Tim Van Laere Gallery, Verlatstraat 23-25, 2000 Antwerp

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Benjamin Verdonck: ‘Oowendeseejntskommaartsjingin’
Tim Van Laere Gallery
31 January - 9 March 2013
Review by Annelies Thoelen

Works of the multifaceted and interdisciplinary artist Benjamin Verdonck (b. 1979) have been put on show regularly in museums, galleries and theatres, as well as in public spaces. His recognisable, playful work consists of bricolage techniques combined with found everyday objects, and attempts to order and apprehend the world. ‘Oowendeseejntskommaartsjingin’ (a phonetic Dutch interpretation of the song title ‘When The Saints Come Marching In’) is Verdonck’s second solo exhibition at Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp.

In 2009, Verdonck’s most well-known project ‘KALENDER’ unrolled itself over the course of 365 days in the city of Antwerp, with more than 150 actions relating to holidays, the change of seasons, political events and everyday life. The artworks in the solo show are in some way related to, inspired by, or derived from these performances. Verdonck explains: ‘With ‘KALENDER’, I have set some lines that can help me to position my work. Now I have the possibility to unravel this again, to look at what I’ve made, and with what I would like to continue’.

In the gallery, an enigmatic universe made out of cardboard, clay, scrap wood or plaster appears to take us on a colourful journey. A poetic atmosphere full of references to American pop art strikes the visitor, who is kindly invited to search for deeper layers in this vibrant world. Some works seem to lift their veil a bit more when reading the titles. For example, ‘Hebban olla vogala…’ (2012), ‘Was it a cat I saw’ (2012) and ‘Wanneer de houthakker…’ (2013) are made from seemingly heedless assembled brands, logos and products. Yet, upon realising that they all stand for letters of the alphabet, their ironic hymn to consumerism becomes clear. By breaking the code, we understand that branded objects shape our sentences, our conversations and thus our conception of the world.

Other works show the leftover bits and pieces of worn-out, once useful objects: collected toothpicks, clips from soda bottles, used ice cream sticks, old balloons, little plastic forks, lost buttons’ They appear all bright, joyous and full of colour, yet this cheerful first impression does not hold with their message of inconsiderate disposability. In addition to this, multiple totems of cardboard brand logos (one completely filled with animal-related logos) and works inspired by children bring the human impact on the environment to our attention.

The works in this exhibition possess seemingly covert metaphors and latent messages, yet their powerful statements resonate strongly once discovered. When Verdonck’s saints come marching in, they are bright pink, deep blue, purple, green and yellow. They look innocent and playful and refer to our everyday reality. Verdonck’s saints seem to be hosts of a superficial and naïve carnival. Yet when his saints come marching in, they strongly engage the viewer in a game of guessing, decoding, reflecting and de-idolising. Verdonck’s works seem gently to celebrate, yet their message arrives as ineluctably as the hangover after the party.

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