What is the art of Koen Vanmechelen about?

The art of Koen Vanmechelen is taking us on a journey about change and evolution, which are elicited by changes in culture, geographical changes and of course natural selection. As a great admirer of Darwin, Koen understands that life and living creatures have to constantly change and adapt themselves in order to thrive and survive, due to changes in their environment.

It is the living creatures themselves who initiate the changes. Without life there would be no evolution. A typical rhetorical question of Koen is the following: “Is it the chicken who came to us, or was it mankind who appropriated the chicken and subsequently modified it according to his cultural environment?”. This rhetorical question runs as a red wire across his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. Starting with this project and after applying the concept of crossbreeding, Koen his imagination quickly expanded the concept to collaboration (=crossbreeding) over different fields in science: medicine, genetics, sociology, anthropology even physics and each crosslinking resulted in new and unexpected results, but at each step insight is deepened and the concept thus expanded. This idea resulted in different distinctions among many others: Honorary doctorate at the University of Hasselt (Belgium), the Nika Price in 2013 for Hybrid art (Linz, Austria).  

In a project called ‘chicken genome project’ all chickens of 12 generations of crossbreedings were genetically analysed, and it was found that the different chickens after crossbreeding did not show significant genetic changes compared to peers of their own generation, leading to the conclusion that human effort to breed several races of chickens reflecting their own culture has failed to make them genetically different one to another. A nice example that the crossbreeding project runs in a separate world of ours and that our efforts to change the chicken only has a limited effect on the chicken genome.

Another fundamental statement of Koen about his CCP project is: “This is not a chicken”, while he is pointing at a large photograph of a chicken. A truly surrealistic statement reminding Magritte’s famous statement ‘ceçi n’est pas une pipe’. One of the possible meanings of this statement is that the project is not going about chickens, but runs like a second universe parallel to our own human Universe. When we look at the CCP we are looking in the mirror and see ourselves reflected in the mirror image, while at the other side of the mirror the CCP project follows its own rules and evolution.

CCP started like a big bang, first a little idea many years ago, but like the big bang it explosively and immediately grew into a Universe of its own, running parallel to our own universe, but separated by a thick glass window, an unbreakable barrier separating the two. The CCP universum derives the science and techniques of our own world, but applies it in its own world. A nice example of this can be found in the virtual fighter project, clearly situated it in a virtual world of fighter chickens, but after crossing they remain very pacific and immobile, but still leaving no doubt about their capacity to fight. 

The Walking Egg project has a very similar deep meaning. When looking objectively at it: it simply is an egg in glass with a pair of feet planted on the floor, allowing it to walk. Deeper significance is again movement, change and evolution. Again the walking egg is a new world created by the artist, running parallel to the human counterpart dealing with issues of fertility, procreation and humanity.

The Golem project is a project supported by many social organizations, and which is involved with children suffering from abuse of any type. The Golem, a tall wooden statue with on his belly a small wooden door, is a portal through which messages can be posted. The Golem is used by suffering children who post their messages of grief and unhappiness through the small wooden door. The message is kept into the belly of the Golem forever, moving the messages into another Universum, allowing the children to feel liberated by posting their message or drawings into the belly of the Golem. Truly a very humanistic approach by the artist. Although certainly not meant like that by the artist, the Golem reminds me of the Congolese Nkisi figures (nail figures), where each nail hammered into the figures represent a threat, a wish, a thought or a promise, while the mirror placed on its belly hints at the presence of another world behind it, while not allowing us to see it,replicas de relojes because the mirror reflects our image back to us.  When breaking the mirror the world behind it will disappear immediately.

The world of Koen Vanmechelen as translated in his art thus is relatively familiar to us, working on low level feeling and sensation, almost working intuitively and when we put our minds and feelings open to it, can be very moving and engaging. The art of Koen Vanmechelen is very homogenous in this aspects, and the described replica watches emotions and feelings can be felt in all his work, be it a drawing, a collage a sculpture an installation or a video work. This truly is one of the very best artists in the actual art scene.