BGL’s problem-solving: works at Museum London
For the Parisian arts event Nuit Blanche 2011, the Québec-based art trio BGL built a giant bonfire, some 18 metres long, inside of a gymnasium. The flames were false, of course — cut from cloth and animated by electric fans and lights fixed beneath — but, at first sight, the effect was convincing. In the time it would take visitors to solve the illusion, reality was paused. The experience of disruption, especially on such a scale, has the power to imprint on viewers deeply. The artwork was, in short, a spectacle, and to engineer one of that force and magnitude required considerable puzzling and problem-solving on the part of the artists. Accordingly, they titled the piece Spectacle + Problèmes.
A smaller version of the work is currently installed at Museum London, alongside a couple dozen other examples selected from across their 20-plus-year career, including major works on loan from the National Gallery of Canada. The exhibition takes its name from the original faux fire. This may be something of a key: “spectacle” and “problems” make a tidy framework through which to understand the art practice of Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière (BGL, from each of their second initials). Their product is “engrossing art experiences” – how those are made is a new challenge each time.
The group’s modus operandi positions them in an artistic bloodline that includes Dada pranksters and Situationists: they stage playful interventions into the routine and ordinary. The “white cube” gallery space itself is often the first target of their mediations. “It’s too boring to present a piece solo in a big area,” Bilodeau says. In Museum London, known for its high, architectural barrel vaults, BGL has nullified the feature, curator Cassandra Getty points out, with a drop ceiling fabricated from 140 or so miniature barrel vault forms. Down a corridor just beyond, they have installed a functional automatic sliding door, like you would find in a supermarket or a convenience store. They wanted to lend the gallery space some commercial flavour, Bilodeau explains. He envisions the layout like a sort of “parcours”, or obstacle course, where visitors determine their path from one experience to the next.
Rooms are subdivided by brick walls and faux doorways — a trick played with printed vertical blinds. Hidden behind one such partition, visitors find a dinged-up Suzuki sports bike, its front-end fastened to the wheels and frame of a rollator. The sculpture features in a 2005 video performance titled Rapides et dangereux, where the scrapyard motorcycle was returned to the road, assisted by a medical mobility aid, and propelled by BGL on rollerblades, pushing the contraption around Québec City like a bobsleigh team. It epitomizes the sort of logical and associative play that drives the group’s art-making.
Parked nearby is what looks like a muscle car draped in one of those protective auto covers. It isn’t real, but that’s not the gag — only subterfuge. Through a viewing port in the back-end of the vehicle, you can see deep into its body, where, at the front, roughly where the engine should be, there’s an artificial fireplace glowing orange. La guerre du feu or War of Fire came about while pondering the internal combustion engine and the revolution it caused. Swap one flame for another and a car bumper becomes a hearth.
Although it all sounds amusing (and, surely, it is), their artwork is not merely spectacle. BGL wants to fascinate viewers; they also want viewers to question why they are so fascinated. The reflex they are training — that our surroundings ought to be interrogated more closely — stirs larger inquiries about the various economic and cultural forces that define and sanction space and activity. They broach these issues in what they like to call a “poetical” way.
That poetry is present even in BGL’s earliest works, a sample of which occupies prime real estate in the Spectacle + Problems exhibition. They made Chapelle mobile in 1998 out of wood salvaged from renovation and construction projects around Québec City. The chapel is a skeletal structure imitating neo-Gothic church architecture. “We don’t believe so much in God,” Bilodeau says, “but we believe strongly in beauty.” During the construction of the project, the group became fixed on the image of a person holding to the sky their hammer and their saw. That motif forms a decorative roof ridge on top of the chapel. “It’s a tribute to the pleasure of building,” says Bilodeau. “It is a tribute to our gods,” he adds, bricolage and DIY. Although it may appear as sacrilege, it is with utmost love and reverence that BGL built its church to ingenuity.
Including loans from the National Gallery of Canada, BGL: Spectacle + Problems is on view at Museum London until August 26, 2018. To share this article, please click on the arrow at the top right hand of the page.