'Vision of the Owl' – Koen Vanmechelen
Curated by James Putnam
September 8– November 4, 2017
GalerieValérie Bach, Brussels
Opening to coincide with Brussels Art Weekend 2017
As a nocturnal creature, the owl is linked to the full moon, which in turn relates to fertility and Vanmechelen?s ongoing project that involves crossbreeding chickens from different parts of the world to enhance their fertility. His work is concerned with proclaiming the importance of the ?lowly? domestic chicken whose migration he maintains is directly linked to the spread of civilization. The exhibition includes a series of small portraits of chickens on gold leaf backgrounds in the style of ?sacred? medieval icons. But Vanmechelen?s work, it is not really about chickens but focused on the wider notion of diversity and the beneficial exchange of genetic material. His art poses fundamental questions about humanity, our identity as a species and the society we?ve created.
Central to the exhibition is a gleaming steel sword suspended above a marble egg that symbolizes the next generation and its menacing presence alludes to the future struggle we?ve created for our successors. But there is still hope because although a sword is a lethal weapon, when it is combined with a snake it becomes the traditional emblem for medicine and healing. Vanmechelen?s practice is also concerned with the sacred bond between animals and humans embodied in the practice of shamanism. This is illustrated by his extraordinary and monumental image of a bearded, tattooed ?Shaman? with an owl perched on his nest of dreadlocks. The exhibition also includes living chickens from Vanmechelen?s cross-breeding project, kept in a large iron cage while a pair of taxidermy owls perched high up in the gallery stare at them with their wise ?all knowing? eyes. In the mind of the chicken this gaze is full of danger because the owl is a predator and they are its prey. Ironically they are dead so pose no threat to the chickens but their presence is nevertheless foreboding. This serves to remind us that whatever wisdom we may have accrued through the course of history we continue to live under the threat of impending danger and conflict.