Koen Vanmechelen believes that art is a vital aspect of society and core of the creation of healthy communities. His latest exhibition in Zimbabwe’s most important museum; the National Gallery which opening on the 5th of August, articulates this belief with an all-compassing installation. By collaborating with the local communities of Harare, he is creating a living art installation that explores broader philosophical questions about the future of our communities and our relationships to the world around us.
The installation in The National Gallery of Zimbabwe heralds the advent of Vanmechelen’s latest project; the Planetary Community Chicken (PCC), on the African continent. After so many years of crossbreeding in the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP), the artist found that each successive generation of crossbreeds is more resilient, lives longer, is less susceptible to disease and exhibits less aggressive behaviour. The Planetary Community Chicken is launched as a response to the positive outcomes of the CCP. By crossing his CCP roosters with local commercial hens, Vanmechelen re-connects the global learning of the CCP with local heritage and experience. The crossing brings diversity to the local flock and breaks through the cycle of potential genetic erosion that is a risk of local inbreeding and of industrial highly efficient mono cultural production. Concurrent, the local chicken provides the necessary characteristics suited for the local environment and superior resistance to local threats.
In the museum, the result of this crossing, the CC2016, is moving across the sand bedding of the Courtauld gallery. Two large chicken portraits, almost regal, look over their flock; the Mechelse Sulmtaler rooster, 18th generation of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project and a local commercial hen. Local people from nearby communities have provided the central space of the gallery with chicken coops made of clay-and-stick. The coops refer to the ancient tradition of Dhaka hut making. Above the huts hangs the future of these communities in the shape of giant nests filled with ‘blown out’ eggs. The nest symbolizes the process of breeding and of breaking free of the Earth. It expresses desire, palpable yet invisible. The nests suggest the coming of new and mysterious, yet unborn identities which we are all waiting for. Visitors can look inside the nests (the future) from the first-floor gallery.
The chickens are fed mushrooms grown by food expert and social entrepreneur Chido Govera and the local communities. Govera’s foundation in Harare; The Future of Hope, is educating disadvantaged orphans, women, and communities so they can lift themselves out of poverty through agriculture. The chickens' droppings are used as the breeding soil for the mushrooms. Combined, chickens, mushrooms and eggs make a living and life-giving ecosystem that can be managed by the local communities.
Finally, a CosmoGolem is built in the garden; a large wooden structure symbolising liberation and freedom. It becomes part of the worldwide Cosmogolem project with statues in more than 30 countries. The public in Harare, children and adults alike, are invited to share their hopes and dreams with others by participating in the Cosmogolem workshops that are part of the exhibition.
“It is their future, and ours.” states Koen Vanmechelen. “In this collaboration we are translating the message for diversity and global connectivity into local empowerment. Simultaneously, we are integrating the local heritage, making the local contributions an integrated part of the global storyline.”
EXHIBITION FACTS Planetary Community Chicken National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare 5 - 31 AUG More on www.nationalgallery.co.zw