Koen Vanmechelen is a conceptual artist who explores the social function of art. For over 20 years he has been making mixed media work around a central theme of diversity, immunity and fertility. By approaching his subject laterally he has been able to make significant discoveries about genetics which have not been reached through conventional scientific practice.
The artist's new exhibition in London springboards from his ongoing project The Cosmopolitan Chicken, in which he uses the chicken as a universal metaphor. By crossbreeding roosters and hens from around the globe he reflects the benefits of a diverse gene pool. Over the past 15 years Vanmechelen has cross-bred 18 generations of chickens from as many nations, proving emphatically that greater genetic diversity results in increased fertility and stronger immune systems.
In the evocative, labyrinthine tunnels of the 200 year old crypt of St. Pancras Church, Darwin's Dream, reflects on the artist's discoveries through works in a multitude of media. Curated by Jill Silverman van Coenegrachts and James Putnam, the exhibition features a living âjungle' and a miniature lake at its centre and includes performance video, photography and sculpture in glass. The genetic lineage throughout the generations of the cosmopolitan chickens is illustrated in a family tree and larger than life-size photographic portraits of the parents and their offspring, presented alongside specimens of the different generations preserved in taxidermy.
Vanmechelen reflects Charles Darwin's practice in his on-going work, surrounding himself with animals and observing the natural world as emblematic of civilisation as a whole. In the title Darwin's Dream he poses a philosophical question concerning what we have come to understand of Darwin's revolutionary ideas.
Expanding on the idea of crossbreeding, the artist incorporates collaboration into his practice. Working with specialists in the fields of sociology, anthropology, medicine, genetics and physics, Vanmechelen has contributed to valuable research in a variety of fields, an act which in itself illustrates of the importance of diversification.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a panel discussion on 14 November, between the artist, the curators and experts in related fields. A special edition of Koen Vanmechelen's biennial magazine The Accident will be available and following the exhibition, a catalogue will also be published.
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