each other on terms which have been created by the new developments in each discipline. The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) began as an act of species conservation, an act in which scientific curiosity and artistic transformation were neatly bundled together. CCP took its original inspiration from Vanmechelen’s near obsessive interest in the chicken, its life cycle, its history as a species and its ge-
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
netic identity, an interest which began in childhood, when Vanmechelen kept pet chickens in his garden. The motivation sprang from his preliminary observations of the chickens which habitually turned up on the menus and tables of the Belgians. This was a hybrid with characteristics which made it suitable for consumption, and which appeared to have little or nothing in common with the traditional breeds of Belgian chickens. From this point began Vanmechelen’s search to rediscover a traditional Belgian breed, the Mechelse Koekoek. The issue was one of transformation, the reclamation of a familiar (and animate) object. In Vanmechelen’s conception human beings had conclusively and brutally intervened in the natural life cycle of the animal, creating and preserving a process by which the history an entire species had been converted into a machine for servicing a specific human desire.
sequence of the process is the interest of several scientists and geneticists in investigating the effects of Vanmechelen’s crossings on the chicken’s genetic structure, but in the artist’s scheme the progression moves towards the birth of a fabulous creature, whose genetic makeup will contain the entire history of this avian species; the Cosmopolitan chicken. Vanmechelen’s own production springs inevitably out of this process, the different stages feeding and inspiring the imageries which define his artwork. The perceptions of the program offered a number of concepts which recur throughout the work.
For instance, 1) The motif of the body as a cage 2) The process of birth as an escape from the boundaries of the cage 3) The evolution of a spiritual identity
Confronting this history by restoring the chicken’s ability to procreate and reproduce, at random and for its own purposes, was, in itself an act of transformation which provoked intense reflections on human and animal relationships with the physical world and on the meaning of life. From this point Vanmechelen’s process developed by a method which married experiment with the ability to create new objects fed by the inspiration of the project. The identification of the Mechelse Koekoek was the beginning of an experiment in the random selection of genetic attributes. It was undeniable that hybridization was, in effect, the natural outcome of reproductive choices, but our need to recreate the chicken as a product had given us a species whose features and characteristics could exist only within a specific and narrowly defined genetic range. Vanmechelen’s experiments asked the question; “what sort of animal would emerge from a random process of reproduction between original breeds?” Pursuing the search for native breeds Vanmechelen traveled between all the continents, locating and bringing back the typical chicken from all the countries he visited. The result has been a rich and variegated program in which a new process of hybridization took place. Early on, however, the architecture of the program was determined by the interaction of the different breeds, which Vanmechelen calls crossings. That is to say, each encounter between two original types represents a crossing between different bundles of genetic material. The results are unpredictable, but the supposition must be that the entire process constitutes a sort of warehouse of genes to which each crossing contributes. One con-
Vanmechelen’s paintings and sculptures draw on these notions to establish a long term dialogue grouped around the meaning of the chicken’s genetic progress towards an unimaginable future. The argument constitutes a sort of dream about the representation of the biology which determines the architecture of animal existence, that is to say, an extended meditation about role and meaning of life. In this sense, the Project represents an artwork whose origins and contours are not determined by the techniques and technicalities of artistic representation. Instead, the Cosmopolitan chicken aims to be a production of the organic rhythms of nature’s own reproductive systems and purposes. Vanmechelen’s own artwork represents different stages of this never ending process, a staircase on its way to the indefinable, a unique mix of different media and materials from highly expressive paintings and drawings, to photography, video, installations, works in glass and a recurring wooden sculpture. What connects all these is the work’s vital origins in the genetic program, his symbolic use of avian life, and an emerging attempt to outline the spiritual dimensions of the biological process. In a sense, Vanmechelen’s work restores and makes explicit the linkages between the physical world, the world of signs and symbols, and the abstract universe hinted at in our yearnings for a spiritual identity. Within this practice the divisions between different disciplines melt away, art and science become one, and the work delivers us to a confrontation with the visions of the world a child might see.
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
“We think that we think clearly, but that’s only because we’re not thinking clearly.” Brian Josephson, Nobel Prize laureate and ‘resident heretic’ at Cambridge, on the ‘pathological disbelief’ of mainstream science
By Ruland Kolen “Skepticism will be undermined by the advent of deeper theories of the role of the mind in the natural world,” says professor Brian Josephson. The skepticism he refers to is the default attitude of Academia towards his unorthodox research into the paranormal and other areas on the margin of mainstream science. Josephson was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1973 (*), but has spent the better part of his career examining all kinds of para-scientific phenomena. He calls himself a ‘resident heretic’ quite literally: as director of the Mind-Matter Unification Project (MMUP) of the Theory of Condensed Matter Group at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, he works right at the heart of the scientific establishment that shuns him. When Josephson went to collect his Nobel Prize in Stockholm, he had already closed the chapter on solid-state physics. In the middle of the Sixties, the physicist had gone on a trip to India that proved catalytic for the rest of his career. Like many other westerners confronted with eastern mysticism, Josephson was fascinated with its attitude towards spirituality and altered states of consciousness. Bringing his own expertise to the table, he started seeing scientific parallels with paranormal phenomena: “In quantum mechanics, properties are no longer localised, but distributed in space.”
Hierarchy of design
For over three decades, Josephson has focused on understanding the mind. “Modern neuroscience reduces the mind to mere neural functions, which seems to me an unjustifiable reduction of the way the mind works,” says Josephson, who meditates daily, claiming it helps him resolve scientific issues. Yet, after several decades’ work at the MMUP, a clear, non-reductive definition of what the mind actually is, remains elusive. “The mind transcends the brain, and as a concept even predates it. Other mechanisms in nature might work in a similar way. The brain alone doesn’t explain telepathy. Mind and life are universal phenomena, in my opinion. The future will show how to define these concepts in mathematical equations. The way galaxies take shape might have
a spiritual component. Phenomena at the smaller end of scales of length and time might have a spiritual component too.” However, the professor is not interested in constructing a metaphyics of the brain. He prefers a digital analogy: “The way a computer works cannot be understood from the operating code of the machine; you will need to study higher levels of the programming that directs the computer.” Similarly, to describe the brain solely in function of neurons is missing the bigger picture: that it is powered by concepts and methods similar to the way a computer is programmed. What is crucial, is the hierarchy of design. New functions of the brain (or the computer) can only be understood in terms of its primal structure.
Radical shifts This implies - ironically - that in order to better our understanding of the brain, we need a new way of thinking. The physics community ought not to be so wary of this change, says Josephson: “Our own field has experienced numerous radical shifts in thinking. Even in modern physics, with string theory or M theory (which basically is an overarching string theory). Or the cosmological constant, which has come back from the grave, as it were. It seems that anything goes in physics these days - time travel, wormholes, parallel universes - but with one exception: physics should not approach the spiritual, the mystical. Scientists seem convinced beforehand that such things cannot be. We think that we think clearly, but that’s only because we’re not thinking clearly.” One of Josephson’s guiding principles is the motto nullius in verba (‘Take nobody’s word for it’). “A corollary of this motto is that if scientists as a whole denounce an idea this should not necessarily be taken as proof that the said idea is absurd: rather, one should examine carefully the alleged grounds for such opinions and judge how well these stand up to detailed scrutiny.” The Nobel laureate has railed for decades against what he calls the ‘pathological disbelief’ of his fellow scientists - their stubborn refusal to investigate unconventional subjects like cold fusion, the memory of water and paranormal phenomena.
The truth that bites itself Zeno’s arrow, Heraclitus’s river and Ilexa Yardley’s theory of circularity By Ruland Kolen
Cold Fusion Josephson’s presentation on pathological disbelief is preceded rather tongue-in-cheekily by the warning that [r]eaders may find some of the ideas in this lecture disturbing; they may conflict with various deeply held beliefs.Those beliefs, he explains, may be wrong in two ways: either a non-existent phenomenon is considered real, or a real phenomenon is considered non-existent. Given the refusal of the scientific community to take his paranormal research seriously, Josephson is more interested in the second option. As a point in case, he uses the apparent fiasco of cold fusion, which for a few weeks in 1989 seemed to promise nuclear energy generated at room temperature. The experiment that caused all the commotion could not be reproduced - or so it seemed: “What happened with cold fusion was the creation of a myth, the myth that the phenomenon was unreal. Such a myth consists of an elaborate story which in principle might be true. Accept[ing the story] without serious questioning occurs when there is a strong disposition to accept, because it confirms a belief system. Question[ing] the story before accepting it is the more scientific respons, which sometimes gets overridden, especially when strong emotions are involved. Some scientists are especially prone to whip up emotion ‘in the cause of science’ (or so they believe). This leads us to the key question: Where else might such a situation prevail?” After refuting the academic dismissal of cold fusion, Josephson takes up the cause of the ‘memory’ that water has of compounds once dissolved in it, even after high dilution. This is a central tenet of homeopathy and much maligned by orthodox scientists. “The French immunologist Jacques Benveniste, who was the first to talk about this phenomenon, was treated very badly by other scientists. I was struck by how irrational their reactions were. I realised thenthat doing science by consensus can get things wrong. We need to correct these errors.” Josephson reiterates the controversy generated by a paragraph he added to a booklet accompanying Royal Mail stamps celebrating the Nobel Prizes’ centenary: “Quantum theory is now being fruitfully combined with theories of information and computation. These developments may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy, an area where Britain is at the forefront of research.”
Extreme evidence Mainstream science was predictably horrified by such a wide forum for such an unorthodox opinion. In fact, Josephson describes how non-publication can be used to silence differing
Whether shooting Zeno’s never-arriving arrow or wading through Heraclitus’s ever-changing river, western philosophy from its presocratic beginnings has been heavily slanted towards the linear. This linearity has pervaded western religion (with its emphasis on ‘End Times’) and continues to influence intuitive thinking today, up to the extent that the revelation of circularity as a fundament of everything can still come as a shock. Ilexa Yardley, who works with professor Josephson on his Mind-Matter Unification Project, has written extensively and astutely on the cyclical as a guiding principle. “The circle is the basic entity, process and system that produces and explains all entities, processes and systems,” she claims. opinions and marginal theories like his own. Josephson’s description of the mechanisms by which mainstream science maintains the status quo are tinged with a very personal frustration, but it does make a wider point: “The freedom to publish is crucial. Otherwise, the conservative physics community will veto new ideas. The mantra that extreme claims require extreme evidence is mainly used to obstruct investigation of controversial phenomena.”
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Josephson attacks the attitude that requires absolute reproducability for experiments to be deemed scientific as something akin to a ‘religious creed’ - with far-ranging consequences for truth and the progress of science: “The attitude can be summed up as: Even if it were true, I wouldn’t believe it. If you don’t conform to the ‘correct’ position, editors will block the publication of certain research papers in scientific journals.”
Yardley’s circular theory underpins all manner of human endeavours, from science and philosophy to history and economics. The circle is the basis for reality, is reality, is the background for any and all aspects of existence - it both expresses and unites the opposition of any pair of ‘anythings’. “All relationships are circular,” Yardley says, “and this is a staggering thought. The circle is the obvious unifier, what some of us have previously named God.” This circular concept determines not only the abstract Supreme Being, but also our very concrete Geworfenheit as humans: We survive to reproduce and we reproduce to survive.
Unwittingly, Josephson has become the standard-bearer of the scientific fringe, the spokesperson of those opposing the orthodox view. “Things like telepathy and cold fusion are not hard to prove, but they are hard to get accepted. They require not only evidence, but then have to overcome the barrier that they are unacceptable, and therefore unpublishable. Some people equate ‘hard to reproduce’ with ‘not real’. This is why science is not as objective as it is often portrayed - as is proved by the history of science.”
Pushing the Boundaries The defender of unorthodoxy is not daunted by the task before him. He reckons that even within the scientific establishment, his point of view has some allies: “True, a large number of people in science’s mainstream can’t accept certain phenomena as ‘possible’, but it’s equally true that some scientists actually enjoy pushing the boundaries of science. These scientists generally get overlooked...” Or maybe they consciously remain silent, knowing full well how much deviation the establishment tolerates. Josephson knows first-hand that challenging scientific orthodoxy is not without its consequences: “If you openly give credence to paranormal phenomena, this affects your reputation. Certain people have become very prejudiced against me and against everything I do. As a consequence, I don’t have any kind of support network. Fortunately, my research on the mathematics of the brain I can do by myself, so it’s not as big a problem as it might be.” Website: www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/
While this may sound like a platitude, Yardley - a financial professional by trade - applies her fundamental insight in insightful and revealing ways. The circular theory, she holds, is both elusive and inescapable. We both ‘miss’ it and, if and when it is revealed to us, instinctively ‘get’ it - as if it were the prime example of anamnesis. This represents a frustrating aspect to her theory - it is so universal that it is impossible to disprove. According to Yardley, any two anythings create an invisible, imaginary line which must always be the invisible, imaginary diameter of an invisible, imaginary circle.
(*) Josephson was awarded half of the Prize for his theoretical work on superconductors, more specifically for his predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier, in particular those phenomena known as the Josephson Effect (named after him). The other half of the 1973 physics Prize was shared equally between Leo Esaki (Japan) and Ivar Giaever (US) for their work on tunneling phenomena in semi- and superconductors. The Josephson Effect is applied in magneto-encephalography to map brain functions and as such ironically is a more practical analytic tool than anything produced by the MMUP.
Yardly sees her concept of the Conservation of the Circle as “the most basic and therefore the most important idea and discovery of all time”. It certainly describes a fundamental aspect of life - of culture, to be more exact. Can it be a coincidence that so many cultural artefacts are circular? The Greeks might have philosophised about linearity, their mythology boasts the Ouroboros, the snake that bites its own tail and thus symbolises a circularity where the end and the beginning are synonymous. The Buddhist prayer wheel is characterised by a circularity that inescapably connects with its spiritual meaning. The Islamic ritual of circling Mecca’s Ka’aba is a residual reference to the circle’s continuing appeal for an originally nomadic national religion that was natural, seasonal and therefore circular originally before it took on the linearity of its Judeo-Christian examples. The obvious appeal of the circle as a basic symbol of the human experience is somewhat mitigated by the omni-significance accorded to it by Yardley’s circular theory. “Whatever is true is false and whatever is false is true,” she claims - thereby devaluing her philosophy to the level of word-games a la “All Cretans are liars.” If the circle is a way of re-calibrating our attitudes towards morality and veracity, then maybe we can conclude that the circle itself is up for re-interpretation. In a way, this is the ultimate circularity: a truth that, Ouroboros-like, bites itself in the backside... Website: www.circular-theory.com
Building a bridge between the sciences 40
Don’t forget the name Johan Bollen: he’s a Belgian researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Tripel-loving computer scientist and scientific signpost. New scientific disciplines, under-rated and over-rated research or cross-disciplinary romances: Bollen’s ‘Map of Science’ shows the worldwide scientific flows.
RE you curious about the most important but most ignored scientific publication of our time? Do you want to know which professional literature scientists really read behind their PC? Which innovative branch is up and coming or which disciplines are gradually seeking one another out? The team of Belgian scientist Johan Bollen at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (New Mexico) – where the first atom bomb was created – is working hard to share this with us. In past months, Bollen was all over scientific media. PLos ONE, Seed Magazine, New Scientist, you name it. Bollen’s ‘Science Map’ is hot.
Tussentitel It looks like a multi-coloured star system or a map of islands with navigation routes, but in fact Bollen’s ‘Science Map’ is a snapshot of the collective focus of the human brain. The brain power of Homo sapiens visualized in high resolution on a network map. Fascinatingly beautiful, but above all highly interesting. This map can have considerable implications for a country’s scientific research and the evaluation of the quality and impact of certain research. Facebook manages to connect us with the man himself in no time at all, just before he heads to snowy mountains with his family out of Santa Fe, where he is based. “We measure and analyse downloading and browsing behaviour – better known as clickstream data – as regards scientific literature. Up until now, the importance of scientific work was mainly measured based on the number of citations of a work. Our alternative instrument is more topical, more truthful, and more visionary. We discover the patterns in what seemingly looks like a bunch of scientists roaming the Internet. The scientific trends and influences revealed by our mathematical models can provide highly valuable information to science, the government and the business world. Moreover, it will reveal the contribution of large groups of people operating in the scientific world, but whose work is not recognized. We were amazed when we completed the map.” So what is this Science Map? “Our Science Map is a by-product of the MESUR Project, for which I am the head researcher. MESUR situates itself within the Digital Library Research and Prototyping Team in Los Alamos, a group led by another Belgian, Herbert Van de Sompel. The aim was to examine various ranking and evaluation techniques for scholarly sources of information, such as magazines, articles and persons, based on user data. Herbert Van de Sompel and I have been working on this for years. Up until now, the problem was that the log data – the data of publishers, university libraries and feed readers were per definition local. Restricted to a single community. With user data of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel you will only be able to rely on metrics that are applicable to the VUB. The MESUR Project, however, has gathered as many user data as possible from all over the world. A treasure trove of information, which we used among others for the Web of Science of Thomson Reuters. In the past, we had drawn up such maps, but at a smaller level, e.g., we analysed the user logs at Los Alamos.” What was the range of the collected data? “In total, we had more than a billion user requests at our disposal. From Web of Science, Scopus and Science Direct by Elsevier, but also from JSTORE, University of California and California State University. All these publishers and aggregators supplied their logs. The period depends on the provider. Some have kept data for the last ten years, others alternate annually. In total, the period mainly spans 2002-2008.” Worldwide, you say, so you also obtained Chinese and Russian user data? “That is correct, insofar as they have access to the services of these providers. Elsevier offers Scopus worldwide; Thomson Re-
uters does the same for the Web of Science. We have information about who, what, where, how and when send a request for information to one of these services. Compare it with someone googling and typing in a ‘search query’ and then downloading the document that he found. The only information that we do not have is the personal identification: user X remains anonymous. The privacy rules that were imposed on us were very strict.”
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
What elements is the Map of Science made up of? “It is a network map with colour-coded points – clusters of research articles in various disciplines – and lines that connect the scientific disciplines. They are formed by the clickstreams of the users/scientists. We calculated the probability of article B being requested if article A was called up first. Each of the articles on this map is a scientific journal. The lines between the journals indicate the probability that a scientist, based on user patterns, will refer to a given scientific journal in another domain. We worked at journal level; it is a little more complicated to validate this at article level.”
Citation Reports’. Top publications such as Science and Nature traditionally have an impact factor between 25 and 30; a journal such as Physical Review Letters, one of the most important journals in physics, has an average impact factor of 7; the medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine, has an impact factor that is higher than 50. This is a distorted image, which is caused because in many such reviews overview articles are published for a discipline. These are frequently cited. Other criticism; the impact factor’s height often says more about the weight of a given discipline than its ‘relevance’.”
What is the benefit of such a map? “We charted the general trends in science. Which scientific disciplines are turning towards one another, which new scientific disciplines have been created. We could, of course, move beyond this stage if we obtained the personal identifiers and other meta-data of the scientists concerned. Then it is perfectly possible, for example, to reveal the differences between male and female, younger and older, European and other scientists. Or to map a scientist’s evolution. The method to do this is available.”
Are user data faster? “To end up in a databank as a scientist, you need to first publish an article and be cited. There is one to one and a half year between the original idea and the publication of a paper. After that, it will take another 1.5 years on average, before the paper that cites you is published. In other words, citation data are always late, are a reflection of the past. User data immediately tell you where the fire is and where changes are taking place. From a methodical point of view, our map has a considerable lead, because it is able to respond quickly and scans a much wider scientific community.”
How can you predict, based on the Science Map, which scientific disciplines are emerging? “The map that we have at our disposal at present is a snapshot. If we were capable of putting together this map every two weeks, we would be able to establish in a detailed manner where the attention of scientists is focused for a given period. And we would also be able to predict where the innovations are, which new research disciplines are emerging. We will be working on this soon. At the moment, we are injecting animation in these maps and carrying out analyses, which should enable us to predict trends.”
What do you mean by that? “There are many people involved in science, who do not cite articles or publish papers. But they do publish in other media. Or maybe they do not publish anything, but they closely monitor publications and use them in their practice. Currently, these people are all under the radar. Medical specialists, for example, closely follow scientific journals and base their work on them, without actually citing these articles. We scan anyone who is involved in science. This includes people in Nursing or Tourism Studies, applied disciplines, in which people traditionally publish less.”
Animation in knowledge maps? “Yes, if we draw up a map every so many weeks, then this will enable us to record gradual changes filmically for a given period and to extrapolate them to the future. But let’s not forget that many people have already put together such maps. However, this is the first time that topical data are used to do this.” What was wrong with the previous maps? “They were based on citation data. If you are cited, then you have published a good article. Worse: in Flanders, for example, they look at the average number of citations at journal level. This gives rise to an incredibly warped image, which leads to abuses. Your article may have never been cited, but it was published in ‘Science’, a journal in which certain articles are frequently cited. Being in ‘Science’ is thus not a good indication of your article’s value. And yet, this impact factor is currently frequently used in order to evaluate the quality of researchers and research. Next to this, citations are often used to show off among colleagues. In fact, researchers also base themselves on other sources.” What does this impact factor mean? “It measures the importance of a scientific journal as regards citation data. The more frequently articles from a given scientific journal are cited in other journals, the higher the journal’s impact factor. And the more renowned the scientists become. Each summer, Thomson Scientific, the former Institute of Scientific Information, publishes a list with impact factors in the ‘Journal
Can you give an example of important studies that escape the scientific radar? “For example, an article that is not published in a journal, that is peer-reviewed, but is read by a million people. Or a similar article that forms the crucial bridge between two new scientific disciplines. The author may say that his or her article has considerable impact, but this will never be discovered with the existing evaluators. This is a huge problem at the moment. A lot of science is carried out online: people publish logs, data files, operating systems, video clips, images, sounds, etc., which are currently not recognized by citation statistics. We can build user metrics for this.” Your map thus reveals the real value of a scientific journal?
“Most certainly: we can see exactly what is a journal’ position when it comes to maintaining structures. Some journals, for example, only have a few connections, but these prove to be crucial for connecting the whole map. Without them, the whole map would fold. In the green section of the map, for example, you can see two journals, which connect biology with architecture. In the red section, there is a journal that links Nursing to Social Work. These are very important journals, even though they are not often cited, or have the same impact factor as Science or Nature. There are many of these crucial bridges between scientific disciplines. In some cases, these disciplines are so new that they are not even mentioned in the citation statistics. We can see that they are emerging in our user statistics. I can see that links are forming between cognitive science and public health, biodiversity and architecture.” This means that the pecking order has completely changed? “In practice, yes: the traditional impact factor of 30 for Science is considerably reduced by some of our measurement methods and benefits other journals that are read more frequently. The same goes for Nature, Cell, or the New England Journal of Medicine. The old metrics only yield a minimum aspect of a journal or article’s impact.” How did the science world respond? “Largely positive. Some people have some difficulty with the outcome of this map as regards the importance of a given scientific discipline. Or how the world should be. There are people who have a hard time with the fact that the blue-yellow map for example classifies certain magazines within the domain of physics rather than under human science. What is striking is that social and human science play a rather central role in the scientific arena. They are positioned as a cluster, but have a lot of interdisciplinary connections with physics. This is encouraging for social scientists. They publish less in well-known journals, but their contributions are apparently under-rated.” Is it possible to fine-tune your map even more? “We are currently working on this. We are amalgamating our method with Carl Bergstrom’s innovative OwnFactor method – based on citations – in order to fine-tune our own method. This will also help us predict which disciplines will be successful and what will be the new developments in six months or a year.” “Recently we licensed a technology with an Israeli/American company, which sold a number of libraries. It will now include a plug-in, which makes recommendations to scientists based on user data that were gathered worldwide. If you have looked at article one, two and three, then four is probably also interesting.”
Darwin, the brave traitor
Dear Charles, It has been a while since we last spoke. I would gladly like to continue our conversation across time.
The Darwin biographer par excellence, James Moore, publishes a new book in time for the Darwin year
As you know history revolves around synchronization and the merging of unexpected moments. Points in time in which we find ourselves suddenly caught up; sometimes as a protagonist, often merely as a spectator. With The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project I explore the boundaries of our existence and try to discover the symbiosis where all organisms meet. In other words: what is the impact of domestication on our evolution, and how do we deal with it?
‘Darwin. The Biography’, a hefty tome by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. 900 pages to be exact, and so rich, intriguing and powerful that it manages to do away with all prejudice
Fact is that the first encounter between Homo Sapiens and Gallus Gallus took place around 7.500 years ago in Asia. Did the chicken come to us or did we seek out this splendid animal? What is it trying to tell us? We know that it used to warn us of the beginning of night and day. Also in its natural habitat, living on the border between jungle and village, it warned its environment of danger.
as regards scientific work. And at the same time with the dogmas surrounding Darwin. In the
Dear Charles, is the chicken still doing this in our society, now she is domesticated? It certainly generates a lot of questions:
James Moore confides to me over a nice Duvel beer.
Darwin year, 2009, these were dealt an even more severe blow thanks to an even more eyecatching Darwin book by the British pair: ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’. “Darwin is all about race”,
Is the potential of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in her genes a weapon that can heal or destroy our society? Is Gallus Gallus a lighthouse that sends out signals we can’t and shouldn’t ignore? Isn’t it true that every organism needs other organisms to survive? Do we listen sufficiently to the diversity that surrounds us? And are we cautious enough in using another organisms? Don’t you think duality the biggest secret in life, which in every fusion, generates a mutation to stimulate growth and evolution?
Darwin über Alles. On 12 February 2009, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Meanwhile, 24 November 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’. It is impossible to ignore these two facts, largely thanks to a barrage of books, exhibitions, conferences, lectures and study groups. The University of Cincinnati in Ohio even re-created the Galapagos Islands in Second Life. In recent years, an indispensable link in the history of Darwin has been gradually launched. For seventeen years, the brilliant book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore was a well-kept secret outside of the Anglo-Saxon market. That is how long ‘Darwin’, the definitive biography of one of the most influential primates in the last ten millennia, had to wait for an international translation. “Apparently they thought that people would read our book in English”, chuckles the historian and theologian. “But with the upcoming Darwin year, they obviously changed their mind.” Moore has been researching Darwin and Darwin-related subjects for 20 years, since he started working with British palaeontologist, Adrian Desmond, in 1989. Their aim was to situate Darwin as a human, a scientist and a thinker in his era. Far removed from Darwin, the icon, choosing instead to focus on the man of flesh and blood. “We were a perfect match. All that time, Adrian had been immersed in the palaeontology of the Victorian era, in dinosaurs and language experiments with chimpanzees. And yet it took much more time to write a book at the time. Our most recent work, ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins’, was mainly written by-email. Everything was completed in a jiffy”.
Dear Charles, since the chicken has obtained the status of art, I think we might find some answers. This leads me to two other questions that nee dan urgent answer. How can we initiate a faster and more frequent means of communication, one that transcends time and space? Can I mail or read it into the chicken? Hope to hear from you soon, Koen,
What is it about? “The book answers a question that remains unanswered in our biography: Why did Darwin do what he did? As a respected scientist-gentleman from a highly respectable family, who was married to an equally respectable, well-off wife. Why did this man work on a theory, which was considered tantamount to treason in his time? As toxic even for British society and science. Darwin made this choice in 1837, soon after he returned from his voyage around the world aboard the Beagle. More than twenty years before ‘On the Origin of Species’ was published. In spite of illness, deaths and all manner of distractions, he soldiered on.”
“Quote” © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
After the publication, he continued his research, this time into the origin of mankind. “Correct. The conventional, erroneous view on Darwin is that he gathered facts, then speculated and theorized and tested his theory for quite some time. After the publication of ‘On the Origin’, after waiting to see which way the wind blew, he decided to apply his theory to mankind in ‘The Descent of Man’. How did he have to interpret the human diversity that he had encountered during his lengthy voyage? Without a doubt the most crushing experience in Darwin’s life has to be the encounter with the orig-
inal population of Tierra del Fuego. Between 1832 and 1834, he spent some two months there.” The Patagonians as the turning point? “Four to five tribes lived there. Darwin was familiar with the latest scientific theories from Paris, namely that the Patagonians and the original population of Tierra del Fuego belonged to different human races. They were not considered to be human, but a higher animal species. Darwin had the 17 volumes of Jean-Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent’s Dictionnaire classique d’histoire naturelle aboard the Beagle. This French naturalist differentiated fifteen species of ‘homo’. He categorized the populace of Tierra del Fuego as being negroid. Darwin, however, found them to be identical to the Patagonians. At the time, and not years after the publication of his masterpiece, his interest in the origin of species started. How and when were races and species disseminated globally?” At the time, he already had proof that species had potentially changed throughout history, without any impact of creation? “The reason why he decided to tackle the issue half a year after his return. He was curious and ambitious. You can find out where this reasoning took him in my newest book. It is a fact though that Darwin reached beyond finches and ostriches from the outset; he immediately tried to define the origin of man.” How important was the slavery that Darwin witnessed on his voyage? “What do you think? It is a very important part of this South American experience. He witnessed things that he had read about all of his life. He was the only one among his friends to hear the crack of the whip and the crush of the thumb screws. He saw the misery first-hand, heard the weeping. His hate of slavery, which he had picked up from books, really was shaped during this trip. It would continue to consume him throughout his life, it would follow him and push him onwards. It was also the initial motor that fuelled his research into the origin of species. His ‘Descent of Man’, in which the emphasis is on sexual election, already contains the promise that we are all equal in its scientific explanation. He would never forget the heart-rending cries of pain, which emanated from a house, during one of his trips on land, from the Beagle.” Does the book contain any new elements? “A shipload of them. But it is essential that people first read our Darwin biography, which already contains the promise of new elements. For example that there is a continuum from variety over race to species; there is no essential difference. Darwin’s book, ‘On the Origin of Species or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’, in essence already deals with race.
This perception is the unifying factor in Darwin’s work. A heretic premise in his time: you do not associate giraffes, zebras, monkeys, lizards and humans. Darwin states that this results in a moral benefit. But even now this will irritate scientists and philosophers to no end. We already experienced this with the biography. A renowned German zoologist told me, with that typical Teutonic authority: “There is no science whatsoever in your book”. And that was that.” Nobody can touch Darwin’s image and come away unpunished. “There are many scientists who believe in natural selection and likewise they are of the opinion that Darwin must have accepted this. This is nonsense, of course. They think of Darwin as the guru of the Church of Science, not as a child of his time. As a giant, not as somebody who was able to work without role models.” Who were his role models? “As a boy’s father, as a doctor, who became increasingly difficult and moody after his wife’s death. That is why Darwin’s children spent so much time with their uncle’s family, a Wedgewood. The man who helps Darwin on to the Beagle. A pater familias in a real liberal, free-thinking family. During his student years in Cambridge, Darwin mirrored himself with the future botanist, John Stevens Henslow. After his world trip, Darwin decided to move to London, which was loud and dirty. Charles Lyell became his new Henslow there. Five years later, Darwin moved back to the country, where he developed his own social identity as a wealthy preacher with many children and where he finally settled down. Things could grow there: flowers, plants, bees, dogs, rabbits, but also his children and his marriage. There he could experiment.” The summer of ’38 was a crucial time. “Darwin also thought of himself as a reproducing organism. In April 1938, he felt that the time had come for marriage. After this, he displayed enormous lateral thinking. Just before he was about to marry his first cousin and make a genetic contribution to England’s population, he read Malthus. He had a long discussion with his father about the next generation. What would it inherit? His father shared a lot of private medical information with him. About the local families and about his own family. Darwin asked the hand of his cousin in marriage, they married two months later and four weeks later she was already pregnant. Darwin took part in his experiment of life. He started to date his notes, moved, felt and behaved in a certain manner, so that his children would be able to inherit his characteristics. Completely Lamarckian and necessary. Because Darwin had married his cousin and that might have had consequences. Hence his life-long concern about in-breeding.” His decision seems extremely cold-blooded. “Darwin is a highly distant observer, without actually burying his sense of empathy. A man who studies his own tears when he vomits, or the muscle movements of the face of a sad passenger on the train. For Darwin, this was quite an important means of transport, by the way, because he was closest to people that he would never meet again. Darwin is a realist. When he mentioned the struggle for survival, he thought of it as a grim reality. Not as a good thing. Subsequently, his vision would change. He thought of the loss of biodiversity as a manner in which nature worked towards a higher and better form of life.” Excuse me? “As a product of his time and his surroundings, Darwin was a firm believer in progress. The new world was coming. He could simply not countenance the fact that civilized people could organise themselves to systematically destroy other humans during the American civil war. A calamity in the making such as
the Holocaust was completely unthinkable. As was the progressive destruction of the place where he enjoyed to spend time the most as a scientist: the rain forest. Darwin believed in the advent of a universal, industrialized, civilized world. In life as a colonial mechanism, with the English as part of it. If necessary at the expense of many species and lives. That is how nature works.”
What do you admire in Darwin as a human being? “Like everyone, he makes mistakes, he is wrong. His premise that the destruction of nature and the original populations can be explained because phrenology was ignored is for example risible. But I think that the spirit with which Darwin examines the world is phenomenal, like his ‘affect’ for nature and life. But he can also be morally admired in his resistance against cruelty and slavery. He didn’t have our understanding of the moral, political and social consequences of the world view which divided. Many think Darwin is reprehensible because of this. He should have anticipated the consequences of his thinking. That is absurd. How blind were we in the last century and how deaf in this one? How long will we continue to burn fossil fuels? Why have we ignored the cancerous effects of cigarettes for so long. The Nazis were already aware of this.” The same applies to mobile phones. “I think of mobile phones as a huge experiment with the population. It is really the 21st century cigarette. You hold it against your head continuously but you have no idea what it does to you. It is expensive, addictive and a gadget to play with.” How would you describe Darwin in one sentence? “A respectable man with a dangerous theory, who paved his way through a hostile world. Respect was quite important for Darwin, which is why he could have never been an atheist. Atheists are amoral, they are not MPs. Darwin was often a theist, an agnostic on rainy dark days. As are most of us.” All of the Darwin publications based themselves on your biography. What did you think of Daniel Dennett’s book, ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’, which was published in 1995? “I discussed. On the flap of the Penguin edition, there is a quote from my text. Not fair really. They selected a section, in which Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ is considered qualitatively equal to Dennett’s work. Whereas I only referred to the use of colourful metaphors. I think that Dennett’s book is dangerous. The most short-sighted idea that I have read in the last twenty years was in Dennett’s book. He discussed locking up fundamentalists and the destruction of the fundamentalist virus. He wants to lock them up like aggressive predators in museums and religious zoos. So that our children can go look at Baptists. My God! This man is a teacher at an American university!” You never told Dennett this? “I never dared to. Dan is a highly intelligent scholar and his book was quite fun. But he is not well-versed in history. I have never been invited to give a lecture about the origin of consciousness at a congress of neurophysiologists. Or at a congress of geneticists about foetal malformations. You may think this is logical, but on the other hand, these people have no qualms about pontificating about history and Darwin. As if scientists know anything about the history of science. Darwin is their ‘red letter’ Jesus, somebody whom they have never studied up close. They take him out of his context and use him for their own benefit. They only read in his books what they wish to find.” Will there be Darwinists in the next 100 years? “It is impossible to predict, but it is not evident. Darwin understood many things, but history doesn’t stop. Darwinism will continue and will be subsumed into something else. Panta rei.”
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
Crossing the Borders On canvas: a ‘chickenoid’ creature. The rest of the painting is dotted with larger or smaller
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
eggshell fragments, as if it had exploded out from the egg. Not as a creature of flesh and blood, but immediately in the form of a painting: highly expressive and seductive; the remnants and witnesses of its origin still present on the canvas.
By dr Luc Vrielinck On canvas: a ‘chickenoid’ creature. The rest of the painting is dotted with larger or smaller eggshell fragments, as if it had exploded out from the egg. Not as a creature of flesh and blood, but immediately in the form of a painting: highly expressive and seductive; the remnants and witnesses of its origin still present on the canvas. It’s impossible to pin down artist Koen Vanmechelen to just one category. In allegory of the chicken breaking free of its porous shell, crossing over into another world, the artist is constantly charting new territories. Once a border is crossed, there is no looking back. In spite of the omnipresence of chickens, few people have considered them as carriers of a profound artistic message. The life of Vanmechelen is characterised by a constant quest, tirelessly looking left and right, forwards and backwards. The artist tries to develop his project in a way similar to the chicken’s omnidirectional and omnivorous search for seeds and bugs. He finds fragments everywhere in the World, shards waiting for him to be discovered. The artist’s focused eye discovers many unexpected manifestations of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. This is the hallmark of Vanmechelens oeuvre, in which real and metaphorical borders are crossed on at least five or six levels. In a purely biological sense, there is the physical breeding of a rooster and a hen. A second type of crossing is that between a true-bred chicken and a bastard chicken; in this case the artist goes over from one breed to another. The resulting bastard breed being the starting point of the next crossing. The story becomes more convoluted with each next step the artist takes in the crossbreeding process. Vanmechelen just realised his 11th generation of crossing. His truly dazzling concept gains increasing depth with each new generation. On a third level each chicken breed can be seen as the representative of a nation. The Mechelse Koekoek for example is the embodiment of the Belgian (Flemish) Chicken, the Poule de Bresse its French counterpart. The crossing of these two breeds formed the mythical start of Vanmechelens Cosmoplitan Chicken Project. From a historic point of view France and Flanders have fought several battles, these historic facts were resolved forever in the resulting Cosmopolitan Chicken breed. The battle of ‘Gulden Sporen’ (Golden Spurs) was fought in 1302 in and won by the county of Flanders against a French attempt to subdue it. Although formally part of France, Flanders resisted centralist French policies. By re-enacting this battle, Koen has stripped the event of its historically antagonistic context. The outcome of the war between France and Flanders is a new breed of chicken – a sublime sublimation of an age-old conflict. The progressive expansion of his cross-breeding project, involving ever more coun-
tries, will create a new, personal interpretation of the World. A fourth level of crossing is represented by the artistic transcendence of the boundaries between life and death. When one of his Cosmopolitan chickens dies, the animal is treated with due respect, not simply disposed of as most dead animals are. Quite the contrary: the chicken is stuffed by a taxidermist and transformed into an object of art. Time is the foundation for a fifth level of crossing. Normally a biological crossing implies that the chicken and the rooster are both alive and are able to mate. In a special project called ‘Frozen Culture’ Vanmechelen and team of scientists and veterinaries have collected genetic material of all the generations of roosters involved in the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. The genetic material is stored in liquid nitrogen in a scientifically controlled environment at the University of Hasselt (Belgium). Since this material, after thawing, can be used for the fertilisation of hens, there now is a potential for time-independent crossings. One day, the artist may decide to combine a certain generation with genetic material from an earlier generation. Until now, Koen has not felt the need to realise such an imaginary voyage into time within his own project. A sixth level of crossing occurred when Koen involved scientists in his quest: gynaecologists, radiologists, histologists, computer specialists and geneticists. Their evaluation of his project on pure scientific grounds generated new ideas that could be translated into an artistic language. This resulted in ‘The Walking Egg’ and the ‘Virtual Fighter’. The former project is a cross-fertilisation of art, radiology, computer engineering and rapid prototyping modelling. It gave birth to a new line of cross-breeding. After scanning, real chickens were converted into an anatomically correct replica made by stereo-lithography. These images – purely digital information – can follow the real crossing as they occur in real life, generating new breeding lines existing only in digital format. For a ‘real-life’ representation of these cross-bred chickens, these digital structures can be printed out, transforming the digital image into a tangible, three-dimensional sculpture. One of the current highlights is the ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project ‘(CCRP). Several scientists and geneticists study the effects of the chickens’ cross-breeding on their genetic structure. The final result of the genetic mapping of the Cosmopolitan Chicken genome is still guess-work, but maybe this is unimportant. What matters is the genuine interest that other people share with Koen in his project. The resulting discussions will provoke transdisciplinary interest. In this, Vanmechelen is an atypical artist: he does not reduce his audience to a merely passive role, but pro-actively invites others to share his experience and to contribut e their specific knowledge in order to take the project past yet another border.
Dr Luc Vrielinck was trained as a dentist and a maxillofacial surgeon. He has been working in Ziekenhuis Oost Limburg in Genk, a regional hospital in Limburg, Belgium. He has been working extensively in the field of oral implantolog y and oral imaging systems.
‘Unicorn / Glasstress’ The 53rd International Art Exhibition of Venice
© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident,
IVF in developing countries: an artist’s view Koen Vanmechelen1
Conclusion The impact of external environmental factors leads to unexpected views on the personal project, or throws light upon the ‘common’ or ‘healthy’ departing situation in an unusual way. On the other hand, our positive effort influences a process in which all parties are involved. That principle is daily experienced in the ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’ and for me it is a gift. In relationship with a complicated theme as IVF in developing countries, that seems too simple (utopian) or even utilitarian. Does the Third World have to give us a more subtle view? This criticism is appropriate but not complete. It might be that only an artist can evoke such sensitivity. It is a sensitivity of the mutual influence resulting in an intellectual willingness to permanent evaluation. When two extremes meet, an unbelievable density of potential arises at the section of both lines. That is a potential we have to handle thoughtfully and with care. My contribution to this important project on ‘Developing countries and infertility’ may consist of a series of numbered and signed reproductions of a painting. Each work can be sold at the price of one IVF or 3 to 4 IUI treatments. Each individual fertilization combines the story of an infertile woman with the owner of a piece of art. This will draw the attention to the individual welfare of an infertile family and in the meantime it emphasizes the topical subject of IVF, against a stubborn mentality and against medical and material motives. To those involved, this may result in an attitude of cautious sincerity in relation to the individual, the variable, the other. The original meaning of the word ‘religion’ is to observe carefully and to honor what is totally different (from the human being). This ‘religious’ reflection should be added to the ethical, juridical and economic motives of the IVF debate. Because of its place on the crossroad of social motives, this is pre-eminently the approach of the artist. Publication Oxford Journals > ESHRE Monographs > Volume 2008, Number 1