“A new corpus of Universal Human Rights should mold and shape the present-day concept of Human Rights into something that can be truly universal and global while respecting local sensitivities. Only then will Human Rights lose its inevitable ‘controversial’ predicate”, says Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. He has launched the Human Rights Pavilion, a project that is developed in collaboration with the Global Campus of Human Rights, Fondazione Berengo and the MOUTH Foundation, and inaugurated on the 8th of May 2019 at the Berengo Art Space in Murano, Venice. With the Human Rights Pavilion, Vanmechelen explores the complexities of human nature, the possibility of a universal concept of human rights and the role of art in its development.
The project was initiated with GLASSTRESS, an exhibition conceived by Adriano Berengo to which internationally renowned contemporary artists are invited to create artworks in glass in the former furnace of the Fondazione Berengo Art Space in Murano, in cooperation with Muranese maestri.
The 2019 edition of the exhibition is curated by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen, who is the curator of a section displaying highlights from the past ten years. This year’s exhibition celebrates 10 years of GLASSTRESS and 30 years of Berengo Studio, featuring artworks by returning artists Ai Weiwei, Laure Prouvost, Tony Cragg and Thomas Schütte, as well as first time participants Prune Nourry, José Parlá and Rose Wylie, amongst others. For this section, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has invited all artists to explore "how glass redefines our perception of space".
Koen Vanmechelen is an internationally acclaimed conceptual artist, strongly committed to human rights. He has a human rights and a children’s rights project, as well as a project about fertility, and he works with the poorest people in the world. Central themes of his work are biocultural diversity, identity, and community. He is best known for the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, a crossbreeding project, started in 1999, with chickens from different countries as a statement about the way in which diversity can shape the global cultural and genetic mix. The ultimate aim of the project is to create a Cosmopolitan Chicken carrying the genes of the planet’s chicken breeds. The artist’s new studio, LABIOMISTA, in Genk, which was built by Swiss architect Mario Botta, on the extensive grounds of a former zoo, will open to the public on the 6th of July. Alongside the artist’s studio, it hosts Vanmechelen’s first Open University of Diversity and related foundations. The site is also where the artists’ animals live and breed. It is both a laboratory and a library of biocultural diversity. LABIOMISTA is a “homage to the mix of life itself”, says Vanmechelen.
The Human Rights Pavilion will travel around the world for 18 months, from London, to Sydney, from Helsinki to Mexico. The human rights issues will be discussed and addressed through conversations, artworks, video messages, and unexpected encounters. Vanmechelen claims that real conversations with people who are experts in what they do are important. “In Helsinki we will speak with a fisherman, in Tulum, Mexico we brought people down from the mountains. They have the spirit to know how to deal with nature”. “Normally the people who deal with human rights are academics, they go to conferences, laws are passed, which is very good, but at the same time the human body needs spirit, and this spirit is in art”, he points out.
Debate will be stimulated in places all around the world, through so-called SoTO dialogues in Cosmocafes. SoTO dialogues are laboratories for unexpected encounters and authentic conversations that generate new ideas and models for the future. Instead of survival of the fittest, SoTo means survival of others. “In a dialogue I say something, you say something, and in the middle of our conversation there is a kind of solution”, explains Koen Vanmechelen.
The artwork which is the starting point and the campaign image of the Human Rights Pavilion is Collective Memory (2017), a marble statue that is a symbol of human rights and that stands in the monastery of San Nicolò at Venice Lido, on the premises of the Global Campus of Human Rights. It consists of an ancient Greek statue of a child, sitting on the Encyclopedia of Human Rights. "Collective Memory is an artwork that Vanmechelen has dedicated to the Global Campus of Human Rights and it symbolises the rights of children and the future of human rights, and it also relates to a major project that we do together, the UN Global Study on Children deprived of liberty”, says Manfred Nowak, Secretary General of the Global Campus of Human Rights. The installation Collective Memory “claims that every newborn child has the right to a life worth living in which there is lasting respect for human rights”, explain the initiators of the Human Rights Pavilion project.
As part of GLASSTRESS Koen Vanmechelen presents a series of works dedicated to human rights. In Collective Memory, 2019 the Encyclopedia of Human Rights by David Forsythe is combined with a book called LABIOMISTA, which carries different glass objects referring to the delicate balance between culture and nature. “What is missing on the 5 Declarations of Human Rights is the book of creativity, of freedom of thinking”, he concludes.
Photos by Riccardo De Lazzari - Global Campus of Human Rights