2, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16/05 – 20:30
3/05 – 22:00
4, 11/05 – 15:00 + 20:30
17/05 – 18:00 + 22:00
± 1h

The makeshift art of Benjamin Verdonck recklessly navigates between genres and categories: from theatre pieces on stage to performances in the public space, across to objects, to theatre and art installations. In his work, he obscures our consciousness with elements of fantasy, makes language a material, and lets the space and the objects speak. For his latest creation, Benjamin Verdonck started with the idea of a ‘mini theatre’, a retractable mobile theatre that can emerge anywhere in the city and just as quickly disappear. The magical show-box – in which he is at once machinist and protagonist – reveals an audiovisual poetry that is sometimes tangible but equally often puzzling. Benjamin Verdonck plays with this, literally and figuratively. NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST is a spirited performance with few words but many strings, colours, geometric figures, opening doors, and closing curtains. Theatre in its most essential form, close and on a human scale.

By & with
Benjamin Verdonck, Iwan Van Vlierberghe, Sven Roofthooft, Sébastien Hendrickx, Han Stubbe, Louisa Vanderhaegen & Griet Stellamans

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS

Toneelhuis (Antwerp), KVS (Brussels)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, steirischer herbst (Graz)

Performance in Brussels supported by
SABAM for Culture

This project is co-produced by
NXTSTP, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

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How little is enough?

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
J.R.R. Tolkien

NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST emerged from an old yearning of Benjamin Verdonck’s. For several years now, the artist has lived with the notion of making a ‘mobile theatre’, a small, easy-to-transport structure for ‘object theatre’ that can be positioned anywhere, be it in a theatre, a café, or an open field, for example. The original version of the show took shape in a suitably modest building. The miniature circus of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1926-1931), and the chamber play of Hieronymus Baron van Slingelandt (1781), thereby served as the most important sources of inspiration. Calder’s composure while letting those figures of bent wire perform all kinds of tricks, was of particular appeal to Verdonck. Slingelandt’s home theatre format fascinated him further, again because of his technique. Complex scene changes could happen in a single instant. The wooden structure that houses the final presentation is a bit bigger than expected. With its front and backstage, wings, and guy-wires, it directly calls to mind a theatre. That can put the glance in perspective, provide a focus for the atttention. “The occurrence, which spreads out in all directions and has indistinct contours; the many-sided things; the uncertain, multisensory space”, writes architectural theorist Bart Verschaffel, “is taken together and directed toward one point, a viewpoint.”

In this space drawn in perspective, a slow choreography of objects takes place. Benjamin Verdonck describes the various movement sequences as “some variations on the theme of wandering”. In his earlier performance, WEWILLLIVESTORM (2006), the objects on stage were propelled by means of countless strings. The archetypal images of the past – including a flower, a boat, a cat – were replaced in NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST by simple geometric shapes. Moreover, the work is minimally multimedial. It contains a bit of text, something that finds itself on the border between sound and music, a few standing lights, ten colours, and two magic tricks that defy the laws of gravity.

NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST is enrolled, in a unique way, in the tradition of abstract art, through its translation into a theatrical setting. In the early 20th century, abstract art made a sharp break with the representational tradition that had dominated Western art since the Renaissance. Art historian Anna Moszynska indicates that there are different degrees of abstraction. With his famous Black suprematic square (1915), Kazimir Malevich resolutely blew-up the bridge between the art of painting and the perceptible world. The black square on the white canvas refers merely to itself. By contrast, many of Alexander Calder’s abstract sculptures possess similarities with stylised forms of sensory reality. His mobiles – light sculptures that are continuously in motion by the wind or an internal mechanism – often evoke the image of a flock of birds or a tree branch with swaying leaves. In themselves, the geometric shapes and colours Benjamin Verdonck uses in NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST, are non-representational. However, the theatrical environment in which they are located, the course of time in which they appear and disappear, the presence of text and sound/music, lends them narrative qualities or symbolic meanings. In the spectator’s head, a small triangle that slowly passes-by from courtyard to garden can mark the beginning of a story.

Slowness plays a crucial role in the performance. The theatre seems to be a privileged place to be for experiencing time ‘differently’ and ‘fuller’ than in everyday life. Within his philosophy of time, French thinker Henri Bergson (1859-1941) made a distinction between ‘clock time’ and ‘real time’. It was thought that numerical clock time, with its hours, minutes, and seconds, is rooted in the laws of nature. Bergson unmasked it as a mere arrangement that helps everyday human locomotion run on a reasonable course. Actual time, on the other hand, is something that is experienced as ‘duration’, as a quality instead of a quantity. It allows a more harmonious relationship between man and his surrounding physical world, because it, like the physical world, is heterogeneous and constantly changing form. Time can, for example, shrink or expand. Art appreciation, according to Bergson, is one of the perfect ways to make contact with real time. You may, however, wonder whether that theory can be absorbed in our contemporary museums and art galleries. The public generally decide for themselves whether and how long they stand quietly in front of a work, and recent research has shown that it is usually woefully short. In the theatre, the spectator lets the control of his time partly pass out of his hands. The gentle group pressure that emanates from the stands, after all, forces him to remain watching and listening intently to what is happening on stage. Only when boredom or irritation has reached boiling point, does he dare to make an exit. In this situation, the theatre maker is able to explore other experiences of time than the dominant clock time. In NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST, time feels a whole lot slower…

Within the working process of the performance, a metaphor popped up that placed the working process itself in a brighter light. Like a teabag that only releases a portion of its concentrated flavour into the hot water, the rich collection of materials and ideas that were developed in the workplace only fully come into their own as they take shape in moderation in the final presentation. The question was asked how early the ‘teabag’ could be taken out of the ‘water’. How much was enough? The aesthetic principle of refined poverty was an important guideline for working on NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST. That principle is characterised by sobriety, generosity, and accuracy, and is typical of the Japanese tea culture. In The Book of Tea (1906), art historian Okakura Kakuzo linked the minimal decoration inside the Japanese tearoom with the Taoist ideal of emptiness. According to Lao-Tse, the founder of Taoism, “The reality of a room… was to be found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and walls, not in the roof and walls themselves.” Okakura indicated that the value of the small lies in the power of suggestion. The empty, unfilled space gives the imagination free rein.

Throughout Japanese history, the tearoom has served as a shelter from the bad influences of the outside world. Statesmen and warriors, committed to the unification of the country, found there the necessary rest, and artists were able to communicate with each other freely in times of military dictatorship. Kakuzo Okakura had an important role to play at the beginning of the 20th century. Like his contemporary, Henri Bergson, he was reluctant as to the effects of industrialisation on everyday life: “Nowadays industrialism is making true refinement more and more difficult all the world over. Do we not need the tea-room more than ever?” Benjamin Verdonck’s NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST, seems, more than a century later, to exude a similar proposal: today, is the theatre – as a place for focus, attention, slowness, emptiness, and disinterested imagination – not needed more than ever.

Sébastien Hendrickx
Translated to English by Jodie Hruby

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Benjamin Verdonck (b. 1972) is an actor, writer, visual artist and theatre-maker. His theatrical work is staged either in a regular auditorium (313 Misschien / wisten zij alles, WEWILLLIVESTORM, Global Anatomy, Nine Finger ) or in the public space ( Bara/ke, a tree-house in the heart of the city; Hirondelle /Dooi Vogeltje / The Great Swallow, a bird’s nest against a building, 32 metres above the ground). In 2009 Verdonck launched kalender (CALENDAR), an action cycle in which the public space in Antwerp was the centre of his artistic practice for a whole year. That action cycle was given a sequel in an exhibition entitled KALENDER | WIT at the MuHKA and in a play entitled KALENDER / ZWART. In 2011 Verdonck presented HANDVEST VOOR EEN ACTIEVE MEDEWERKING VAN DE PODIUMKUNSTEN AAN EEN TRANSITIE NAAR RECHTVAARDIGE DUURZAAMHEID. In 2011 Benjamin Verdonck also created a new work DISISIT, “a show that is fascinating from beginning to end, which (…) was invented like child’s play. Excessive in the extreme. And highly recommended.” (Stijn Dierckx in De Morgen ). In the 2012-2013 season he collaborated with Abke Haring on Song#2, “a gem of ritual experience theatre. One we should cherish.” (Tuur Devens in ). He rounded off that season by participating in KVS’ Brussels city project Tok Toc Knock . In 2013-2014 Benjamin Verdonck is making NOTALLWHOWANDERARELOST which will be premièred at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Verdonck’s visual work increasingly finds its way into exhibitions in (among other places) Berlin ( 1/2 ), Kortrijk ( Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits ), Ghent (in TRACK and in the series of projects Brainbox in the experimental arts centre CROXHAPOX ), Hasselt (in Mind the system, find the gap ), Antwerp ( oowendeseentsjkommaartsjinigin ) and Groningen ( All is giving in the temporary Public Artspace). He also continues to carry out actions in the public space, including BOOT (Boat), built on a block of flats in Szczecin in Poland in July 2012. The project lasted ten days and was both installation-in-the-making and performance. Benjamin Verdonck has the support of the KVS and Toneelhuis in the period 2013-2016.

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