Conferring an honorary citizenship is a unique event. Only few people receive such an honour. It’s a moment of vigilance, and a signal. Out of respect and gratitude for the honorary citizenship bestowed upon me in 2005, I offer my beloved city a work of art in return. And not a minor one – it’s an installation from one of my most renowned projects; the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project and Planetary Community Chicken (CCP/PCC). It’s a living and permanent work, a work in progress. For its location, I chose the church plot behind the burnt-out abbey tower. For me, this place is pregnant with untold mysteries. It’s a spot that endows me with memory, strength and emotion.
My father, my brothers and I were among many others who managed to escape the historic fire of 1975. A hellish inferno transformed the abbey tower and the seminary boarding school into an epic ruin. When the tower came crashing down, the globe and rooster that had crowned the spire were split in half. The image of that burning tower and that cracked globe is still etched in my memory. It took many years before I was able to translate the fear from that event into hope, and only then came the relieving effect of catharsis. The installation on the church plot wasn’t just about personal healing, it also had a historical dimension.
For me, the rooster’s fall from the tower became a symbol. It stands for the return of the people to a sacred space that had been the exclusive preserve of the clergy. As in any good legend, the back gate provided the solution. Of that former entrance, only ruins remain. A memorial to our constant quest for new possibilities. And now they are joined by my Cosmopolitan Chicken Project.
The presence of my Cosmopolitan Chicken Project on the church plot is a metaphor for a new and vital society. This project is a bold, innovative answer to one of the most basic questions we humans ask ourselves: Who are we, as individuals, as a species? But also, it’s an urgent plea for us to break out of the cage that constrains us, both as individuals and as a species. The breeding project aims to break down the barriers between the ‘I’ and the ‘other’. The fall of the rooster infuses the CCP with an even deeper dimension. This is the return of the conscious human.
Additionally, the installation refers to a core competence of the city of Sint-Truiden: providing care. Caring for others is what built Sint-Truiden – and vice versa. This focus on care was and remains both visible and tangible in the architectural corpus of the city. Care for both body and mind was the mission and the message of the impressive buildings in which it was administered. It is as monuments to this mission of care that they have survived the ravages of time: the orphanage, hospital and poor house, churches, monasteries and the abbey. Sint-Truiden is a city that cares, for people, monuments and animals.
CCP/PCC is a monument that has been realised with and by the city. It has a history and a future. In 2016, less than 100 m from the church plot, in a display set up on the Groenmarkt, my Planetary Community Chicken was born. It was the logical next step after the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, which cross-bred local productivity with global diversity. It’s a project that now helps fight the global war on hunger. Without the generosity of the first enablers, of the local level, the global result would not exist. And without the call of world itself, the local level is at risk of dying out.
The descendants of this breeding project will roam freely across the church plot, ensuring that the city will continue to have a transcendent connection between present, past and future. And always under the watchful eye of a rooster that was once presumed lost forever.
THE GLOBAL ONLY EXISTS BY THE GENEROSITY OF THE LOCAL