Benjamin Verdonck

Benjamin Verdonck

Benjamin Verdonck (b. 1972) lives and works in Antwerp. He is a theatre-maker, writer and visual artist with an idiosyncratic practice both in theatre and outside of it. His work can be seen as an ongoing flow of performances, installations, actions, table-top shows and pamphlets with a recurring undercurrent: pointing up the lack of public debate on the ongoing changes in our ecological system, which are gradually becoming irreversible. He has been a permanent Toneelhuis theatre-maker since 2006.

Verdonck’s theatre work often gives a leading role to ‘things’ – objects, forms, shapes, doodads, collections of ‘finds’ – which he lets speak for themselves. This is the case, for instance, in his solo projects like wewilllivestorm (2006), DISISIT (2011), notallwhowanderarelost (2014), or in collaborations like Song#2 (with Abke Haring, 2012), WE DON’T SPEAK TO BE UNDERSTOOD (with Pieter Ampe, 2015), Wat ik graag zou zijn als ik niet was wat ik ben (with Willy Thomas, 2017) and the recent AREN (2019).

In public space he makes a statement with striking interventions and installations, as for instance Bara/ke (2000); Hirondelle / Dooi vogeltje / The Great Swallow (a man-size swallow’s nest placed at a height of 32 m against the glass façade of a building in Brussels in 2004, Birmingham, 2005 and Rotterdam, 2008); Vogelenzangpark 17bis (Ghent 2012); BOOT (a 10 day long project on a block of flats in Szczecin, Poland in 2012). Such projects put the power of drama to the test in the midst of transient city life, only to live on as stories. During KALENDER, 365 dagen actie in Antwerpen in 2009, he made public space the centre of his artistic practice for an entire year. In 2010, KALENDER was given autonomous expression in the white cube of the museum (KALENDER/WIT) and in the black box of the theatre (KALENDER/ZWART). His other visual work meanwhile was shown at WIELS, M HKA and S.M.A.K, among other places.

In the beginning of 2010, Benjamin Verdonck received the Flemish Culture Prize for Performing Arts for 2009. That same year, his ‘State of the Union’ opened the Theaterfestival, a prelude to Handvest (2012), which calls on the entire performing arts sector to realize this work of art together for the benefit of a ‘transition to equitable sustainability’.

The series of meaningful actions and interventions that followed contained echoes of this same theme: De finale (2015), nest (previously drek en veren, 2015), de ruil (2015), 1000 bomen en granaten (2015), Het geheime experimentele observatorium voor wereldaangelegenheden (with Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, 2016) and Friedmans potlood (together with the primary school ’t Speelscholeke in Deurne, 2016), but also Nocturama, the night-shop installation he made in 2016 with Thomas Verstraeten (FC Bergman) and the mobile installation Gille leert lezen (2016). In parallel to this, Verdonck’s visual work appeared in galleries such as the Annie Gentils Gallery, CROXHAPOX, LLS387, Tim Van Laere Gallery and Galerie Florent Tossin (DE).

In 2017, Benjamin Verdonck bundled this cycle of installations, actions, table theatre and pamphlets in the form of a book, even i must understand it. The book project meanwhile gave rise to a lecture-performance, Het houten ezeltje (2016), which was joined a little while later by De jeugdherinnering (2017).

As a counterpoint to his work in public space, Verdonck started working on a series of smaller, mobile forms of theatre that break away from the usual expectations of the sector in terms of producing and programming: an exercise in simplification, stillness and withdrawal in 2014. one more thing was the first of these, followed in 2016 by Gille leert lezen. Made from simple materials and barely 15 minutes long, they are meant to be performed at the drop of a hat, in any place, at any moment, preferably several at the same time. The full-length show Liedje voor Gigi (2018) was a continuation of this search for compact peep shows and table-top theatre. While Verdonck visibly manipulates the spectator’s gaze, a marvellous tale about time passing by, the world around us and what we are capable of doing unfolds. In the summer of 2018 at Boulevard Festival, Verdonck presented his newest mobile installation, Waldeinsamkeit, a baroque miniature of light and darkness with a compelling soundtrack. Circus Very Good had its premiere at Kunstfest Weimar in the summer of 2019.

What all of Benjamin Verdonck’s work has in common is that it is made in his studio. With AREN (January 2019), he traces the line from his studio to the stage in the ultimate manner. An “ode to the beauty of the little and big things around us, to visionary ideas”.

February 2020 saw the premiere of de tijger eet de zebra en de vogel vliegt verschrikt weg, ‘a peep show of the whole wide world, an unusual planetarium of tape, strings and cardboard”. This is a new attempt at presenting an inventory of reality in all of its complexity by “a non-contemporary political maker” for whom “it is not about the attempt as such, but the obligation to speak out, even when we don’t exactly know how”.

In the meantime, all of the table-top shows, big and small, remain on the repertoire.

With Wereldtournee in Antwerpen, Benjamin Verdonck is out and about in Antwerp for a year during the 2020-2021 season with small-scale and manoeuvrable work that pops up at all sorts of places and occasions, unannounced, in the wake of its maker. The planned stop-off at the Bourla with a full evening’s programme, Wereldtournee/ Tussenstop, had to be cancelled because of corona. As a replacement, Verdonck created two museological exhibitions in the Bourla: Regenboog, followed by Waldeinsamkeit/ Regenboog. In the meantime, Benjamin Verdonck is continuing his global municipal tour with Wereldtournee in Antwerpen.

Various projects are in the works for the 2021-2022 season. Back in February 2020, Verdonck created de tijger eet de zebra en de vogel vliegt verschrikt weg, a choreographed ballet of life-sized shapes and planes. After a long corona-enforced standstill, de tijger (the tiger) will be on the prowl again for the first time since its premiere, in an exclusive run at the Bourla in March 2022. What’s more, Benjamin Verdonck is working together with Thomas Verstraeten on 7 x 7: they chose seven places in the city, between which they will travel with seven installations on seven days. Benjamin Verdonck is rounding the 2021-2022 season by taking part in Lonely Hearts Club Band, a collective project that brings together all of the Toneelhuis makers on the Bourla stage in June 2022. 

Productions from/with ‘Benjamin Verdonck’

7x7 Theatre Archive


Toneelhuis / Benjamin Verdonck / Thomas Verstraeten