Stuffed Chickens In A Church Crypt

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 39 months ago
Stuffed Chickens In A Church Crypt ★★★☆☆ 3
A close-up of one of the chickens used in the artist's breeding programme. © Koen Vanmechelen
A close-up of one of the chickens used in the artist's breeding programme. © Koen Vanmechelen
Shelves of the taxidermied chickens used in this artwork. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert
Shelves of the taxidermied chickens used in this artwork. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert
Large portraits of some of the chickens celebrate these domestic fowl in a manner usually reserved only for people. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert
Large portraits of some of the chickens celebrate these domestic fowl in a manner usually reserved only for people. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert
A floating nest filled with giant glass eggs suggests both the importance and fragility of new life. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert
A floating nest filled with giant glass eggs suggests both the importance and fragility of new life. © Koen Vanmechelen. Photo: Alex Deyaert

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

The crypt beneath St. Pancras Church is an atmospheric setting for art, and it's been transformed into something special for this latest exhibition. Visitors enter through a jungle while a chicken repeatedly calls out from within the gallery — an apt introduction considering the surreal nature of the works.

For Koen Vanmechelen's latest exhibition Darwin's Dream, he has bred chickens from around the world to create new varieties celebrating diversity — a change from the usual process of selective breeding, which favours attributes relating to egg production and quality of meat.

It's a bizarre experiment — one that's documented meticulously throughout the exhibition using a family tree and test tubes containing feathers from the chickens. At the end, we're greeted by taxidermied versions of all the chickens from the show, placed on shelves — it's intimidating, and when inspecting them closely it feels like they may come alive and peck at you.

But Darwin's Dream is designed to be more than just a slightly odd experiment, and the artist is drawing a comparison between human evolution and that of the world's most populous domestic animal. This is where everything unravelled for us a little. True, there is something to be said for freeing up evolution by not selecting for character traits but the grander message, however, that this show also covers issues as diverse as racism and the politics of migration — is a stretch too far for us.

Vanmechelen's Cosmopolitan Chicken Project is most effective when taken as a surreal experiment on what can be achieved when a certain genetic freedom is applied.

Koen Vanmechelen: Darwin's Dream is on at The Crypt Gallery, St. Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA until 15 December. Entrance is free.

For more art to see in London, visit our November listings.

Last Updated 17 November 2014