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The Accident Chronicles of The Cosmopolitan Chicken June 2007

“Content originates from melting elements. Form is the result of environmental pressure.”

Koen Vanmechelen

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My Accident

An ‘accident’ may seem to be a cruel breach of our privacy. An impact that brings minor or major damage. However, the unexpected blow often changes our lives drastically. This does not automatically have to be negative. In the long run one may discover the necessity behind such ‘coincidences’. Take for example my Golem project. The first sculpture was made 20 years ago. Today it has developed into a social-artistic project that powerfully stands on its own. Then there was my chance encounter with glass in Venice and finally, of course, ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’, which is the driving force behind all my work. I would like to discuss these meetings and apparent coincidences in this yearly issue of ‘The Accident, Chronicles of the Cosmopolitan Chicken’. Only after 10 years of intensive work on ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’, a cross-over project with live chickens from various countries and continents, we can finally try to take stock of this work-in-progress. That is why, as the front and back covers show, this magazine is literally covered by the heads of the tenth generation of ‘Mechelse Longcrower’ chickens. Themes such as multiculturalism, globalization, symbiosis, fertility, cloning and genetic manipulation, have been surfacing for the past ten years in my work. In the mean time ‘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. ‘The Accident’ wants to build a bridge and try to clarify why this project has its own pace. It is a think-tank, a source of inspiration for various disciplines and meanings in my art. As a consequence it is far from all-knowing. It is as hybrid as a chicken, constantly looking for new encounters, chances that may determine unknown directions. I have written the editorial for this issue, but in the coming issues I leave this forum to others. After all, I prefer to communicate via my artwork and meet the opinions and views of others head on. The Accident’, I want to conclude, is about new work that longs to cross-over and grow, an ongoing project that is searching for a beautiful accident.

Koen Vanmechelen

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Coincidence or not Is everything predestined? The American palaeontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, called humankind “a glorious accident.” More than ever scientists, theologians, writers and philosophers, but also filmmakers, historians and artists study the nature of coincidence as can be seen in the series ‘Lost’, the film ‘Babel’, the book ‘Mobius Dick’ and the exposition ‘The Accident.’


quote by Stephen Jay Gould to start with; “nature is one big violent amoral contraption, cruel, wasteful and indifferent to suffering and man is an unintentional, bizarre, and glorious by-product. Evolution serves no purpose; it leads to change, not necessarily to improvement. The idea that man is an elevated end product of our evolution is a perversity.” In other words, human existence is purely a coincidence according to the American palaeontologist. Coincidence is a creature that Homo sapiens has been trying to tame for thousands of years. Oracles, visionaries, alchemists, shamans, cabbalists and prophets have all tried to catch the unexpected by making the invisible, visible. With the disappearance of tribal cultures, only remnants of the ancient customs remain; the Dogon - a tribe of around 100,000 people in WestAfrica – still read the footmarks of the desert fox; the shamans of the Makuna Indians in the South-West of Columbia still rely on coca, yage and other ‘spiritual food’ to become jaguars, just like their ancestors did. It took a long time before the question of coincidence was put through a thorough test. For a long time the idea that coincidence does not exist - all events are, in other words, previously defined and predictable - had most followers, in philosophy as well as in physics. In theology, two different opinions have clashed for centuries: God has predestined everything versus God gave human beings a free will. In the past hundred years, a number of influential people steered ideas about coincidence in a certain direction. Since the event of the Internet, they have influenced the ‘man in the street’ as never before. They fight for the truth on forums, blogs, I-magazines and other virtual information carriers. We shall list them here.

Memories The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung writes in his ‘Memories’ about a dream in which an old man with the wings of a kingfisher and the horns of a bull flies through the air. In the

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period that he paints this curious dream, he finds a kingfisher in his garden, a species that is highly unusual in Switzerland. After that, he starts to notice that sometimes a succession of ‘coincidental’ events happen, which sometimes seem to have a kind of hidden relationship. He calls this phenomenon ‘synchronism’ and is the first person to bring this to the attention of the public. These meaningful coincidences make connections with the ‘collective subconscious’, an epigenetic inherited part of the subconscious: a mental area that is shared by all representatives of a race or species, according to Jung.

Different In 1956, the book ‘Metabletica of leer der veranderingen’ (the changing nature of man) was published. The Dutch psychiatrist and scientific philosopher, Jan Hendrik van den Berg contends in this book that humans change in the course of time. For this reason, our lives are not ‘a variation on a well-known theme’ (i.e. the lives that people used to live in the past), but ‘different, substantially different’. According to van den Berg, coincidence is directed by the laws of metabletics, which is another word for synchronicity. Seemingly unconnected events may show a mutual connection in time and space. Van den Berg looks into the significance and meaning of the changes that have taken place. Strangely these changes became visible in various fields at the same time: among others, mathematics, architecture, spirituality, physics, psychology, religion, the relation between people and the history of art. An example: psychoanalysis and the subconscious are not just scientific discoveries, but show that the subconscious developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth century into an anti-ego. According to van den Berg, this anti-ego developed because of the French Revolution that emphasized the equality of people. By claiming something that goes so much against the reality of inequality between people, people become strangers to themselves because they have to deny something they know to be true. This

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, ‘Mechelse Longcrower’ (prototype), 10th generation of The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. Crossing between Mechelse Auracana (C.C.P.) and Denizli Longcrower (Turkey), 2007.

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development can be found in historical facts such as the German Doppelgänger literature from the nineteenth century, in the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson’s book ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was published in the same period as Sigmund Freud and Josef Breur’s first work, etc. The simultaneous occurrence of changes in various disciplines suggests a change that is essential for a certain period and ensures that new insights are ‘in the air’. According to van den Berg geniuses are the first ones to notice these changed times in the structure of matter that has changed. Although the human guides of such changes are often schooled in different disciplines, sensing these changes demands a pre-scientific mentality of the scientist that rises above these disciplines. It is necessary to see things intuitively and to have a wider spiritual view.

Quantum mechanics Van den Berg’s metabletica is radically opposed to the quantum mechanics (among others, Max Planck and Niels Bohr) that replaced classic mechanics in 1925. Quantum mechanics argue that a particle (i.e. a photon or an electron) behaves, depending on observation, as a wave or as a classic particle. The particle ‘chooses’ one of the two possibilities at the moment it is observed. An observation at this level is always influenced by the observation itself. From this, many opponents of determinism deduce that it is impossible for the observer to make a complete prognosis and that the completely predictable universe (according to modern physics) does not exist for human beings. In 2005, in the scientific journal ‘Nature’, the Viennese physicist Anton Zeilinger wrote that “the discovery that individual events are irreducibly random is probably one of the most significant findings of the twentieth century.” Zeilinger became famous after he succeeded, together with his team, to teleport a single light particle a couple of meters in a period of zero seconds. Zeilinger believes that quantum mechanics show that an intrinsic coincidence governs nature and that the concept of reality should be rethought and that we should perhaps think more subjectively.

Cosmos The concept of synchronicity has penetrated the bastion of positive sciences. “Everything is nestled in something” is how the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake explains his vision of the cosmos. “Life encompasses more than biologists study at this moment. An organism is more than the chemicals in its body.” With his book “New science of Life” (1980), he started a major offensive against orthodox science and it’s ‘high priests’. Sheldrake immediately put the back up of the entire scientific world with his hypothesis of ‘morphic resonance’. His thesis that all living beings are as they are - plugged into the collective, universal memory of the species - eroded the fundaments of the mechanistic scientific Newtonian view. Telepathy is often the description that is used for being plugged in, but Sheldrake sees it more as an animal form of communication. This develops through an invisible, ‘morphic’ field. From Sheldrake’s hypothesis follows that everlasting laws of nature do not exist and that nature is a living organism. Many see Sheldrake as a New Age guru, others as a genius. Sheldrake’s experiments with morphogenic fields have given powerful munition to opponents of the strict scientific view of life and being, amongst them the followers of the intelligent De-

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sign hypothesis and a colourful band of spiritual seekers. The step from the fact whether or not coincidence exists, to a god figure, is then apparently quickly set. One of the people to do this, is the Indian writer Deepak Chopra, who strung the ideas of Sheldrake and Jung together with elements from Ayurveda and quantum mechanics and made a twenty-first century rosary. Coincidence exists according to Chopra, but coincidences are strung together in our universe. Enough eager people are waiting to latch onto this, as is apparent from the fact that Chopra was acclaimed one of the most influential people of the century by Time magazine in 1999. Chopra’s emphatic outings into the world of positive sciences, have led to powerful reactions of sceptics and scientists in past years. The American Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, calls it ‘Chicken soup for the New Age’.

“ Coincidence is a creature that Homo sapiens has been trying to tame for thousands of years.”

Significant In his book ‘Why people believe weird things’, Shermer says: “In the paranormal world, coincidences are often seen as deeply significant. ‘Synchronicity’ is invoked, as if some mysterious force were at work behind the scenes. However, I see synchronicity as nothing more than a type of contingency - a conjuncture of two or more events without apparent design. When the connection is made in a manner that seems impossible according to our intuition of the laws of probability, we have a tendency to think something mysterious is at work.” “However, most people have a very poor understanding of the laws of probability. A gambler will win six in a row and then think he is either “on a hot streak” or “due to lose.” Two people in a room of thirty people discover that they have the same birthday and conclude that something mysterious is at work. You go to the phone to call your friend Bob. The phone rings and it is Bob. You think, “Wow, what are the chances; this could not have been a mere coincidence. Maybe Bob and I are communicating telepathically.” In fact, none of these coincidences are coincidences under the rules of probability. The gambler has predicted both possible outcomes, a fairly safe bet! The probability that two people in a room of thirty people will have the same birthday is 71 percent. And you have forgotten how many times Bob did not call under such circumstances or someone else called, or Bob called but you were not thinking of him, and so on. As the behavioural psychologist B. F. Skinner proved in the laboratory, the human mind seeks relationships between events and often finds them even when they are not present. Slot machines are based on Skinnerian principles of intermittent reinforcement. The dumb human, like the dumb rat, only needs an occasional pay-off to keep pulling the handle. The mind will do the rest.” And the moral is: “That a particular specified event or coincidence will occur is very unlikely,” according to the American psychologist David G. Myers in his book ‘Intuition: Its Powers and Perils’. “That some astonishing unspecified events will occur is certain. That is why remarkable coincidences are noted in hindsight, not predicted with foresight. And that is why even those of us who believe in God don’t need God’s special intervention, or psychic powers, to expect, yet also delight in, improbable happenings.”

Peter Dupont

The Cosmopolitan Chicken Work in progress Koen Vanmechelen is taking his great breeding project ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’ all over the globe. It is an innovative answer-inprogress to one of the most basic human questions: what is our identity as a species and as an individual? Or else: what is life?


Peter Dupont is a freelance journalist who specializes in science, philosophy, welfare and art.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Mechelse Louisiana, LAT, Odapark, Venray (NL), 2005.

s a small boy already, the artist was deeply fascinated by chickens. Their plumage, their mating behaviour, their laying and hatching of eggs left a lasting mark on his young imagination. The cackling farmyard bird has many anthropoid characteristics: they are bipeds that make fruitless attempts to fly, they invoke the sun and the moon, and they are rather preoccupied with reproduction. These early birds, which originally lived in the wild at the foot of the Himalayas, gradually managed to secure their place at man’s side. During the Neolithic revolution, our ancestors started to domesticate them and they could be found all over the World. This internationalisation avant-la-lettre was carried to such extremes that most cultures no longer knew any wild specimens. Communication problems between the different continents created lots of different local breeds. Because of their double function of food provider and pet, chickens were within the reach of the common man. During wartime, working-class families experienced first-hand what a difference a few chickens could make to their diet.

In the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, popular-education programmes, imbued with nationalism, extolled the qualities of indigenous chicken breeds, as one more reason for chauvinism besides Idolatry of great artists and sportsmen. At the Brussels World Exhibition of 1958, Belgium glowed with national pride with its ‘Mechelse koekoek’. Vanmechelen builds on an age-old heritage of domestication processes. His considerably accelerated breeding programme, though, has the deliberate aim of producing a Super Bastard: a cosmopolitan hybrid of typical national breeds. When the artist talks about gene art, he implies that his working material consists of live animals.

Crossbreeding This could be compared to the traditional painter, who drew his pigments from vegetal and mineral sources in order to imitate the forms of the world. Vanmechelen does no more than consciously bring together different cocks and hens to cross-

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breed them. Direct genetic interventions are absolutely out of the question. Once Vanmechelen has put two breeds together, he allows nature to run its course. He does, however, intervene with artificial methods to hatch the eggs. The eggs are incubated for eighteen days at a temperature of 38° C and a humidity of 40%. Thereafter they are moved to a hatching machine for three days, where the humidity amounts to 80%. The eggs in the hatching machine need to be turned every day to remain viable. Here, man takes over the instinctive task of the connoisseur. During those 21 days, the yolk turns into a chick. Meanwhile, in a membrane between the yolk and the egg-white, an air chamber is formed which fills one third of the egg. The egg-white which serves as food gradually runs out. This is the crucial moment when the chick has to break out of its shell. As the air supply is also limited, speed is essential. A strong shell offers protection, but can also mean an early death of the newcomer. The newlyhatched chicks are kept in brooding boxes under heat lamps for three weeks. The initial temperature of 32° C is gradually decreased to 20° C. At that point, the little chickens are moved into bigger indoor pens, where they have more room. Thereafter they are kept indoor, at room temperature, for another three weeks or so, before they are allowed into the chicken run. From then on they are exposed to all kinds of weather throughout the year, Vanmechelen wants his animals to stand on their own feet as quickly as possible. The life of his crossbreeds is entirely identical to the life of all other chickens, except for the fact that they end up in the artistic circuit instead of the economic breeding system. The artist has no intention whatsoever of boosting the laying or meat capacity of his chickens. His only interest being his artistic project: he wants to cross a typical indigenous chicken breed of each country with that of another country, which should eventually produce a Super Bastard who symbolically unites the whole world. 1


Inbreeding The distinct breeding characteristics will hardly matter in the end. Vanmechelen does not intend to wipe out current chicken breeds and replace them by one uniform hybrid. On the contrary, what he wants to achieve is precisely a multiplication of breeds. Each crossbreeding process results in a new bastard breed which is partly used in The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, but which will also live as a separate entity. It is common knowledge that bastards have a tougher constitution than pure-breds. To avoid inbreeding, the artist sets out several independent breeding lines in each stage of the project. This means that similar experiments take place in parallel circuits, which are destined to cross each other sooner or later. This obviously produces a surplus of both original pure-breds and crossbreeds. All these spare chickens can count on the same animal-friendly treatment. Some may end up in the casserole, but that is also the fate of many free-range chickens on a farmyard. Vanmechelen sticks to clear ethical principles. Noone with a scientific or economic goal would ever start and keep up a project like this. The Super Bastard is a metaphor of human evolution, both cultural and genetic. Mixing yields new breeds, who turn out to be just as resilient as the old ones. We often do not realise that today’s breeds are the result of centuries of crossbreeding. Nevertheless there are few genetic differences amongst all these breeds. The artist is very careful not to identify his Super Bastard with an idealised image. Maybe the end result will be a hideous creature, who could in turn carry the seeds of a miraculous evolu-

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tion. His project dissociates itself from experiments aimed at upgrading animals or refining the human race. Attempts to produce offspring from the genetic material of Nobel Prize winners and super-models have all been disappointing. Intelligent beauty may beget ugly stupidity, and vice versa. Not to forget that every culture and age has different ideals. Moreover, such preconceived ideals ignore the fact that society must function as an organic entity, in which ordinary people turn out to be just as essential as Nobel Prize winners and supermodels. Real progress lies precisely in showing respect for ordinary people and the ordinary chicken, in all its diversity. All Vanmechelen aims to do, is to assist the natural mating process. He gives free rein to the unpredictability of nature. The artist never knows beforehand which type of chicken his breeding will shield. But how can we interpret this chicken-breeding project in the context of contemporary art? Being the son of a sculptor, Vanmechelen began knocking together cages at an early age. Later, the poultry theme found its way into his sculptures and glass art. It was not an evident decision for him to consider live chickens as art, but it was the logical result of a lingering passion. Apart from the ultimate goal, we should not underestimate the dynamics involved in the process. A project as The Cosmopolitan Chicken requires considerable energy and or-

“ Each crossbreeding process results in a new bastard breed which is partly used in The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, but which will also live as a separate entity.”

1 ©

Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, ‘Gallus Domesticus’, Genealog y, Lisson Gallery, London (GB), 2000.


Biosphere Lafayette, Kemzeke (B), 2007. The work belongs to the Verbeke Foundation. Geert Verbeke is one of the most important collectors of collages in Belgium. His Foundation serves as one of the laboratries of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project.

ganisational talent. It will take years to produce the cosmopolitan chicken. Each crossbreeding unites two or more countries, yielding a distinct variety with its own atypical characteristics. And each variety, it is accompanied by an unconventional exhibition that introduces a live art process to a museum or a gallery. Participation in this project requires a great deal of commitment on account of the institution involved, as the eggs need to be turned every day and the chicks need feeding. The breeding process will have to rely on many volunteers. In fact, it is already doing so. Although the works of art only have a limited life, both the intermediary breeds and the Super Bastard will be able to reproduce endlessly. This art will therefore always appear in a living shape and relies on the commitment of the holder. The work continues to evolve without the artist. This calls to mind Joseph Beuys who integrated evolving Material in his installations. But in the case of Vanmechelen, it concerns live beings, animals who share some characteristics with man, and who require constant care. His materials are not explicitly aesthetic in themselves. His art depends on our ability to attribute an aesthetic value to the crossbreeds. Every now and then, an exceptional specimen will see the light, and perhaps even a blue chicken. Each presentation of the work in a new country will spark off an ethtical debate and set people thinking about miscegenation, globalisation, animal welfare,

and genetic manipulation in humans and animals. This kind of art may capture the interest of a broad public. In the same manner that all chickens in the project are accorded equal respect, all the sections of the population can participate in the ethical debate. This debate will be held worldwide, which is imperative these days, as the questions involved require global answers. It was no coincidence that the “Bresse de Malines”, the cross between the Belgian “Malines Cuckoo“ and the French “Poulet de Bresse”, was presented in the border village of Watou. Of course the bastard has characteristics of both its parents, but a cross between the same pair of birds can produce offspring with very different features and colouring. The ‘Malines Cuckoo’ is a grey-and-white speckled chicken while the ‘Poulet de Bresse’ is a white variety’. The resulting ‘Bresse de Malines’, however has turned out to be black. In London, the French-Belgian bastard was subsequently crossbred with the ‘Red Cap’. This English breed is threatened with extinction due to inbreeding, but now at least same of its genetic material will survive in the crossbreeding process. Shortly, the French-Belgian-English bastard will be mated with a breed from another country. The critics of this artist should realise one thing: there is no more stopping this project. Filip Luuyckx

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Go forth and cross-fertilise The dodo, the Inca Empire, the elephant bird: this unlikely trio had one thing in common with the Chinese empire, the Easter Islanders and the Carthaginian religion: they all lived alone on their island and became extinct. Exit and amen due to the absence of influence from outside, insularity, the lack of cross-fertilisation and assimilation.


n the 16th of November 1532, the Inca emperor Atahuallpa met the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the city of Cajamarca in the Peruvian highlands. The proud Atahuallpa, who was at that moment the absolute ruler of the largest city in the New World, was surrounded by an army of 80,000 soldiers. The motley group of Spaniards waiting for him numbered exactly 62 cavalry and 106 foot soldiers. By sunset, the conquistadors had killed 7,000 Indians, without suffering any losses themselves. It seemed as if the European wave of invasion could no longer be turned back. Within decades, European troops had completely crushed the civilisations of the Incas, Aztecs and Mayas. In the centuries that followed 95 per cent of the original population of North and South America was wiped out. In his intriguing book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ the American biologist Jared Diamond, professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, asked himself why the Incas had not crushed the Spanish. Why did European and Asian troops win all their wars against other peoples? Why were Europeans not subjugated by Africans, Aboriginals or Indians? Where did this European superiority come from? One answer: contact. Due to its geographical location, Europe was forced to accept and assimilate foreign influences. It could not remain in isolation and this is why it became the dominant civilisation. More about this later, but first let’s go to the south east of Africa, to Madagascar.

Quammen Take the Aepyornis maximus, also known as the elephant bird. Over a thousand years ago, you could see this three meter tall bird that resembled an ostrich thundering by on its elephantine legs. The last dodo disappeared over 400 years ago between the teeth of a Dutch sailor. What the last Falkland wolf died of, nobody knows. In his fascinating and immensely readable book ‘Song of the Dodo, Island Biogeography In an Age of Extinctions’, David Quammen examines why some species are more successful than others. According to Quammen, one of the main reasons is lack of contact with the rest of the world. Take the disappearance of the Dodo, apparently the last specimen disappeared down a Dutch stomach. What really finished the dodo off, however, was the loss of its habitat to pigs and monkeys introduced by the sailors. These animals ate its eggs because the dodo was ecologically naive. It had no natural predators on Mauritius, and could not defend itself against exotic species. The dodos just laid their eggs on the ground as

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a ready made meal. The same thing happened to so many of the giants, dwarves and DNA acrobats who have populated islands or isolated regions throughout the past thousand years. Just one unexpected new element in their isolated little world provided them with a one-way ticket to Walhalla.

Lucifer Isolation is also the ultimate poison for human beings and their civilisations, according to the American cultural philosopher Howard Bloom in his revolutionary work ‘The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History.’ Bloom is the founder of several new scientific disciplines, including ‘omnology’. Interdisciplinary Studies, as they are called, use interdisciplinarity to develop a greater understanding of a problem that is too complex or wide-ranging (i.e. AIDS pandemic, global warming) to be dealt with using the knowledge and methodology of just one discipline. According to Bloom, traditional disciplines are unable or unwilling to address an important problem. For example, social science disciplines such as anthropology and sociology paid little attention to the social analysis of technology throughout most of the twentieth century. As a result, many social scientists with interests in technology have joined science and technology studies programs, which are typically staffed by scholars drawn from numerous disciplines (including anthropology, history, philosophy, sociology, and women’s studies). At another level, interdisciplinarity is seen as a remedy to the intellectually deadening effects of excessive specialization. Bloom claims that a society is a large neural network. The human societies that populate our planet form in their turn a neural supra-network. Societies that isolate themselves, refusing to let themselves be fertilised by others, eventually pay the price. The discontented continent of Europe, as we shall see shortly, has never had the luxury of being able to live in isolation due to its geographical location. The other was not outside, but inside the gates. The kingdoms and empires in this insignificant continent continuously had to adjust or disappear. Interesting and innovative elements from other cultures were assimilated out of necessity. Bloom claims that one of the first civilisations to result from the European urge to assimilate, were the Phoenicians, inhabitants of a region that more or less corresponds to present day Lebanon. After the decline of Minoan Crete, the Phoenicians became the most important sailors and traders in the Mediterranean sea, founding colonies everywhere

“ Interdisciplinarity is seen as a remedy to the intellectually deadening effects of excessive specialization.”

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, ‘Salvator Globe’ • Waanwezigheden, BegijnhofKerk, St-Truiden (B), 2005 • Slow Art - Neue Akzente aus Flandern und denn Niederlanden, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf (D), 2005

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between 1500 and 400 B.C. One of these was Carthage, that soon became the top dog in the Mediterranean. That success story, however, didn’t last long. ‘What they didn’t know,” writes Bloom, “they were more than willing to learn. In 260 B.C. the enterprising citizens of the Italian city-state managed to find the wreck of a Carthaginian warship that had run aground. Roman military engineers pored over the battered vessel, examining every detail. They took it apart and noted each trick of the boat’s construction, then built a copy of their own. The Romans rapidly hammered together an entire fleet of 220 ships in only three months. The rest is history: ‘The Carthaginian meme died out, replaced by that of Rome. Cartage’s language disappeared. Her religion was forgotten.” After Carthage, others would meet the same fate over the next two millennia. Only those who adopted the European openness learnt to survive. Even the mighty Chinese empire was brought to its knees. Back to Pizarro. According to Jared Diamond, the Spanish conquest of America was due to European ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, or in other words, their horses, microbes and swords. It is not that the advantages of this powerful trio were down to any merit possessed by the Spanish that can be attributed to superior intelligence. The causes of Western success - and Diamond distinguishes four main ones – lie far back in prehistory, during the development of agriculture in Europe almost 8000 years ago. This is the period in which hunters and gatherers began to make way for farmers. The production of food in Eurasia could feed large population groups, which in turn led to hierarchically structured civilisations with centralised governments, strong leaders and specialists such as bureaucrats and soldiers who did not have to produce food. Freed from the daily hunt for food, they could concentrate on taking care of the interests of the entire community. This is why Europe had an advantage over other regions. However, the Old Continent was not responsible for this itself. Agriculture began over 10,000 years ago in the extremely fertile ‘Golden Sickle’ in South West Asia, a region that happened to have the largest diversity of plants and animals. Therefore this area had the largest number of potential candidates for domestication and the richest basis for food production. And, not to forget: writing, something that began in complex societies with centralised political institutions.

Domestication The successful domestication of large mammals (8000 B.C.) is an almost exclusively Eurasian phenomenon and was crucial for the expansion of dominating societies. The animals provided milk products, meat, compost, transport, leather and wool. They were used in military operations and ploughing and they were also responsible for the microbes that wiped out people who had never been exposed to them before. The question is why were almost no large mammals domesticated outside Eurasia? In the first place, the most likely candidates for domestication happened to live in Europe. Many animals could not be domesticated. The African buffalo, for example, was too aggressive and unpredictable. Gazelles were too nervous and gorillas and elephants grew too slowly. Secondly, the original inhabitants of Australia and New Guinea had already wiped out all their mega fauna within a short period of time. The large American mammals didn’t last long after the Indians spread over both continents. What is the link between the absence of large herds of domesticated mammals and increased susceptibility to infectious dis-

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Genesis shows that both artist and scientist use their imagination to give an idea of life. Both deploy the same metaphors when they talk about life.

eases? Most infectious Eurasian diseases had developed from herds of domesticated animals. Europe had many domesticated species and so had built up a certain degree of resistance or immunity against diseases like measles, tuberculosis and pox. But the microbes brought by the Spaniards from the Old World were lethal to other people such as the Indians. The weakened Inca empire where Pizarro had been wandering for 5 years was plagued by pox. Maybe Cortes could also count himself lucky that the bellicose fury of the Aztecs had been tempered by the pox. What about North America? Two centuries after Columbus’s landing, only 5 per cent of the original 20 million inhabitants were left. If their ancestors had not been such enthusiastic hunters, the original American horses and camels could have provided the Indians with their own army of microbes. North and South America would have looked very different today. Naturally the Eurasian microbes did not limit their extra-continental trip to the two Americas. Entire populations in the Pacific ocean, the Aboriginals, the Hottentots and the Bush People were decimated by them. Syphilis, gonorrhoea, tuberculosis (which arrived in the wake of Captain Cook), a typhus epidemic in 1804 and other ‘smaller’ epidemics reduced the population of Hawaii from a half million people in 1779 to 84,000 in 1853.

Germs This may be so, but why was it, wonders Diamond, that is was Europeans and not, say, sub-Saharan Africans who made guns, steel equipment and ships that could sail the ocean? Why is almost every invention Eurasian in origin and why did tech-

“ According to Jared Diamond, the Spanish conquest of America was due to European ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, or in other words, their horses, microbes and swords.”

nology evolve at different speeds on different continents? Is it true that the Aborigines are technologically underdeveloped because they live in a remote, imaginary Dream Time and that Africans simply don’t have the European drive for expansion? Once more Diamond sees geographical location as the most important factor. Isolated peoples like the Tasmanians had had no contact with other peoples for ten thousand years and had to rely on their own inventiveness. The societies most able to benefit from other people’s discoveries were centrally located on a continent. So, for example, was medieval Islam, unhindered by geographical or ecological barriers able to pluck the fruits of wisdom from Greece, China and India, thereby developing quicker.


© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, 8 generations, Genesis, Centraal Museum, Utrecht (NL), 2007.

Whether or not inventions caught on depended on a multiplicity of factors, which were sometimes unpredictable. A well known example of this is the Japanese refusal to use firearms. Japan learnt about the existence of these weapons from two Portuguese adventurers and by 1600, it had both the most and best guns in the world. However, the most powerful military elite, the Samurai, did not fancy the idea of being shot at by any old peasant and smothered the new technology in its cradle. The development and acceptance of new inventions varies from society to society on a continent, as Diamond demonstrates convincingly and also depends upon the times. In general, you can say that a technology will develop fastest in

large, productive areas with large populations with lots of potential inventors and competing communities. One of the factors that hastened China’s downfall was the prohibition on sailing the ocean that was imposed for political reasons in the 15th century. This brought the gigantic empire on the verge of an industrial revolution to a standstill and even reversed progress. Mechanical machines and technology were abandoned. This illustrates the disadvantages of a politically unified country. Jared Diamond claims that if Europe had been united at the time of Columbus, America may never have been colonised. Thanks to its political fragmentation, it was possible for someone like the Italian Columbus to finally obtain ships from the Spanish king after four failed attempts with other rulers. A Chinese Columbus would have had to shelve his plans after just one refusal. The same thing happened with Europe’s canon, electric lighting, printing press and small firearms. Even if they were ignored or forbidden at first, it was not long before they were introduced anyway, simply because they were being used in another region. Once more, according to Diamond, Europe’s geography played an important role. Its convoluted, indented coastline, five large peninsulas and two large islands guaranteed a diversity of peoples, languages and forms of government. Europe’s barriers prevented political unification, but led to the spread of ideas and technologies. It was impossible to ignore innovation without paying a heavy price. There was no single despot to single-handedly close the door to the world, as was the case with China. The moral of this story is: ‘Crossfertilize or you will be crossed out!’

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The Accident Bio-art, gen-art, interdisciplinary art and so forth. The enigmatic work of the Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen has been given more names than there are letters in the artist’s name.


etaphor is all we have as a human being,’ says the American natural scientist and poet Alan Lightman in his book ‘A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit’. For more than two decades Vanmechelen has been using the bird/chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) in all forms and manifestations as a metaphor to grasp the complex ‘condition humaine’ as well as to confront the ongoing alienation of Homo sapiens in an ever stranger and warped universe. In order to achieve that aim, the artist works in close contact with scientists in different domains, bridging the distance between art and science and the sciences themselves. His vast project ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’ genetically combines and artfully manipulates scores of chicken breeds from all over the planet. Until now his first new breed, the ‘Mechelse Bresse’, a genetic mix of the Belgian ‘Mechelse Koekoek’ and the French ‘Poulet de Bresse’, has been followed by eight other generations with a genetic influx from countries such as Holland, Germany, Great-Britain, the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Brazil. The exhibition ‘The Accident’ in Miami for the first time presents his entire ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’ in the United States. Location: Palm Court Miami Beach. Unlike the creator in Clifford D. Simak’s short story of the same name, who comprises an entire cosmos in his glasslike oval receptacle, Koen Vanmechelen lets his cosmos escape into his mesmerizing canvasses, flamboyant pictures, in his video’s and flesh and glass sculpures. The glass by the way was conceived in the famous Berengo ovens in Murano, the little twin sister of Venice. “This exhibition is a conscious brilliant accident,” says Vanmechelen. “My artworks bump into each other in the three spaces of the gallery. Henceforth the name of the exhibition.” However, this is not Vanmechelens first raid into the United States. The last time the artist tried to show his American crossbreeding, the ‘Mechelse Giant’ was not allowed in the country because of the 09/11 calamities. “I had to show an artificial crossbreeding. Now I am back with the American crossing and a selection of the work that precedes and follows her.” Nor will it be the last time because after Miami the artist wants to start experimenting with different kinds of American bird species in his project. Back to Miami. The partcipants in Vanmechelens feathery Big Bang are very diverse as they populate the rooms and corridors of the space. The largest room of the exhibition is dominated by a cage that holds the pompous ‘Jersey Giant’. Looking directly at this American breed is a stuffed cock. There is a pile of glass eggs, a transparant incubator, and two fighting cocks on video. Abstract drawings and neon-works are lining the walls. The smallest space contains hunderds of eggs under red lights, while in the third space a two-headed chicken is looking at two portraits of the ‘Mechelse Koekoek’ and the ‘Poulet de Bresse’ hanging behind an eerily lit up egg. Animal and egg are standing on a long table. There is also a monitor from which the Asian ‘Red Junglefowl, the ‘ur’-chicken, is looking at the cage

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in the other room. The space is totally covered under a blanket of noises from the scratching chickens, fighting cocks, the howling incubator and beating eggs. Visitors are constantly targeted by chicken eyes. The exhibition is the temporary pendant for Vanmechelens ‘Born’ project in Belgium, which extends over the entire Genk Institute of Fertility Technology. The exhibition combines Vanmechelens three subprojects which constitute his project ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’. The three are ‘The Walking Egg’, ‘The Cosmopolitan Breeding Programme’ and ‘The Glass Crossings’. ‘The Cosmopolitan Breeding Programme’ deals with the animal itself, the crossbreedings, the biology. It is active but abstract work that challenge the existing notions about art and shows the way to a deeper understanding of reality. The ‘Walking Egg’ deals with the scientific aspect. From a philosophical point of view it plays with the same themes as ‘The Cosmopolitan Breeding Programme’ but with a different aesthetic organisation. Both subprojects introduce the so called ‘banal animal’ as a saviour for lifethreatening diseases, but also the bringer of hope which exposes new and evolutionary insights, brings forth philosophical issues and generates discussions and debate. In the third subproject, ‘The Glass Crossings’, Vanmechelen combines the glass characteristics of different nations by mixing the work of different glass masters. It is an artistic mix of different glassblowers who create unexpected works.

This English Redcap, one of the last of its kind, lives on in the new crossbreeding ‘Mechelse Redcap’.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, third generation Mechelse Redcap, Cross-over, studio Meeuwen (B), 2002.

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“ Multiculturalism is the product of political defeat.”


ho would not agree with a humane and multicultural liberalism in which everyone respects human rights and keeps to certain values and standards? Yet multiculturalism is becoming a dirty word in our late modern society. “The multiculturalist sees the other as purely an abstraction. He has an absolutely misplaced, unrealistic, abstract idea of culture! (...). Multiculturalism is a yuppie ideology, a world view that has been made by Disney World.” The Slovenian philosopher and left-wing revolutionary thinker Slavoj Zizek, does not think much of multiculturalism, an ideology that says that cultures are of equal value and wishes to let them coexist next to each other on the principle that: diversity + pluralism = a free, tolerant society. Multiculturalism, one of the dogma’s of politically correct thinking, is receiving more and more criticism. Not only from racist, xenophobic, or ethnocentric quarters, but also from free thinkers such as Kenan Malik, Theodore Dalrymple, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Brian Barry, Pascal Bruekner, Amartya Sen, Talima Nasrin and Paul Cliteur and last but not least, Slavoj Zizek. Zizek, a professor at the Universities of Ljubljana and Princeton, criticized the hypocrisy and the naivety of multicultural ideas in his book ‘A plea for Leninist intolerance’. “On the one hand, multiculturalism tolerates the Other as long as he is not really the Other, but the sterile Other of the pre-modern ecological wisdom and fascinating rituals. As soon as we have dealings with a real Other (who uses force and tortures enemies to death) and with the manner in which the Other regulates the individuality of his pleasure, the tolerance stops (...). On the other hand, the tolerant, multicultural liberal tolerates the cruelest violations of human rights - or is not prepared to condemn these - because he is afraid of being accused of interfering with the values of the Other.

Against multiculturalism

The unstable fundaments of multiculturalism While artistic, intellectual, and politically correct circles keep on pushing multiculturalism forward as the correct social model, this ideology is being increasingly criticized. Criticism also comes from unexpected quarters, British-Indian philosopher Kenan Malik says: “Multiculturalism is just as noxious as racism.” We give you an insight into the ongoing debate.

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© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, New Brood, Eclips/25th Anniversary Deweer Art Gallery, Zwevegem (B), 2004.

In the United States, cultural wars have been raging for four decades in academic circles. In Europe, the young British English Philosopher Kenan Malik was one of the first ones to set the cat among the pigeons. “The notion of pluralism is both logically flawed and politically dangerous, and the creation of a ‘multicultural’ society has been at the expense of a more progressive one,” says Malik. He longs for a recent past, when immigrants from all corners of the world, wanted to feel ‘British’ despite the discrimination they encountered. According to him, multiculturalism that has been propagated on higher authority has ended that. Emphasis was put on the fact that minorities were ‘victims’ and also on their differentness. Kenan Malik: “Decades of well-meaning government support of Asian (and black) Britons – as a way of giving them an interest in ‘the system’ as a counterbalance for racism – meant in practice that ethnic groups were gradually ‘given the absolute right to be different’ and ‘to entrench themselves.’ Communities have been given the chance to lock themselves away in parallel worlds: those who want to integrate are seen as traitors of their own culture and identity. Malik: “In towns in the North of England, multiculturalism has thus promoted segregation more effectively than racism (...) Multiculturalism has made some communities more inward-looking.” According to Malik, multiculturalism is a dead end and the equality of cultures is an illusion, in contrast to that of individuals. “The idea of the equality of cultures (as opposed to the equality of human beings) denies one of the critical features of human life and human history: our capacity for social, moral and technological progress. (...) Multiculturalism is the product of political defeat. The quest for equality has increasingly been abandoned in favour of the claim to a diverse society. (...) Campaigning for equality means challenging accepted practices, being will-

ing to march against the grain, to believe in the possibility of social transformation. Conversely, celebrating differences between peoples allows us to accept society as it is. (...) Instead of cross-fertilization between cultures, came segregation and indifference under the guise of ‘respect’. “Why should I, as an atheist, be expected to show respect for Christian, Islamic or Jewish cultures whose views and arguments I often find reactionary and often despicable? Why should public arrangements be adapted to fit in with the backward, misogynistic, homophobic claims that religions make? (...) Multiculturalist policies inevitably bring to mind George Orwell’s description in 1984 - ‘A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police (...) Multiculturalism is an authoritarian, anti-human outlook. True political progress requires not recognition but action, not respect but questioning, not the invocation of the Thought Police but the forging of common bonds and collective struggles.”

Racism Since Malik’s frontal attack, various other European free thinkers have started to hack into the multicultural model. The Dutch-Somalian politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example, follows the New Zealand political philosopher Susan Moller Okin in her essay ‘Is Multiculturalism Bad for women’. Okin poses, that multiculturalism is bad for women because it is blind to the wrongs in the private spheres of the cultures they defend. These abuses can, after all, be categorized under the denominator ‘traditions’ and for that reason multiculturalism keeps practices that are hostile towards women, alive. At the beginning of the year, an international debate started after French philosopher Paul Bruecker’s witty reaction to the book ‘Death of a healthy smoker’ by the British-Dutch writer Ian Buruma and its review in The New York Review of Books by British historian Timothy Garton Ash. Bruecker launched an attack on multiculturalism and defended Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He sees the multicultural model of Buruma and Garton Ash as ‘the racism of anti-racism’, which chains immigrants to their ethnic or religious traditions under the guise of diversity. This ‘legal form of apartheid’ denies them the right to take part in the freedom of modern society, according to the philosopher. The paradox of multiculturalism is, according to Bruckner, that it guarantees an equal treatment for all communities, but not for the individuals who make up the communities. ‘There is acknowledgement of the group, but oppression of the individual.” Paul Cliteur, the Dutch philosopher, also threw himself into the verbal dispute; “multiculturalism is not only based on relativism, but also on the collective feelings of guilt over colonialism and other real or alleged issues in the dark pages of the history of Europe.” According to Cliteur, supporters of multiculturalism see anyone who believes in a form of universal truth as a fundamentalist.

Multi-ethnic Which model is being pushed forward as a substitute for multiculturalism? The Algerian Columnist Sylvain Ephimenco sees a difference between multicultural and multi-ethnic. “Multicultural means that the dominant culture with its specific values is toned down and that all cultures are equal. Multiculturalism also embraces culture relativism: you do not have to be like us as we are not worthwhile, do what you want, speak your own language. Multi-ethnic means that there is no monolithic white block and that we accept diversity, but are all united around a number of collective values, such as equality between men and women. We must not give an inch to those cultures that think that women play an inferior role compared to men. The freedom of speech must not be touched either. Those values must be the pillars of the multi-ethnic society.

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© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, portrets of different generations, Galerij Deweer, Otegem (B), 1999 - 2007.

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The Accident   21




“Art only has to be. This is only possible in confrontation C



with the other.”









Koen Vanmechelen

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Frozen hope with open hands The Cosmogolem rests imposingly and enigmatically on the roof of the Leuvens Vertrouwenscentrum Kindermishandeling (Child Abuse Centre in Leuven, Belgium). For more than two years, he has been gazing at the horizon with open hands. The motionless ‘mover’ as an umbilical cord between the hurt child and the outside world: “I took one look at the ‘Cosmogolem’ and immediately recognized the connection with the theme of the traumatized child,” says child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Stichting Lezen, Antwerpen (B), 2003 - 2007.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Technisch Instituut Maasmechelen (B), 2003 - 2007.

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uck the world”. One of the clients of the Child Abuse Centre has left his motto behind in the waiting room. Every year, a thousand new children are reported, half of these visit the third floor of the austere building in the Justus Lipsiusstreet in Leuven. They have been battered, neglected, or sexually abused; it is as if the river Styx flows through these corridors and rooms. “Five hundred young clients will remain in treatment,’ says the gentleman psychiatrist while he is watched over by children’s drawings on the notice board.

Emotions At the end of 2004, Peter Adriaenssens had the Cosmogolem hoisted up onto the roof of the Child Abuse Centre in Leuven. Ever since then, he has used the wooden giant in his therapy. The figure is ideal for this use. “This giant seems to be unaffected on the outside, just like the child. Anyone can project emotions that he or she might have onto the Cosmogolem. Some children see him as smiling or as melancholic, strict, downcast or as having a conversation. However, his attitude betrays nothing. He seems to be frozen in time. The unseen, the suffering, the ‘words that cannot be said’, the ‘images that cannot be shown’ has been stylized into the visible. It is only his huge open hands that perhaps show that more is going on inside.” The Cosmogolem touches everyone. The child psychiatrist noticed that when people encounter the figure, they do not know what to do with their own hands. “And as we have seen many times, most people touch the hands spontaneously.” The hands of the Cosmogolem and his visitor make contact. The hatch in the Cosmogolem’s chest is the entrance to the inner world. Koos Vanmechelen has created a symbolic space there. The ‘Book Cosmogolem’ is filled with children’s literature and it could thus be taken on tour. The Cosmogolem that Koen Van-

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mechelen made with young people in the Centre in Leuven and the Indian Cosmogolem have a different task.” In the townscape, the Cosmogolem communicates with the pupils in the underlying school, the Auxiliary Prison opposite and the sculpture ‘De preekstoel’ (The pulpit) of the provincial government building. “The Cosmogolem is not schoolish, does not punish or preach, but invites people to deposit anything they need to get off their chest,’says Peter Adriaenssens. “The inside of the Cosmogolem is a sacred place, just as it is with every human being. We have to guess at what happens within an individual. We are allowed to know some things, but others remain part of the world of the dialogue between the human and him or herself. From the first week that the Cosmogolem was in our centre, children pushed drawings through his chest. Some wrote things that they could not entrust to anyone, out of their systems. Others just wanted to sit near. A class of teenagers worked on the question of what it meant to young people to be caught up in a tsunami disaster. They put this on paper and came and deposited it in the figure.” Peter Adriaenssens does not see the Cosmogolem as a safe or as a Trojan horse to entice children to give away things adults can read later. ‘The jumble of texts and objects that will slowly fill it during many years will become a philosophic labyrinth. The Cosmogolem is a helper who is alive. During the day, he is an image and at night, he reads what is entrusted to him and visits the sender’s realm of thoughts. The Cosmogolem plays with the child that is so often left alone, he talks to the nightmares of the young person who again sees traumatic images surfacing and negotiates with him about letting healthy ones take their place. Nobody will know, because the image of the Cosmogolem is back in its place in the morning and everyone can think what they want. In December 2004, the Centre organized an interna-

“ The inside of the Cosmogolem is a sacred place, just as it is with every human being.”

tional congress about the state of affairs with regard to child abuse. One of the participants was Sister Jeanne Devos who works with young abused house slaves in India. “As soon as she saw the ‘Cosmogolem’ it was immediately clear that it could fulfil a symbolic function for her and for the children she represents.” Koen Vanmechelen’s cosmopolitan world-view clearly shares common ground with Sister Devos’project. That was even more the case when the tsunami disaster hit India and created new risks of children trafficking.


© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Technisch Instituut Maasmechelen (B), 2003.

Peter Adriaenssens works together with Sister Devos, who has asked Koen Vanmechelen to make a Cosmogolem for her children. “Sister Jeanne does tremendous work,”according to Peter Adriaenssens. “Our modest contribution is a learning process for me and for the children. The Cosmogolem, as we have called the figure, is the symbol of an unfinished yet open human being, which strongly appeals to the children. Everyone wants to touch the figure with its huge hands. The children made it together with the artist and they can leave messages in it. We now also use the clay giant in a canvas version. The different parts of the Cosmogolem are the beginning of our communication with the children.” Do they put their drawings in the figure, like the Belgian children do? Strangely enough, drawing is not part of the culture of the children in that country. However, they hammer and saw as they have seen the artist do, and push their wooden objects into the Cosmogolem. They make their own language and paint each other’s faces. In that way, they learn that touching a face is not always threatening.” India was a completely different experience for Peter Adriaenssens. “I have seen a completely different treatment of men-

tal problems; more from a philosophic angle. A psychiatric study hardly exists there. Children can easily contemplate for an hour. The number of suicides is comparatively low. Here, we often see self-mutilation and explosive behaviour. Depression is not recognized as such. A depressed girl sitting on her bed all day is not a problem, as she is not causing any trouble. Many girls live in stressful situations, which disturb the use of the memory and lead to depressions and personality disorders. These are the same problems as the children of refugees in our closed institutions.”Why does the Cosmogolem work in India, Belgium, and in the near future, in other places on this planet? Peter Adriaenssen: “The frozen outward appearance of the Cosmogolem makes the figure accessible to everyone, whatever race or religion they may have. If you are powerful, you do not have to be afraid of it. However, if you are powerless, are swamped by power, you can see in the way the Cosmogolem stands, that he speaks your language. The Cosmogolem is then a signal from here, from Flanders, for young people in other parts of the world. It makes it clear to them that there are not continents where all is misery, next to regions where all is idyllic. The fact that the Cosmogolem was made by an artist in our country, shows them that we are also familiar with painful experiences and know that a healing ritual is needed at such moments. Young people with traumatic experiences can be found all over the world. A Book Cosmogolem in Leuven, and now a Cosmogolem in India, a chain, a never-ending work of art, always in process: inwardly because of what is given and outwardly because of the influences of environment and time on the ‘skin’ on the Cosmogolem. ‘A network of Cosmogolem figures throughout the world summons the strength of victims forth by pointing to solidarity. It is globalization at the level of healing.’

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Since the murder of Stacy and Nathalie, the little girls from Liège, children and youth psychiatry has suddenly become a ‘hot item’. Peter Adriaenssens has his thoughts on this matter. Murdering and plundering teenagers, abducted and abused children; since the news coverage of notary X and the alleged abuse of X1, our society seems to be obsessively occupied with children? Peter Adriaenssens: “That negative child image, that is correct; from paedophilia, violence, to murder and abuse. The education of children is being made problematic. Newspapers and other media are constantly presenting us with specialists to advise and assist us. The ordinary citizen is hardly listened to in the public debate on education. He is, apparently, not able to do it and the message is: mistrust that gut feeling, ask a professional.”

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Technisch Instituut Maasmechelen (B), 2003. © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Vertrouwenscentrum, Leuven (B), 2004 - 2007.

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Where does that fixation on the negative child image come from? “Former major schools of thought and ideas have disappeared. Instead, we are obsessively occupied with a different heaven: the paradise of a successful upbringing. Children have to be their parent’s success. Problems, that stand in the way of this, have to be solved quickly. I do not believe in easy solutions, but more and more parents find it difficult that there is no easy solution for complex problems. They want something to hold on to, but there is nothing.” Are the number of opinions about child issues, a bad thing? “Sometimes they are and certainly in the case of the establishment of the Paedophile Party in the Netherlands. It is clear to everyone that this party is not looking after the interests of chil-

dren. Why then, are dozens of opinion formers drummed up to look at this issue from all angles? Who benefits from the opinion former who declares that sex with an older, experienced lover, can have more advantages for the girl or boy, than sex with a contemporary who is full of raging hormones. Differentiating every subject and looking at every point of view, just makes parents doubt unnecessarily.” Is informing better than forming people’s opinions? “Not necessarily, but the media should not only round up the same gang of specialists. The public is forgotten in the public debate. Why not have opinions from a parents association, the Family League or a residents association? Media as well as professionals give these groups the idea that they mean nothing in a debate. Moreover, these groups do not profile themselves enough. More balance is necessary, otherwise the gap between the small group that can tackle the problems effortlessly and the others who do not move within a culture where things are discussed and talked about, will become unbridgeable. The consequence is that these people can only have their say on weblogs, while they deserve a wider forum.” Do people who are more highly educated lead the debate? “Yes, indeed. They have collected quite a lot of intellectual baggage, which has been paid for by society, but forget that the average person can no longer follow the complexity of the current debates. That is humiliating. Take, for instance, legal and illegal drugs. A father said it as follows:”I cannot use Internet

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“ Newspapers and other media are constantly presenting us with specialists to advise and assist us.”

to stay up to date and do not speak Dutch well enough to follow debates. So, I prefer to close my eyes to what my son does than run the gauntlet of public shame.” Are children better off now, than they were fifty years ago? Apparently, more and more children carry a mental burden. “The largest group, 70 % of the children, is better off than in the past. They have many practical and material advantages and are received into a child-friendly and exciting world. However, the other 30% have a much more difficult time than in the past. They cannot follow or drop out. Amongst them, are

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4% problem children with potential criminal behaviour and 10 to 20 % problem children.” Do you treat many children of immigrants? “No, I am not an expert in that field. Immigrant parents do not go to a psychiatrist very quickly, because they feel ashamed. Here, in Flanders, we need a fast investment into the training of social workers of immigrant stock and of an anthropologist/ child psychiatrist; someone, for instance, who can understand the culture of shame within immigrant families and is able to put this into the framework of therapy.”

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Vertrouwenscentrum, Leuven (B), 2004 - 2007.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Stichting Lezen, Antwerpen (B), 2003 - 2007.

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© Koen Vanmechelen, Cosmogolem Project.

Cosmogolem Project in action, 2003 - 2007. • Antwerpen, Brugge, Brussel, Genk, Hasselt, Leuven, Maasmechelen, Meeuwen, Tongeren (B). • Landgraaf, Tilburg (NL). • Mumbai (India). Cosmogolem Project in progress • Pakistan, China, Namibië, Nicaragua...

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Giant between house slaves Bombay, Mumbai: extreme, immoral, merciless and exuberant city on India’s West coast. Between the millions of poor people, the gangsters, the film stars, the teeming workers, the dying, the whores and those who have given up on the world, stands the Golem. He is a magnet and a symbol of hope for the tens of thousands of children who work somewhere in the city jungle as house slaves. Sister Jeanne Devos took “ Between the millions of poor people, the gangsters, the filmstars, the teeming workers, the dying, the whores and those who have given up on the world, stands the Golem.”

the wooden giant by the hand and let him loose among her children.


ombay, since 1995 officially Mumbai, is the largest city in India and is situated on the Arabian Sea. The ‘city of the seven islands’ is the capital of the state of Maharashtra and has between 18 and 24 million inhabitants; nobody is quite sure how many. In a few years time, more people will live here than on the continent of Australia, says Indian writer Suketu Mehta in his imposing and merciless portrait: ‘Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.’ There is not much left of the coastal town that the Portuguese once called Bombaim, Good Bay. This beautiful city is, more than ever, a culture shock for the Westerner. On the one hand, there is the sea, the bright sunlight, the bays, the creeks, rivers and hills, on the other, the slums, the penetrating stench of exhaust fumes and bombil fish, the never-ending noise and the crowds of people. In 2002, Belgium had a population density of 318 people per square kilometre; Mumbai had 6776. The largest amount of people, packed together, in the world. Two thirds of the inhabitants of the city live in 5 per cent of the area; the rich live in 95 per cent of the city. The stranger soon notices the contrasts: in spite of the enormous numbers of poor, sex workers and slums, this is the richest and fastest growing city in India. It has weight loss clinics and a huge diamond and film industry. This is the city of commerce, the dhandra, but also the city of the seventy-one year-old Sister Jeanne Devos.


© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem Domestic Workers, Mumbai (India), 2006 - 2007.

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When Jeanne Devos was twenty-six, she became a nun and joined the Sisters of the Hunt (Zusters van de Jacht) in Heverlee, where she now waits to talk to us. Two years later, she left for India, where the immersion in this chaotic country changed her from a convinced catholic into a multiculturally orientated nun. In Madras, she devoted herself to the education of deaf and hard of hearing. In 1968, after contact with local students, she founded the first national student movement in India called the ‘Young Christian Students’ and later the more pluralistic ‘Young Student Movement’. In 1970, ‘The young Student Movement for development’ came out of this; it was a breeding ground for the first Indian Non-governmental organizations. In 1974, Jeanne Devos became the first national provost of the Indian student movement and chairwoman of the student movement for all Asia. In this way, she came in contact with the Asian freedom thinkers and her feminist awareness

sharpened. “I decided to take on the protection of the weakest under the weak; the girls without rights who earn their living as house slaves. We were going to take things easy with this project, but it turned out completely differently.” Ever since she was forty-three, Jeanne Devos has worked continuously for the rights of exploited Indian domestic workers and house slaves with her ‘Domestic Workers Movement’, the former ‘House workers Solidarity.’ “They, especially, live in poverty and are exploited; they are from the lowest caste of untouchables” she says. “They do not have any chance of good education or a well-paid job. I live together with other sisters in an apartment that is open day and night for the destitute, the children and the girls. Child labour did not bother the Indian government for a long time. It was said that it was better for children to have a house where they had to work, than that they went hungry on the streets. However, reality is much more horrifying. In the private houses, the most awful forms of child labour take place. The children do not have an identity or a voice. We try to give them these and the Golem can help us with this.”

Victims More than 70% of the Indian population lives under the poverty level. The consequences of globalization are disastrous, especially for the rural population. Women are the greatest victims, a consequence of the ancient laws of Manu, who determines the social relations between Hindus and states that a woman is unsuited to independence, that she should serve her husband as a God and that she may never dishonour the name of her husband. This means concretely, that the only social security a woman has, are her sons. Daughters are a burden, worthless and expensive due to the dowry. This results in a high number of abortions, infanticide on female babies and getting rid of women during economically difficult situations. The only way out for these outcasts, who migrate to the cities in huge numbers, is domestic work or prostitution. Furthermore, Hindu fundamentalism with its still existing caste system ensures that whole segments of the population, especially the Dalit caste, automatically end up in poverty. “In towns such as Bombay, they often end up in a modern form of slavery, and work under inhuman conditions as domestic servants and prostitutes” according to Devos. “An estimated 300,000 children between 6 and 13 and girls and women between 14 and

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“ Women are the greatest victims, a consequence of the ancient laws of Manu.”

24 from Indian tribal communities end up in enforced housework via human trafficking. Domestic servants are completely dependant on their employers. They usually live in and are mentally, physically and sexually abused. As housework is not recognized as work, the employment legislation in India is not applicable to housemaids. They are completely at the mercy of their employers. The stories I heard are terrible.” Jeanne Devos remembers the child that had an iron pushed in its face and was stabbed many times with a fork, because she had, by accident, given sugar to the lady of the house who wanted to salt a fish dish. Another girl was thrown out of the house naked whenever she made a mistake. “This is like placing a child, naked, in the Oude Markt (The Old Square) in Leuven. When she arrived at our place, she chatted on and on about breasts and penises, she had clearly been abused.” According to Jeanne, part of that aggression comes from the fact that India is a densely populated country. Because people are packed together, tensions are automatically taken out on the weakest members of the group. “The National Domestic Workers Movement strives, with some success, for the acknowledgement of the economical and personal rights of domestic workers. Where they once had to be available to their employees, day and night during seven days a week, now in many cases, a maximum number of working hours and a minimum wage has been determined. Elementary labour laws, such as health insurance and pensions, still belong to the sphere of action of the movement. We try to take the girls away from all the misery and make sure they do not end up in it again,” says Jeanne Devos. “Just spreading information is not enough, which is why we try to do something about the problems in situ. At the moment, we are implementing a project in Jharkand, Mumbai, Bihar and Delhi.”

Prisoners Jeanne Devos: “In Bombay, a city with 24 million people, 160,000 girls are in prostitution, 25,000 of them are children under the age of twelve. In addition to this, there are also domestic workers, about 80,000 in Bombay alone; the youngest are still toddlers. Girls, women, children from four years onwards, they are of service to richer families and receive starvation wages. Some girls even have to work in three or four places to make ends meet. They have to keep silent, are lonely and are without a voice. Those who protest end up on the street; they belong to the lowest caste after all. Some are real prisoners and are not allowed out of the house. If they are ill for a while, they loose their work. With the ‘Domestic Workers Movement’, we fight for the dignity of every domestic worker by demanding rights. Their children also end up in that total slavery. They have no freedom whatsoever, they are usually locked up and are very lonely. A great problem is that we can hardly reach these children, for that reason we established

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© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem • Domestic Workers, Day of Hope, Mumbai (India), 2006 - 2007. • Domestic Workers, Slums Hyderabad (India), 2007.

a free Child Line; this is often the only form of social contact the children have.” As acknowledgement for her work, Jeanne Devos received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University in Leuven. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. “Personally, I do not need all that, but the prestige helps if I need to pressurize the Indian Government or other authorities.” There is still a lot to do in India. This country, strangely enough, introduced children’s rights into the constitution many years before the United States. The only problem is that they are not put into practice. You can still buy a child as domestic help on every street corner in Bombay. The situation is getting worse due to the increasing migration to the cities. The recent tsunami disaster has caused many homeless children to go the city to work as servants for families in exchange for a roof over their heads. Nevertheless, Indians love their children. “The best evidence is the father who sold his only piece of ground so he could search for his daughter who was once sold as a house servant. When the child heard what her father had done, she gained dignity for the rest of her life.”

Hope In the past two years, Jeanne Devos has found the transforming power of art with the Golem. “Art can give children a feeling of worth, can let them sense that they are not scum. Last year I accidentally discovered Koen Vanmechelen’s ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken Project’ and his gigantic Golem. From a distance, the wooden figure looked rather peculiar, but the fascination quickly turned into the realization that the Golem was exactly the right image for the Dalit-children in Bombay and in other places in the world where children are exploited. It had to become their Golem, the symbol of hope, the fulfiller of wishes. It is also very close to the fantasy world of children and their ability to marvel.” That it was a Jewish symbol originally, was not a problem in a society where so many cultures live in such close contact. “India is steeped in symbols; symbolism is in the Indian genes. By the way: something of the Golem is to be found in every culture.” It was not easy to find a place for the figure in the over crowed Bombay. It eventually went to the Joseph Cardijn Technical Institute, on the boundary of dark and light, but amongst the children. The effect of the giant on the children was intense and immediate. “You can see it in their eyes and their enthusiasm. They saw the figure being built from nothing; they wanted to help with their own hands.” The Golem has a hatch, through which the children deposit their dreams, wishes and desires. “Very touching,” says Jeanne Devos. “Some children drew a house where the door is always open; Home sweet Home. Others dared for the first time to express their hopes for the future. What they want to study and the profession they want to practice. And yes, there are children who want to become lawyers to defend the weak.”

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“Every organism is looking for other organisms to survive, the same applies to man and chicken.”

Koen Vanmechelen

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The chickens that lay golden eggs

The dark side of the moon

Alternative bioreactors for expensive medicines

Some make the creation, some take it

It’s surprising but true: the gene card of Gallus gallus domesticus shows clear similarities to that

Scientists regularly hit the headlines with triumphant bulletins about groundbreaking new

of homo sapiens. Bio-medical scientists in particular are discovering the advantages of these

research. Animals are their equipment and the sky is the limit as far as their ambition is concerned.

‘miraculous’ similarities and have created a chicken that can lay medicinal eggs. Could this animal

Bird flu virus and other 21st century obsessions with human vulnerability have made sure that the

be the answer to our problems?

‘equipment’ is being used more rashly than ever before.


cottish scientists have developed genetically manipulated chickens that can lay eggs containing the complex proteins necessary for combating life-threatening diseases like skin cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Human genes were added to the chickens’ DNA, so that human proteins were secreted in the white of their eggs.

particularly short life cycle “Once you have transgenic chickens, it will become easier. You can breed a lot of animals with just one rooster and several hens. After all, just one egg a day from each chicken and you will have hundreds of chickens in no time.”

Five generations

Roslin Institute The breakthrough came in the beginning of 2007 from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, the same research centre that created the cloned, now deceased, sheep Dolly, exactly ten years ago. Dr. Helen Sang, head of research for this project, demonstrated that it was easy to separate the proteins from the eggs. Existing methods for producing medicines on the basis of proteins are very expensive and take a long time. The use of transgenic or genetically modified farm animals is potentially quicker as well as being a lot cheaper and more efficient. In the meantime however, it could be years before enough research has been conducted to enable it to be used for people, according to the Roslin Institute.

Bioreactors The active components of medicines are mainly manufactured in industrial quantities in bioreactors. They contain a diversity of bacteria or other cell cultures made to produce complex proteins; often these cultures are very demanding and susceptible to infections. The process is expensive and time consuming. All this adds up to a very expensive final product. Dr. Helen Sang and her team used the chickens instead of the industrial bioreactors. She altered the gene in the chicken that produces ovalbumin, a protein that makes up over half of the egg white – and made it produce a specific medicinal protein. The research was published in the scientific magazine ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’. Dr. Sang discovered that the chicken protein contained miR24, an anti-body used for treating malign melanomas and arthritis, and human interferon b-1a, an antiviral medicine that closely resembles modern therapies for multiple sclerosis.

Chickens? Why are chickens so interesting? The race of chickens that Dr. Helen Sang used, the ISA Browns, are an ordinary popular laying breed that can produce up to 300 eggs a year. This means that the protein can be produced in bulk. The raw material for production is just chicken feed. So far, the Roslin Institute has bred around 500 manipulated chickens. Their existence is the result of 15 years of research. The Roslin Institute warns that it could take more than 5 years before tests can begin

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on people and another 10 years before the medicine is ready for use. It is probably not so simple, however. Scientists have been able to produce medicinal proteins in the past using genetically engineered mammals like sheep, goats, cattle and rabbits. Until now, it has always been difficult to extract the proteins. It has also been the case that the ability of these animals to produce medicinal proteins has disappeared within a few generations.

In the meantime, research is continuing at the Roslin Institute. The researchers announced that in their last study they bred five generations of chickens, all of whom produced high concentrations of complex proteins. In theory, they said, the technique can be used for an extensive range of genes. Chickens could produce different medicines for a whole range of diseases, ranging from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes and various forms of cancer. Because they make the proteins used for the medicines in their eggs, these transgenic chickens have opened up the possibility of the large-scale production of medicines that now cost thousands of euros per patient per year for only a fraction of the normal price. This is an important step forwards in the use of farm animals in the production of medicines and will be of immense benefit to the World Health Organisation.

Productivity The research team was very optimistic about the chickens’ high productivity, but more improvements are still necessary. Dr. Sang: “We are probably producing enough to obtain interferon, but we will need more for making antibodies. These patients need high doses over a long period. The next challenge is to increase the concentration in each egg.” Chickens have other advantages over other animals in regard to their medicinal qualities because they have a

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Genus XY, Z33, Hasselt (B), 2004

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Manipulation, GEM Den Haag/KunstRAI, Amsterdam (NL), 2003.


nimal rights activist Karen Davis is the publisher of Poultry Press, the quarterly magazine from United Poultry Concerns, a non-profit organisation she founded in 1990. This foundation campaigns for poultry to be treated with respect. Last year she published the eye-opening book ‘The Holocaust & the Henmaid’s Tale, that stands beside the ground breaking ‘Animal Liberation’ by the Australian ethicist Peter Singer. Next year will see a reprint of her book ‘Prisoned chickens, poisoned eggs.’ Her paper ‘The Ethics of Genetic Engineering and the Futuristic Fate of Domestic Fowl’ that she presented inn 1996 to the university of Wisconsin-Madison, is still a highly relevant antidote to overenthusiasm about the interaction between the human animal and non-human animals. Although rather incongruous on this page, we are printing her ideas here as a warning of the long and deadly shadow lurking behind every spectacular scientific discovery.

Cruelty “Historical evidence does not indicate that previous societies practiced ethical restraint in their treatment of nonhuman animals. For instance, the notion that Native Americans showed a high degree of compassion for nonhuman life is more wishful thinking than actual fact. The ritual sacrifice of chickens and other animals as an integral part of traditional religious ceremonies by many cultures throughout the world shows that the conferring of “sanctity” upon a creature is no protection against extreme cruelty towards that creature and may even be invoked as an excuse for it.” “If humanity’s past relationship to the living world did not include genetic engineering, this was not because of superior ethical attitudes in previous eras. Today, West-

lations, starvation procedures, artificial insemination, and methodology of mass-murdering billions of birds in food production and science raise many profound and unsettling questions about our society and our species.”


ern technology has materialized certain human impulses and brought together an accumulation of skills, techniques, and arguments in the service of those impulses. It enables us to do what farming, pharmacology, and business enterprise would have done long ago if it had been possible.”

Sadistic “The treatment of poultry in the past was cruel, even excluding cockfighting, cock-throwing (burying chickens in the ground up to their necks and stoning them to death), and other sadistic sports against birds.” “Poultry became the first agribusiness because all of the factors making mechanization possible were potentially present, not the least of which was the nature of the animal itself. Relatively large number of units could be handled by a single individual, in confined areas.” “The treatment of chickens, turkeys, and other domestic fowl in modern society leads logically to genetic engineering. The mechanized environment, muti-

“By nature, chickens and turkeys are alert and nimble forest-dwellers and foragers who have been forced to subsist in alien bodies and alien environments that manifest human psychic patterns, not theirs. They are not suited to the life imposed on them in order to satisfy human wants in the modern world.” “Animals used in genetic engineering are further degraded in not even being recognized as whole beings but only insofar as they embody a certain DNA sequence, genetic resource, model system, production trait, or body part. A poultry scientist told his colleagues at a recent convention, “We are no longer selling broilers, we are selling pieces.” “Today, the environmental movement--to give an example--has carried forth this division by conferring a relatively high and “respectful” status on so-called wild animals, who may then be hunted and otherwise “honored,” within a spiritualized ecological framework. In contrast, so-called domesticated animals, most especially the agriculturally-domesticated species, have been castigated for the crime of allowing themselves to be domesticated, whereby they placed themselves outside the circle of moral consideration.”

Cancer Merck & Co. (the pharmaceutical company that owns Hubbard [chicken] Farms and British United Turkeys Limited), has been doing experiments on chickens using growth hormones from cattle. In the early 1990s, Merck filed for a European patent on a “Macro Chicken,” described on the patent application as a “transgenic fowl expressing bovine growth hormone.” “Modern poultry production has created new diseases and pathology syndromes, of which a major example is Marek’s disease, an infectious immunosuppressive cancer that fills the chicken’s spinal chord and peripheral nervous system with malignant tumors, resulting in paralysis, blindness, and death.” “Genetic engineering carries these attitudes and practices technically further, but does not break moral continuity with a past in which nonhuman animals have repeatedly been denied possession of a soul, reason, or some other vaunted human quality, and used without apology.” “I believe that chickens and other domestic fowl do not have a future worth living in their encounter with the human species and that genetic engineering furthers a drive in our species to eliminate not only diversity and autonomy, but joy and happiness in other creatures.“

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Suck that bone:

Reflections on chicken in the African Diaspora Chicken 1. noun. a domestic fowl bred for its fresh or eggs. 2. the flesh of such a bird used for food. 3. any of various similar birds, such as a prairie chicken. 4. slang. a cowardly person. 5. slang. a young inexperienced person. 6. count one’s chickens before they are hatched. to be overoptimistic in acting on expectations which are not yet fulfilled. 7. slang. easily scared; cowardly; timid.

Chicken feed. slang. a trifling amount of money. Chicken-hearted or chicken-livered. adjective. easily frightened; cowardly. Chicken out. verb. to fail to do something through fear or lack of conviction. Chickenpox. noun. a highly communicable viral disease most commonly affecting children, characterised by slight fever and the eruption of a rash.

Chicken wire. noun. wire netting with a hexagonal mesh. Some other definitions not found in the dictionary. Chicken. noun. a coward who is easily frightened. The Funky Chicken. verb. a dance style associated with 1970’s funk music (James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, Prince). © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Frozen Culture, Studio Meeuwen (B), 2006.

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The Best Dressed Chicken. noun. associated usually with a black man who has a good sense of sartorial style in his dress.

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© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Mechelse Bresse First Generation Blue, In de ban van de ring, Provinciaal Museum, Hasselt (B), 1999.


rowing up in a Caribbean household in the UK, chicken was part of our staple diet, whether it was fried, stewed, roasted or Jerked ( Jerk Chicken is Jamaican dish). At a Saturday mum and dad would always buy their chickens from the Indian butcher because they were cheaper. It was usually headless apart from the feet and the remaining feathers and hairs had to be swinged (to beat, flog or punish) or burnt off by the fire of the gas cooker. In the urban inner city, this chicken was as fresh as one could conveniently get, apart from those who bred their own. Consequently, when it was gutted egg yolks would come out of the stomach, which always made me feel a bit sad. My parents thoroughly washed the carcass with water, lemon and salt. And to this day, I always feel that TV chefs are nasty because they never clean the meat in preparation for cooking. When I went to St.Vincent (the Caribbean island where both my parents come from) for the first time, I stayed at my Auntie’s house in South Rivers village deep in the country. Next door, my Uncle had a rum shop, which was a social gathering place and across the road was a stall, where goats were hung, drawn and quartered for selling on a Saturday. And it was behind my Uncle’s shop one Saturday that a ‘Cook-Up’ was being prepared. This was basically a soup with ingredients like provisions (yam, green banana, sweet potato) and chicken. The villagers called me ‘English Man’, which I hated and probably to create some jokes at my expense, I was asked to kill one of the chickens. I had already seen how it was done, which involved putting an enamel basin over the body with the head sticking out. By stamping on the basin, the neck was broken and you had a dead chicken. The villagers didn’t realise that as a black person born in Britain, I was never called English there, so I was determined to prove to them that I wasn’t an ‘English Man’. They prepared the chicken and basin for me and stamped on it without looking down and they belly laughed at me. I was still an ‘English Man’ to them. Where I couldn’t prove myself in fowl husbandry, I did in appreciating the ‘Cook Up’ since luckily this was the cuisine I grew up in England and liked very much. Moreover, when it came to sucking the flesh from the bone I showed some adeptness and there was some pride I could salvage. Chickens in St. Vincent, much less the rest of the Caribbean roam free in the yard and are feed on natural food, which you

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taste in the quality of the meat. And yet most chickens that many people consume are imported from the USA, injected with water to swell the flesh and bought in the local supermarket. In fact, chicken is a luxury for many families on low incomes and in places like Jamaica, the throw away pieces such as chicken back or neck can be what they can afford. In this context, one can then understand how Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and other fried chicken franchises have become an event for many people like going out for a meal to a restaurant in Western Europe. It’s cheap and filling and can be where a young couple will go out on a date. It seems ironic that Colonel Saunders’s so called “secret recipe” of 11 herbs and spices recipe for southern fried chicken has become a global commodity and within the African Diaspora from the Caribbean to New York, from Toronto to London, from Amsterdam to Suriname, people of colour crave for the taste of that fried chicken served from a shop rather than out of the frying pan at home. And KFC and other fried chicken franchises such as Popeye in the USA do cater for local tastes, such as corned bread with your chicken in the South and Fried Dumpling or Bakes in the Caribbean. In fact even the other items on the menu such as corn on the cob, coleslaw, baked beans, French fries, spare ribs, chicken wings and washed down with sugary drink such as Fanta or Coke, would not look strange at any BBQ in the African Diaspora. In certain parts of inner city London where migrant communities have a strong, there is now Nandos, a restaurant styled eatery where you see your chicken being grilled with exotic spices. The addition of medium to hot to very hot pepper sauce belies its Latin American origins. And yes Nandos is very popular with people of colour and is not usually seen in areas without a non-European demographic presence. So as I suck the flesh from my chicken neck bone or peel off the unhealthy crispy skin from my chicken wing, my fingers and mouth moist with grease, I forget about the health risks from eating too much fried food. I remember my Auntie in St. Vincent who cares tenderly for all the animals she rears in her backyard. And yes she’ll have her chickens killed and she’ll cook them, but she’ll never eat them, because to her they all have individual personalities, which she remembers and misses. © Michael McMillan – April 2007

Michael McMillan is a playwright, live artist and scholar of Vincentian parents. He is professor of creative writing at the London Institute.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, New Brood, • Eclips/25th Anniversary Deweer Art Gallery, Zwevegem (B), 2004. • The Accident, Berengocontemporary, Miami (USA), 2006. • Energ y, Communication and Life, Mercator Gallery, Antwerpen (B), 2007.

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Big Bang in glass palace The eye-catcher in the Glazen Huis (House of Glass), the new futuristic art centre in the Belgium border town of Lommel, is ‘The Accident’, an exhibition by Koen Vanmechelen. “Glass art in such a transparent space proved to be quite a challenge” says the artist.


he Glazen Huis, the new Flemish Centre for Modern Glass Art, opened its doors recently in the centre of Lommel. It is rather strangely embedded in the structure of the town, jammed in-between a busy street, the tourist authority and the passageway ‘De Vryheyt’. Yet the futuristic building emanates a special something; the aura of outsider art, with its mix of an ultra transparent glass-inox parallelepiped and glass cone plus kitschy led lights. It is like a contemporary mix between the strange Watts Towers of Simon Rodia in Los Angeles and the House of the Mirrors (that burnt down) by Clarence Schmidt in New York. The object, which has been realized in the centre of Lommel by the architectural and engineering firm Samyn and Partners, confirms the notable leap forward that this North Limburg town has taken in past years.

Unpredictable The opening exhibition ‘The Accident’ shows that the Glazen Huis is ambitious. Curator Edith Dove did not just choose Koen Vanmechelen by chance. “The exhibition falls entirely under my total project ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’ ” says Koen Vanmechelen. He has worked with well-known masters of glass from Venice, and Navy Bor in the Czech Republic “often with superior materials and techniques, but also with old, almost forgotten or hardly known glass techniques from other parts of the world such as France, the Unites States, Sweden, Taiwan, Ireland and Japan. It was quite a challenge to do something worthwhile with art in a small town like Lommel, which nestles in a sand region. It is almost logical to choose glass works, installations complemented with paintings and video work. I would not call it glass art, but art from glass. Glass is just a medium that allows me to carry on with my artistic investigation in a different way. It is once again with living material, brought forth by the four classical elements, and in conjunction with the masters of glass. That always produces an unpredictable and thus fascinating result.” In the basement of the Glazen Huis, the artist installed a Big Bang, which works its way through the three stories of the centre. If you are acquainted with Koen’s work, you will see various elements of his multidimensional, artistic cosmos emerg-

ing. Vanmechelen: “Glass embryos, DNA structures, legs and eggs of unborn life manifest themselves in the basement, under an enormous chick lamp; fragments after the explosion. Five spectators, chickens made of mirror glass, watch from the side.” On the ground floor, above the glass ovens, petrified, hybrid chickens – half made of glass - and an enormous sphere with a cross of chicken bodies - ‘Salvator Globe’ – bear witness to the birth. Two urn towers against the side of the oven, a work called ‘Forever’, contain the ashes and bones of chickens and refer to the complete life cycle in which mass becomes energy and then mass once more. A video work against the wall shows the artist while he torches a pile of dead chickens like in an Indian funeral rite. To explore the glass tower, the spectator has to go into the basement again and climb a breathtaking spiral staircase. Vanmechelen: “An ‘Egg Cord’, which is still to be fertilized, sucks the visitor via the enormous stairway upwards to where, in the peak of the glass tower, above the glass pecking order, he finds the real accident: a fighting cock, which is always a cross between a chicken and a pheasant. Nothing is obvious.” In a separate room, the Mechels Redcap Artificial Cross Breeding can be found; this came into being after the American ban (after 9/11) to go ahead with the real cross-breeding of a Jersey Giant, the largest chicken species in the world.

Futuristic “The exhibition was a difficult feat in this futuristic construction of glass and iron that wants to be a sculpture itself. The trick was to let my own objects, with the right proportions, acquire a place in this glass arena,” says Vanmechelen who believes strongly in the national and international pretensions of the Glazen Huis. “You will not really find traditional glass art here, but contemporary art. There are no vases and pots, coffee tables or glass perfection. Lommel should not become an island, but the heart of collaboration with participants in the rest of the world and, of course, the business world. Glass is not static and must not be limited to the hushed serenity of a museum. It has to find the world and crossbreed.”

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, • The Accident, Glazen Huis, Lommel (B), 2007. • The Battle, Genus XY, Z33 Hasselt (B), 2004. • The Battle, Coup de Coeur, Crac Alsace, Altkirch (F), 2005.

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Born In the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology


reativity and beauty are the junctions where art and science meet. Koen Vanmechelen and dr. Willem Ombelet, fertility specialist, found out early on that both disciplines have a complementary relationship. The study of the inner world is incomplete without that of the outer. What turns to the inside can only develop by expressing itself. Just like in modern science a good metaphor is of distinct importance to the artist. Koen Vanmechelen uses the metaphor of the bird/chicken to grasp complex human reality. Alos science increasingly relies on metaphors to illuminate a reality that often remains invisible, such as quarks, DNA, strings and atoms. The American natural scientist and poet Alan Lightman captures this as follows in his book A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit: ‘Metaphor is all we have as a human being’.

© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, • Born, Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg, Genk (B), 2006. • The Accident, Berengocontemporary, Miami (USA), 2006.

Koen Vanmechelen’s project ‘Born’ extends over seven rooms and corridors of the modernized fertility section of the Genk Institute of Fertility Technology. The first thing that stands out, is the giant eye of the artist staring cautiously at the hospital visitor. Once inside one is struck by an impressive mural work in the hall, caught between two pictures of incubators. They warm the space. In the waiting room opposite the mural, the moon (mystery and immobility) and the sun (energy and action) hold the viewer’s gaze. The wall in between shows the result of their interplay: the ebb and flow of energy, life and communication (a picture of an umbilical cord, an electric lead and a computer cable), the opposite of contemplation. A few steps

further, in the scanning room, there is a photograph of the new generation of Vanmechelen’s breeding project ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’: a symbol of successful fertilization. A beam of light projects the “new generation” onto the wall in turned letters. The consulting rooms display works in which blue neon arteries express the hope for development. Again they point to a connection, a link with the outside. The works in the blood sampling suite have been made of organic material of chickens: blood, placenta and umbilical cord. The essential components of life which every life form depends on. The most crucial ‘Born’ composition is in Willem Ombelet’s office. The tension between science and art is translated into the contrast between a wall of books with scientific publications on one side (knowledge) and a series of breeding lamps along the opposite side (subliminal perception and vision). Knowledge is just a fragment of our pre-conscious registration of life. A small egg in a cage tells us that the cage (the external) is necessary to allow the internal to grow. Just like the chicken can never exist without the eggshell. Obviously, the cage is open. The room harbours yet another kind of tension. From one end the result of the fusion of conscious/unconscious, knowledge/ vision in the shape of a hybrid cock/falcon figure stares at Willem Ombelet’s desk. Below the desk cover lies ‘The Battle for the egg’, a huge, elliptical shape, the struggle between the powers necessary to generate the egg. The eye, the egg, the world: the archetypal form.

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October 2006: Dr. Luc Vrielinck, Ludo Beckers, Benjamin Vaninbroukx and Tom Hendrickx operate on a cock to prepare the implantation of a golden spur. The piece of art will be completed in 2007.

The Golden Spur Luc Vrielinck: “After having lost a spur in a battle this rooster was treated by a

surgical team. The purpose of the treatment was to provide a bone-anchored support, on top of which a screw-retained spur can be placed. In the images we see the team at work. First, the rooster was gently brought under general anaesthesia by a veterinarian, whereafter the surgeon could start drilling a hole in the leg of the rooster, exactly on the spot of the missing spur. A titanium implant was then inserted into the bone, until the implant was very stable. Immediately after placement of the implant, an impression was taken, so that the dental technician could start fabricating the support structure, mounted on the top of the implant. On top of that structure, a golden spur was designed, physically restoring the rooster.“

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© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Golden Spur, Studio Meeuwen (B), 2006.

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“Not suitable for consumption” Taking everything into consideration...

This work of art is called ‘The Accident’.” Why did the artist choose that name? Why is it now called ‘The Accident’ and not Untitled 2007? What has happened to this cockerel? We will start this quest by finding out if this cockerel died a violent (i.e. accidental) death.


© Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Accident, Berengocontemporary, Miami (USA), 2006.

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.

Michel Foucault, Edition Gallimard, 1966 1

his is what the doctor knows about it: According to hetero-anamnestic data, the cockerel was found dead in the chicken run a few days ago. The cockerel was kept in a freezer pending the clinical and radiological examination. The clinical investigation: the cockerel was wrapped up in a plastic bag. When it was unwrapped, we saw ice crystals on its plumage; the feathers on the back were stuck together in locks and covered in a small amount of mud. There were no traces of visible injuries on the body. The head was twisted forwards against the chest and partly hidden under the left wing. There were no external signs of injuries to the head. We also found traces of earth and mud on the legs. There was an identification ring around the right leg. The toes were in the typical postmortem position, stretched downwards. Mediotechnical examination: a CT scan was carried out to discover if there were any skeletal fractures. No fractures could be found on the basis of this examination. However, there was a significant accumulation of air in the cranium; data that enabled us to determine the time of death at a number of hours before the cockerel was frozen. The lungs were also bilaterally collapsed and there was a large amount of air in the abdomen. No additional pathology could be detected within the framework of this examination. Conclusion: Based on the hetero-anamnestic data, the clinical and the radiological examination, no signs of a violent death were found. There was a moderate to advanced state of decomposition. No autopsy was performed. The bird was no longer suitable for consumption. The CT images that were obtained were given to the applicant on a CD-rom. That’s it for the doctor. Take it away; this cockerel is refuse. A different story begins for the artist who takes the cockerel, tucked away in a plastic bag, to his atelier. Will he have it made into a ‘simple’ stuffed cockerel? He already knew beforehand that this cockerel would be embalmed. Like many of its predecessors, it was a hybrid, the result of planned, yet accidental cross-breeding. However, mummifying was the prerogative of the pharaohs who were convinced that their bodies had to be kept from complete deterioration so their further existence was safeguarded. All internal organs were taken out of the body; heart, lungs, liver, intestines etc. and kept in canope vases that were specially made for this purpose. Masks with the effigy of the pharaoh were placed on the mummy in various layers. Why was this cockerel not allowed to stay as he was, a ‘simple’ stuffed cockerel? His existence was accidental, his death was

not. Why is he different from other cockerels and chickens that have also been stuffed? Why was this cockerel changed into a hybrid, why was he sawn in half and was one side stuffed and the other replaced by a glass sculpture? Can that glass sculpture be compared to the gold masks that were placed on the mummy of the pharaoh to affirm, strengthen and idealize the underlying mummy? Why was the right hand side of the cockerel kept and not the left side? Why was glass used? Is it because one side is made of organic material and opaque and the other half inorganic and transparent? Is this ‘The Accident’? Is the sand with which the glass is made, important? It reminds me of Michel Foucault in “Les mots en les choses” (The order of things) where in the famous last part of the text, is written: ‘Que l’homme s’effacerait, comme à la limite de la mer un visage de sable’ (Man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.). Is the artist afraid, like Foucault was, that the image will disappear like the figure in the sand, which was washed away by the sea? Is that the reason that at least half of the figure has to be made of glass, which cannot be washed away? Must the doubling of the organic transitory part have the glass mirror image as compensation and does it thus gain immortality? Is that the meaning of ‘The Accident’? Or is it more abstract perhaps: the right half, which is filled, in comparison to the glass covering on the left, which only encompasses air and negative space. If we, in our minds’ eye, stand in front of the cockerel and look at it, starting from the beak, then the comb and further along the neck towards the back, along the body of the cockerel, do we then balance on the border between something and nothing, and is that then ‘The Accident’? Is it the contradiction between the fire, which can make the glass part, and the fire, which can destroy the organic part? Why is the left side made of glass and not the front or back part? Does the solution lie in the fact that human beings want to complete things, work things and add to the organic, just as a plastic surgeon wants to repair or improve something? Does ‘The Accident’, as devised by the artist, mean that by replacing the other half, the organic becomes a hold and thus firmly defines the organic and offers a framework by being its mirror image? Together as one: notwithstanding ‘The Accident’?

Dr. Luc Vrielinck

The Accident   53


Accident 1, June 2007


Editorial: My Accident


Prologue: Coincidence or not


The Cosmopolitan Chicken


Go forth and cross-fertilise


The Accident


The unstable fundaments of multiculturalism



Frozen hope with open hands


Cosmogolem in the world


Giant between house slaves


The chickens that lay golden eggs

The dark side of the moon



Suck that bone


Big Bang in glass palace




The golden spur


Epilogue: Not suitable for consumption

The Accident   55

Special thanks to Hilde & Joris Deckers and Carla & Geert Verbeke who made this publication possible

Published by Chief editor: Koen Vanmechelen Managing editor: Grete Bollen Senior writer: Peter Dupont Contributing writers: Grete Bollen, Filip Luuyckx, Michael Mc Millen, dr. Luc Vrielinck Advisory board: Joris Bollen, Carien Neven, dr. Luc Vrielinck Photography: Mine Dalemans: p. 46, 50-51 Alex Deyaert: p. 9, 13, 16-17, 18, 26-27, 28-29, 34-35, 36-37, 38, 44-45, 46, 49, 50-51, 52 Maryse Leysen: p. 4 Ivan Put: p. 14-15 Graphic design: Frank Dalemans Printed by: Deckers Druk NV, Zwijndrecht (B) Translation: Elan Languages, Berengocontemporary, Catherine Thys Website:

Cover © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Crossing 10th generation, crossing between Mechelse Auracana (C.C.P.) and Denizli Longcrower (Turkey). Drawings © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, Medusa, The Accident, Chronicles of the Cosmopolitan Chicken, 2007. Editorial (p. 4) © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, The Appel, The Accident, Berengocontemporary, Miami (USA), 2006.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright.

56   The Accident

(p. 38) © Koen Vanmechelen Cosmogolem The Bridge, Slums Mumbai (India), 2007.