Koen Vanmechelen

The Worth of Life

For curator Edith Doove including Koen Vanmechelen in her additional selection was a matter of course as his work dovetails so closely with this year’s central theme. She opted for the installation ‘The Worth of Life’ that is based on the eponymous performance and video. The video was shot during the first lockdown in 2020 when Vanmechelen joined his chickens in quarantine. In the five-part video, he talks about the different stages of his journey and the insights he gained along the way. Starting as a young boy raising chickens and the resulting insights on domestication, his work meanwhile has a much broader scope.

A key aspect of Vanmechelen’s philosophy and creative work is, among others, the realisation that fertility comes from outside. In other words, cross-pollination is essential to the survival of both animal species, plants, man and the planet. That is why hybrid forms are a recurring element in his body of work. For instance, in part three of the video the central idea is that so-called transparency, and therefore isolation, must be broken in order to arrive at a new reality.

Another important point raised in the video is Vanmechelen’s statement that the global can only exist thanks to the generosity of the local. This part of the video is about establishing communities, about the collective creating opportunities. This is also reflected in the foundation of the festival he devised, Patchwwwork, and in the attention many other artists devote to the local as opposed to the global or working collectively.

Vanmechelen’s work clearly has a sociocultural angle and in that sense he doesn’t shy away from the hybrid. The artwork must step out of the shadows and claim its role within the cultural fabric to be able to contribute to it. In the installation this is expressed by recording the video in which he comments on his philosophy and work. The room becomes a kind of chicken run in which a mural pays homage to his chickens without requiring their physical presence. The chickens continue their work elsewhere. They make us reflect on our way of life and the careful handling of what we have, which inevitably results in us wanting to secure a future.

1965, Sint-Truiden, Belgium

Koen Vanmechelen – Foto: Michaël Depestele

Vanmechelen is a multidisciplinary and conceptual artist working with painting, sculpture and video art. His work is situated at the intersection of art, science, philosophy and community. Central to his œuvre is the concept of bio-cultural diversity, which he explores through the domestic chicken and its ancestor, the red grouse. Vanmechelen’s practice focuses on fundamental issues of identity, diversity, globalisation and human rights.

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