Hybrid Art

The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project

Goldene Nica - Golden Nica

Koen Vanmechelen (BE)


Cyberarts 2013 - International Compendium Prix Ars Electronica 2013

The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP, 1999) is a global, transdisciplinary and transtemporal examination of the themes of biocultural diversity and identity through the interplay of art, science and beauty. In the CCP Koen Vanmechelen crossbreeds chicken breeds from different countries.

Vanmechelen’s ultimate goal is the creation of a Cosmopolitan Chicken carrying the genes of all the planet’s chicken breeds. The starting point for all these species was once the red junglefowl, the original chicken that lives at the feet of the Himalayas. Humans took this chicken, spread it all over the world and made an indigenous breed, shaped to reflect the typical cultural characteristics of its community. While these native breeds are evolutionary dead-ends (even sometimes literally so, in the sense that they are infertile), Vanmechelen’s hybrids are solutions. Much more than a mere domesticated animal, the chicken is art in itself. It serves as a metaphor for the human animal and its relationship with the biological and cultural diversity of the planet.

Many years of crossbreeding has proved that each successive generation of hybrids is “better.” They are more resilient, live longer, are less susceptible to diseases and exhibit less aggressive behavior. The Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project (CCRP), which studies the various CCP hybrids, also proves that genetic diversity is essential. So far, this research has found support for the artist’s hypotheses that the crossing of different races leads to greater diversity. It is also a fact that the fertility and life span have increased.

The diversity that characterizes Vanmechelen’s work is also visible in the media he uses, from more traditional (painting, photography) to innovate techniques (genome visualization). It further involves a symbiosis of art, science, philosophy, politics and ethics and deals with topics such as globalization, racism, genetic modification and cloning. It is the artist’s way of reflecting on the existential questions of individual identity and life.

The core of the project is therefore neither the chicken nor its egg, but the process of crossbreeding and the diversity this creates. “The CCP is a mirror. Every organism needs another organism to survive,” says Vanmechelen.