'Darwin's Dream', Koen Vanmechelen, London, 2014
Curated by James Putnam & Jill Silverman Van Coenegrachts
The Crypt Gallery - St.Pancras Church, London
November !5 - December !4, 2014
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 the central theme of diversity, immunity and fertility. By approaching his subject literally he has been able to make significant discoveries about genetics which have not been reached through conventional scientific practice.
This first solo London exhibition 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 on 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.The exhibition features a living 'jungle' and a pond, 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 Daewin's revolutionary ideas.
Expanding on the idea of crossbreeding, the artist incorporates collaboration in his practiice. Working with specialists in the fields of sociology, medicine, genetics and physics, Vanmechelen has contributed to valuable research in a variety of fields, an act which in itself illustrates the importance of diversification.
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