March 2010 the Walking Egg non-profit organisation was founded by four members: Annie Vereecken, Rudi Campo, Willem Ombelet and Koen Vanmechelen. This organisation will focus on the realisation of the Arusha Project.
Artist Koen Vanmechelen and fertility specialist Willem Ombelet met in 1997 on the occasion of one of the International meetings ‘Andrology in the Nineties’, a well-known scientific meeting which was held in Genk, Belgium, and attracted more than 700 clinicians and scientists from more than 40 different countries, all of them specialized in infertility. The contact between scientist and artist resulted in an enigmatic glass egg with the legs of a chicken, ‘The Walking Egg’. The Walking Egg arose out of the mutual curiosity of two domains that start from a sense of amazement and a compulsion to understand the human identity.
Three years later, in 2000, the first issue of the magazine with the same name was published, a unique blend of science, art and philosophy, to name but a few of its perspectives. Initially the concept sounded like a real programme: to bridge the gap between science and art, to alter traditional discourse of these two apparently opposite disciplines. The next two years were years of brainstorming, working, travelling, discussing, talking and exploring. The outcome of this artistic-scientific cross-fertilization was expressed in six issues of ‘The Walking Egg’ magazine, an international journal which was distributed to infertility specialists worldwide.
On the occasion of the opening of the new fertility center in August 2006, the artistic project ‘Born’ was shown, a general concept focussing on the egg, on permanent display in the fully renovated fertility department of the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology.
December 2007 they set up a scientific-artistic project in Arusha, Tanzania, in the shadow of the Kilimanjaro, in an environment where climatological and hygienic conditions are not the most favourable. This meant the start of a focus on infertility and childlessness in developing countries, in cooporation with the Special Task Force on “Developing countries and infertility” of the European Society of Human reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).
A spirit of cooporation between an artist and a scientist
Creativity and beauty are the junctions where art and science meet. Koen Vanmechelen and Willem Ombelet found out early that both disciplines have a complementary relationship. The study of the inner world is incomplete without that of the outer.
In the future they aim to organise debates between scientists, politicians, artists, philosophers, etc on topics associated with human reproduction, and more specifically on the topic of childlessness in resource-poor countries.
Koen Vanmechelen was born in St-Truiden Belgium in 1965. He lives in Meeuwen-Gruitrode, Belgium.
Koen started his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) in the late ‘90s. By
crossbreeding chickens from all over the planet he tries to create a cosmopolitan chicken that combines different traits from the original breeds. This genetic diversity is a model for mixing the genome of human population groups. So far he has realized 13 generations of crossbreds. Vanmechelen uses this genetic diversity of chickens as a metaphor, to explain certain relevant social phenomena. He asks attention for ‘crossing borders’ to achieve mutual ‘cosmopolitical’ understanding. ‘Nothing is as beautiful as joining with other cultures and taking energy from this.‘
The artist has developed a unique mix of different media to work around this theme. Often in collaboration with scientists. His works range from highly expressive paintings and drawings, to photography, video’s, installations, works in glass and a recurring wooden sculpture. What connects all these different modes of expression is the chicken and the egg. Over the years they have become an important symbol that has enabled the artist to make a connection to scientific, political, philosophical and ethical domains and issues. The intricate artistic-philosophical system he developed is the subject of debates, conversations and lectures the artist organizes or takes part in to shape his philosophical universe.
Out of Vanmechelens central ideas, forming the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP), three major directions have developed. They have linked themselves to other domains: scientific, social and philosophical. The three are:
The Walking Egg arose out of the mutual curiosity of two domains that start from a sense of amazement and a compulsion to understand the human identity. It concerns art and medical sciences, in this case the field of fertility (Willem Ombelet). Beside the creation of an illustrated magazine (The Walking Egg Gazette), the cross-over between the CCP and the fertility project of Willem Ombelet led to an artistic-scientific project in Arusha, Tanzania. This meant the start of a focus on (in) fertility in developing countries. The artist will also contribute to this important project of “Universal access to reproductive care, including infertility”, coordinated by Willem Ombelet. He will creating a series of numbered reproductions of his work which can be sold against the price of one fertility treatment. According to the artist, each individual fertilization will combine the story of an infertile woman with the owner of a piece of art.
The CosmoGolem, is a large wooden giant of approximately 4 meters height; it is a symbol of the helper and the savior for children who are in need of help, hope and courage. Vanmechelen refers of course to the legend of the Homunculus that was made out of clay in the 16th century in Prague by rabbi Jehudau Löw to protect the Jews in the ghetto. Vanmechelen’s golem also functions as a bridge between different cultures. It serves a higher purpose and insists on tolerance and engagement. At present 26 Golems have found a home in countries like the Netherlands, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Poland, Chile and Belgium. More and more international and local organizations want to involve themselves in the CosmoGolem project.
The Cosmopolitan Chicken Research Project (CC®P) wants to bridge the gap between art and science. It is a continuation of the ‘The Cosmopolitan Chicken’. The CC®P foundation creates the possibility for scientific research as well as support of social projects. The first scientific project is a genetic research project (two years), led by professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman (KULeuven). He made a model to investigate the genetic diversity between the Vanmechelen breeds and to assess the consequences of crossbreeding. DNA samples were collected from animals involved in the CCP, from 5 different chickens breeds found at different Belgian locations and from the 4 types of the Junglefowl.
Willem Ombelet (MD, PhD) was born in Leuven in 1954 and qualified in medicine from the University of Leuven in 1979. He completed his training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Bruges and Pretoria (South Africa). He is the founder of the Genk Institute for Fertility Technology and was chairman of seven ‘Andrology in the Nineties’-meetings.
In 1998 he obtained his PhD degree at the University of Leuven on ‘The value of sperm morphology and other semen parameters in diagnosis and treatment of human subfertility.” He became the Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the ZOL Hospitals in Genk in 1999.
Willem Ombelet has been the President of the Flemish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (VVOG) from 2001 until 2004. Since 2002 he is the chairman of the Scientific Committee of the VVOG. Until 2008 he was the editor of “Gynaïkeia”, the official journal of the Flemish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
He is also a board member of the Belgian College of Reproductive Medicine since 1999 and a board member of the Belgian Society of Reproductive Medicine (BSRM) since 2008. He is a consultant (Reproductive Medicine) at the University of Hasselt and at the University of Ghent.
He authored more than 80 international peer-reviewed articles and got 2 international awards. He is the (co-)editor of 16 books.
Since 2006, Willem Ombelet is the co-ordinator of the ESHRE Special Task Force on “Developing countries and infertility”. This Special Task Force aims to encourage more and affordable infertility diagnosis and treatment in developing countries. The organization of the expert meeting on the topic of “Developing countries and infertility” in Arusha, Tanzania, from 15 until 17 December 2007, was the first project. While recognising the importance of prevention and education, Willem Ombelet believes that for reasons of social justice infertility treatment in developing countries requires greater attention at national and international levels.
Together with Koen Vanmechelen he has since long transgressed the boundaries of conventional medical practice to explore unexplored dimensions and affinities with other medical disciplines as well as with the world of art.