it’s not often you hear the word ‘art’ and ‘chickens’ in the same sentence, but for koen vanmechelen it’s an almost every day occurrence. the belgian artist is renowned worldwide for his internationally acclaimed ‘cosmopolitan chicken project’ (CCP), in which he breeds domesticated chickens from different countries to demonstrate the importance of bio-cultural diversity and the benefits of genetic hybrids.


at design indaba conference 2017, vanmechelen took to the stage alongside artist chido govera to demonstrate their ‘mushroom, egg, chicken, camelids’ project, which saw the duo create a mini ecosystem of chickens, mushrooms and camelids (similar to camels) manipulating living media to effect social change. below, we take a look at the MECC, as well as some of the other ways in which vanmechelen is challenging the way we think about the world, chickens, and art. 

koen vanmechelen design indaba
vanmechelen breeds chickens from different countries to demonstrate the importance of bio-cultural diversity
all images courtesy of koen vanmechelen



while the majority of vanmechelen’s work grapples with the idea of crossbreeding within a single species, ‘mushroom, egg, chicken, camelids’ takes this relationship to an inter-species scale. using manure from the camelids (who are known for their potent antibodies) to fertilise mushrooms, the artist then feeds the fungus to chickens, examining the effects the unique diet has on the eggs, immune systems and biology of the birds. the chicken droppings are then in turn used as fertiliser, completing the circle. the experiment creates a bridge between species and forms a powerful commentary on the role of each creature in a planetary super-organism. 

koen vanmechelen design indaba
installation view, ‘this is not a chicken’, het domein, sittard (NL), 2015



the work that vanmechelen has become most well know for however, is his cosmopolitan chicken project. the CCP sees the artist selectively breed chickens from across the world, creating new strains and mapping out a cultural history of humankind. in addition to creating more resilient, longer living and healthier birds, the project shows the benefits of global bio-diversity and also serves to demonstrate the bizarrely close relationship between humans and chickens.


‘in every country, there’s one related to the culture,’ vanmechelen tells design indaba. ‘in france, the poulet de bresse contains the colours of the french flag. americans breed the biggest chicken in the world. in germany, they created one for the liberation after the second world war’.

koen vanmechelen design indaba
installation view, ‘this is not a chicken’, het domein, sittard (NL), 2015



in 2016 the artist launched the ‘planetary community chicken’ or PCC, whereby he breeds the newest strain of CCP rooster with a local hen somewhere in the world each year. tying in nicely with design indaba, this year’s crossbreed is based in south africa where vanmechelen’s cosmopolitan chicken will be matched with an ovambo hen. 

koen vanmechelen design indaba

blood sampling by researchers of the CCRP foundations, 2015



vanmechelen is also co-founder of the walking egg (TWE) project, an interdisciplinary initiative that uses the intersection of art and science to address the issue of infertility and reproduction in the developing world. founded by vanmechelen, annie vereecken, rudi campo and willem ombelet, the project advocates for the universal right to reproduction in developing countries by 2020. the collaboration resulted in ‘the walking egg’ magazine, a journal distributed to infertility specialists worldwide, known for its striking symbol of a glass egg standing with the legs of a chicken. 

the project advocates for the universal right to reproduction in developing countries by 2020



from chickens to pigs, ‘LUCY — PEEL, PETUUM, MOBIL’ took the benefits of ovine crossbreeding to the food production industry. a collaboration between the artist and four pig farmers resulted in lucy—a cross between an industrial ‘duroc’ and a ‘mangalica’, a robust hungarian strain. housed in an open stable, visitors are encouraged to come and visit the experiment themselves. lucy however, hits the road as part of a travelling hotdog stand that shares its story of sustainable food production and educates guests about what exactly goes into their food. 

LUCY — PEEL, PETUUM, MOBILE, 200 x 150 x 90 cm, canvas, print on plexi, neon, horns, pig skin, 2016 

visitors are invited to visit the open stable and see where the project all began



although perhaps fantastical on paper, all of vanmechelen’s work is founded on the idea of bridging cultures, of bringing people together. not all of it has to do with animals however. his cosmogolem project is based on the idea of the mythical ‘golem’, a magical giant of clay constructed in 16th century prague to protect jews living in the ghetto. to date, vanmechelen’s wooden ‘cosmogolems’ have been erected in zimbabwe, pakistan, belgium, india, holland and chili.


constructed on-site with the help of children, these larger-than-life figures act as a symbol of shelter and security for youth worldwide. coming together to decorate their respective giants, the golem is equipped with a hatch in its belly into which children can write and deposit their hopes and dreams for the future. 

cosmogolems assembled on-site with the help of children

the concept is based on the idea of the mythical golem create created to defend jews living in ghettos