The two chickens that will take up residence at Connersmith gallery in Northeast have crossed an ocean, not a road. So naturally, the process of getting to the other side has been fraught with complications.
To bring two Red Jungle Fowl, one of the oldest chicken breeds in the world, from Belgium to Washington, artist Koen Vanmechelen — who is more than a decade into a chicken-breeding conceptual art project — learned a lesson about the politics of American poultry.
“If you send 1,000 chickens, it’s not a lot of problems, but if you send two chickens, there are a lot of questions — ‘Why two chickens?’ [Customs] treats it in a different way. They are more scared for two chickens, I think, than for thousands,” Vanmechelen said by Skype from Belgium.
So, why two chickens — and why these particular ones? The birds are part of Vanmechelen’s artistic exploration of some of the biggest topics in humanity: globalization, multiculturalism, genetic engineering, and biological and cultural diversity. When the artist considered how far the bird had come from its ancestors (and how far those ancestors had come from their original ancestors, the dinosaurs), he put two and two together, breeding a French chicken with a Belgian chicken. He has been mating their offspring with other purebred chickens from around the world ever since, in a grand experiment to bring the chicken back to its biological roots and to turn the project into a metaphor for human society.