The Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen (1965) is an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist. His ground-breaking work deals with biocultural diversity and identity. Central to his oeuvre is the chicken, which, through his projects, is revealed as both an artwork and a metaphor for society. By bringing together and exploring the interplay between art, science and philosophy in his work, Vanmechelen reflects upon our global heritage and examines the way that we choose to live and evolve. Multi-disciplinary scientific collaborations and community engagement are integral to Vanmechelen’s approach. These collaborations have earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Hasselt (2010) and the Golden Nica Hybrid Art award (2013).
Vanmechelen’s art work is as diverse and hybrid as the Cosmopolitan Chicken itself: a unique mix of paintings, drawings, photography, innovative 3D-techniques, video, installations and wooden sculptures. All of it flows from Vanmechelen’s belief that art belongs in society, engaging with people. The artist’s major on-going projects have a consistent community focus: Cosmogolem, a global art-based children’s rights project; the Walking Egg, a developing world fertility project; and Combat, a WW1 remembrance project. In 2011, the foundations supporting these works were grouped into a new institute called the Open University of Diversity.
In 2016, Vanmechelen launched his Planetary Community Chicken (PCC) project. As the new cross-breed is being introduced to underserved communities worldwide, the MOUTH foundation leads on the sustainable development aspects of the initiative. MOUTH is a not-for-profit organization that brings together art, science and people to explore the applications and impact of biocultural diversity.
Vanmechelen has presented his work on almost every continent, from the U.S. to China and Iceland to Senegal. In Belgium his work has been exhibited in many museums and venues: the Verbeke Foundation, Watou, Museum M and Z33. He has also participated in solo and group exhibitions including the National Gallery (London), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Museum Kunst Palast (Düsseldorf), Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ (Amsterdam), Macro (Rome), MAD Museum (NY), Belvedere (Vienna), ZKM (Karlsruhe) and Pushkin Museum (Moscow). His work has been shown at the Biennials of Venice, Moscow, Havana, Dakar and Poznan, at the Triennial of Guangzhou, at the World Expo Shanghai 2010, at Manifesta 9, and at dOCUMENTA (13).
Vanmechelen lives in Meeuwen-Gruitrode, in the northeast of Belgium. He is an honorary citizen of his native town of Sint-Truiden. Since 2017, the artist has been based at his new studio, LABIOMISTA, built by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Occupying the grounds of a former public zoo in Genk, LABIOMISTA will open to the public in spring 2018. Alongside the artist’s studio, it will host a culture and animal park, and an educational and research center, including the Open University of Diversity.