Europe is a frayed construction, whose contours have changed again and again over the course of the centuries – a projection surface for controversial values and moral concepts, for promises just as much as for failures. Nonetheless, it embodies the utopia of a community that not only allows for heterogeneity, but understands it as a quality.
The series of exhibitions ‘Scenarios about Europe’, in three parts, focuses on questions of a possible European community and what would actually be required to determine it, as an EU with a purely pragmatic approach does not provide its citizens with sufficient opportunities for cultural identification.
In this installation Vanmechelen presents the original Red Junglefowl in a huge cage. It is the original or proto-ʻchickenʼ from which all domestic chickens are descended. This species of Junglefowl has been living for aeons at the edge of the forest. More than 8.000 years ago it left the sanctuary of the Asian jungles and became domesticated. The genes of this species determine the many existing chicken species all over the world.
But there is more: the domesticated cousins of the Red Jungle Fowl travelled the world and were substantially transformed by doing that. The domesticated chicken became less active and social, less aggressive and likely to go looking for foreign food sources. Humans have spurred the evolution of chickens from wild ancestors to domesticated birds specialized for meat production and egg laying. The phenotype of the animal was changed dramatically and it became the most important and costeffective source of animal protein worldwide. While the Red Jungle Fowl became an endangered species.
In ʻGenetic Freedomʼ, a camera obscura into the past, the species is caged(protected) and is living in his ʻnatural surroundingʼ as opposed to the culturallandscape of the park, the man-sculpted world its children are residing in. As suchthis ʻur-animalʼ makes the connection from the inside to the outside. Is the RedJungle fowl a genetic cul-de-sac? Do we need to keep it in reservations, zoos and ourmemory as living proof of evolution? Must we save its genetic material for the future,or do we let nature take its course? Manipulation by homo sapiens transformed it intothe successful genetic bundle of genes it is. But without the initial mutation, thaturged it out of the jungle into the world, this would not have happened.Mutation is as important as manipulation, maybe more so.
The same principle applies to culture: without the manipulation of discoveries made by ancient Asian societies, the West would not have achieved what it has today. But it is the initial Asian cultural mutation that was fundamental and crucial. As species do, cultures shape each other.
The rest of the installation shows the essence of Koen Vanmechelenʼ s epic artistic quest in the ʻinsideʼ. The wall presents the results of 14 ʻcrossingsʼ or the interbreeding of different national chicken species. ʻIlluminatedʼ as they are by a string of breeding lamps. They direct the gaze of the visitor to a side wall, where an egg is visibly breaking. Manipulation never is without risks. The egg hides a mysterious entity, whose essence is still hidden for us. Possibly positive, but maybe destructive. Genes never listen. Its freedom can mean rapture or capture.