What’s most interesting about the Canadian artists’ collective BGL, is not that they were chosen to represent Canada in the past Venice Biennale, but why such producers of seemingly ordinary or mundane works of ‘art’ were chosen in the first place. The first exhibit is the now infamous, convenience store; can bags of Doritos and Pringles chips be a work of art?
Connoisseurs wondering around, thinking silently “Is this for real?” and “Why am I in a convenience store?” breathe a sigh of relief upon seeing boxes of Corn Flakes that have been intentionally blurred. “Phew…its art after-all. I’m in the right place.” Which is a funny state of affairs in the art world, as people have come to expect ‘strangeness’ in art shows; if there wasn’t anything strange, if everything looked ordinary and just like ‘home’, a prospect dawns on you that is very, frightening.
For if these boxes of Corn Flakes were not blurred, that means that any old convenience store can be called a work of art, and anybody who can build a convenience store can be called an artist, which does not bode well for the current prices of artworks.
The subsequent rooms in the Canada pavilion settles down into more artistic-like installations; an artist’s studio with mountains of paint cans, all with similar shaped vertical streaks of multi-colored paint, reminiscient of Jackson Pollock’s Long Island studio, except ‘hyper-ized’, multiplied to the power of ‘n’, with the added attraction of metronomes going ‘tick-tock, tick-tock’ in the background and a huge steel running track for coins in which visitors insert Euros into and watch as their coins roll along the track and into a plexi-glass ‘pachingko-like’ contraption in which their coins bounce around and finally fall into a collection box.
While the convenience store and the artist’s studio in a way conforms to the ideas and concepts of BGL’s earlier works, the coin track and pachingko structure is a bit baffling. What on earth does it mean, or is it trying to say? Some commentators have expressed something about consumerism and a comment on the way we chase money around or perhaps it is a statement on the economics of the art industry, where money is being ‘dropped’ on artworks. Personally it reminded me of Chris Burden’s toy car whizzing Metropolis II (2012). Maybe some of you can leave a comment?
The installation as a whole, what BGL calls ‘interventions’, are a commentary on perception and reality; where objects which look ordinary can, in another context, have their meanings turned upside down. Incidently, it is interesting to note that the name Canadassimo is a mix between the words ‘Canada’ and the Italian word ‘massimo’ which means biggest. So Canada biggest… are they saying that BGL is the biggest in Canada or BGL is the biggest in the world, or that the Canada pavillion is the biggest, which it isn’t.
In Canada De Fantasie (2012) a merry-go-round is made of metal pedestrian barriers; objects which are supposed to be on the ground and stationary, are now flying around in mid-air and bent into metal seats.
In Domaine de l’angle I & II(2006 & 2008), an office ceiling is hung in the most inappropriate places; first in a forest, then in a back alley full of trash bins, creating a surreal environment, along the lines of Salvador Dali and other surrealist works, except in this case it is a 3 dimensional environment. This experiential factor, that one can touch and experience the artwork 3 dimensionally, is a core method of communication in BGL’s works, and a major differentiation factor from Surrealist art of the 20th century.
Three projects: Jouet d’adulte (2003), an ATV (all terrain vehicle) that looks like it been ‘killed’ by bows and arrows as an animal in the wild west, Venise A.K.A. the pivoting moose (2006) which is a dead moose which looks like its alive and well but is obviously dead since its ‘floating’ in mid-air, and Chicha Muffler Le Derniere Etage (2014) must somehow be discussed together. BGL had previously expressed their distaste for ATVs in a magazine interview, perhaps because they damage the natural environment, with their huge wheels rolling over baby trees and scrubs, and so this modern machine must be killed by the most traditional way, using bows and arrows, but what about Venise? Why is she dead but looking alive but obviously dead and suspended in mid air?
Similar to Jouet d’adulte (2003), Chicha Muffler Le Derniere Etage (2014) takes a modern, popular invention, the automobile, flips several of them on their sides on a secluded, bare rooftop creating a surreal environment. Where it differs from the other 2 projects is in the fact that a converted muffler/hookah pipe contraption is connected to the exhaust system of some of the cars, and visitors are invited to smoke from it during a party thrown at night. This participatory element completes the cycle; whereas Jouet d’adulte (2003) and Venise are static, visually communicating objects, Chicha Muffler communicates experientially, and transforms the cars into another life with another function in this process.
Rapides Et Dangereux (2005) is a 10 minute performance in which Jas Bilodeau rides around Quebec city in a motor bike with its front wheel lodged in a disable wheel chair, while Séb Giguère and Nic Laverdière wearing inline skates push the bike with the attached handles in the back. Their streamlined, matching color, sport body suits are reminiscent of the start of winter Olympics bobsled races, but as the performance goes on, are Giguere and Laverdiere really pushing or are they in fact being towed, since the motor bike is running? The converted front wheel/wheelchair contraption adds a another factor of mystery and danger, as the bike turns the corner, would the wheelchair slide and have the whole thing come crashing down?
Le Piege (2007), an ice cream shed ‘trap’ as BGL describes it, since piege means trap in French. Located near a metro station and public swimming pool, the breezy surroundings make it the perfect set up for a ‘detournement’ or diversion, a cultural hijack. What visitors expect, upon seeing it from a distance, is to be able to buy an ice cream, but instead on closer inspection, one finds that it is ‘mouldy and full of flies’.
The concepts of ambiguity and ‘detournement’ or diversion are central to these works, where nothing is as it seems and objects have been transformed into something else by rotating them and/or placing them in another context; convenience stores where you can’t buy anything, metal pedestrian barriers flying around as part of a merry-go-round (or ‘carousel’), office ceilings placed in a forest, cars overturned and turned into part of a hookah pipe system, ice cream sheds thats all mouldy and full of flies inside.