LABIOMISTA first opened its doors in July 2019. Its first season was a resounding success: more than 40,000 visitors, both foreign and domestic, flocked to the site. This year, reopening was delayed by nearly two months because of the lockdown caused by COVID-19. The unexpected interval has further energised Koen Vanmechelen's creative sensibility. "It was almost surreal to experience how the themes of my work became reality," he says.
Also during the lockdown, the artist launched a number of innovative projects, such as the truck in the LABIOMISTA car park that has temporarily been converted into an expo; ‘The Battery Channel’, a digital platform and podcast; and ‘This is Not a Chicken’, a worldwide face mask project (with MOUTH Foundation). Inviting people to visit LABIOMISTA, the new campaign image ENERGY, COMMUNICATION AND LIFE symbolises the new connections and the energy that are needed to heal the world.
An evolving work of art
LABIOMISTA continues to expand and establish new connections. This year, the Cosmopolitan Culture Park is showing a number of new installations by Vanmechelen. 'Integration' is a monumental work, located on the lawn behind Villa OpUnDi. Also featured is ‘The Walking Egg’, a sculpture in honour of Inge Kindt, Vanmechelen's late wife.
The natural elements also continue to evolve: a new-born dromedary, two pairs of black storks and a number of llamas enhance LABIOMISTA’s diversity. “It is very fitting that LABIOMISTA also welcomes Winter the llama, as agreed with VIB,” says the artist. Winter’s antibodies to COVID-19 are the cornerstone of research by Xavier Saelens for a drug to slow down the virus. “Nature contains an enormous amount of knowledge. This project is a good example of how art, science, nature and human rights all fit together.”
Bee hall and Nomadland: connecting with the local area
As visitors walk through the park, they will also come across a newly constructed bee hall. Vanmechelen: “ME, BEE and TREE is a project about connection centred on bees, because they make cross-pollination possible. They’re like an air bridge of sweet temptation.” The bee hall was manufactured in collaboration with students from Atlas College, based on a design by the artist. The bees belong to local beekeepers, who will also take care of the insects. “Koen Vanmechelen and the city of Genk share the ambition to firmly embed LABIOMISTA in its local surroundings. This project will continue to be strong on connectivity, thanks to the involvement of local beekeepers,” says Wim Dries, mayor of Genk. LABIOMISTA honey is offered for sale in the shop.
In accordance with LABIOMISTA’s philosophy, catering activities have been developed around the site. New this year are three colourful gypsy wagons, turning nearby neighbourhood park Nomadland into a unique meeting place. Vanmechelen drew up the concept, a local group of active volunteers built the wagons. As soon as the relevant restrictions are eased, the local community will be able to offer local food and drinks to visitors and local residents alike.
Audioguides for visitors
All necessary measures have been taken to ensure that visits are safe. Visitors must order their admission tickets online in advance. With its wide pathways, the spacious Cosmopolitan Culture Park is ideally suited for walkers. The number of visitors present in the reception building and Villa OpUnDi will be monitored constantly, and the rooms and facilities will be disinfected continuously.
For individual visitors, audioguides will be provided in four languages that explain the context of Vanmechelen's philosophy and works throughout the grounds. In addition, from the beginning of the next school year, three art-educational packages will be offered: one each for the last grade of primary school and for the first and second grades of secondary school.