Animal crackers: inside the world's most madcap menagerie

With its Frankenstein fauna and cosmopolitan chickens, Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen’s eco-park puts the perverse into biodiversity

A huge steel cage pokes up through the trees on the edge of Genk in eastern Belgium. It emerges from a long, dark brick building that has the fortified look of a high-security laboratory. Through narrow windows, you can make out the inanimate bodies of pigs, chickens and strange winged creatures, lit by eerie neon lights, while a symphony of exotic squawks emanates from an aviary beyond. Hidden out here on the edge of a forest, it looks like some secret facility for developing future species.

The reality is not far off. This is Labiomista, the otherworldly vision of artist Koen Vanmechelen, who has spent the last two decades conducting experiments with animals – from breeding the most “cosmopolitan” kind of chicken to exploring the immunological potential of camels. In a joint venture with the city, he has now built a €22m ecological park and studio complex, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, as a wild playground for his curious creations.

Labiomista opens on 6 July.

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