Rose-ringed parakeets and harlequin ladybirds: Kris Verdonck’s greenhouse lab at Z33 (Hasselt)

One might wonder if it’s really necessary, but it certainly helps to make the experience a peculiar one: having to put on those white rubber boots, gloves and lab coats. It really feels as if you’re walking into a laboratory instead of a garden and it makes you feel as if you’re entering a dangerous environment. But there’s no poisonous snake crawling in the grass, you’ll just see some green parakeets flying around and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. But anyway: Exote, a clever installation by Belgian multidisciplinary artist Kris Verdonck at z33 (Hasselt; through August 21). For the first time he presents some of his work in an exhibition context: Exhibition #1.

The bad news? If you’ve been to his performances, there isn’t much you haven’t seen already, at Z33, except from that greenhouse. The good news? This might be a better way for Verdonck to present his work, as showing his videos in an exhibition context frees him from the obligation to come up with an all-encompassing concept that holds everything together. I really liked some of the videos in K, a society, for instance (see review here), but wasn’t so sure that, all of them combined, they were really convincing as a (theatre) performance.

On the other hand: during K, a society, you were obliged to watch each video from beginning to end. Here, you’re allowed to walk freely from video to video, which means that you’re probably going to start looking at each of them somewhere in the middle or so, and just see snippets. So, you might consider opting for those guided tours on Saturdays or Sundays, at Z33.

Funny to see though, how the theatrical devices used for some of Verdonck’s earlier theatre performances, suddenly seem to become torture devices or SM tools, when they are exhibited in one room. But on the other hand it isn’t that strange, knowing that Verdonck states that Unheimlichkeit is the central theme of his work.

Verdonck likes to point out to us that we, humans, have brought ourselves in a situation in which everything seems to be under control (and we pretend to believe that), whereas that couldn’t be further from the truth. Something he, once again, wants to show us with Exote. The greenery is filled with plants and animals that we encounter often in gardens, parks and next to the road. They seem pretty harmless, but in fact they are all extremely invasive. For each of the species presented here, there is no natural enemy in our Low Countries, which means that all of them can very easily disturb the ecological balance. So when the exhibition ends, Verdonck will have to destroy all of this very carefully.

‘Exhibition #1’, Z33, Hasselt, through August 21. Info here. You’ll find slide shows with pictures of the exhibition and links to some of Verdonck’s videos here. Every Saturday and Sunday there’s a guided tour at 3PM, which makes visiting the exhibition more like going to one of Verdonck’s theatre performances.

Want to know more about those invasive alien species, click here for a complete list.


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