The artists Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière form the collective BGL, founded in 1996 and active today on the Québec, Canadian, and international art scenes. Through their installations, often composed of prefabricated and recycled objects, the three artists ironically question the cult of art, the contemplation of art and the places where it is shown, while also criticizing today’s consumer society. BGL was chosen to represent Canada at the 56th International Art Exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Founding and Early Days of the Collective
The moment that they graduated from Université Laval, in Québec City, young artists Jasmin Bilodeau (Lac-Mégantic, 1973), Sébastien Giguère (Arthabaska, 1972) and Nicolas Laverdière (Québec City, 1972) began creating humorous installations that cast a critical eye on the problems of consumption and popular and urban culture. In their first works exhibited throughout Québec, they emphasized the use of wood, sculpting cell phones, a sports car, a telephone booth, and various other luxury and mass-consumption items out of this material. In Chapelle mobile (1998), BGL constructed the wooden skeleton of a small chapel inside a Catholic church in Québec City. By creating such unusable objects and ironic installations, the BGL artists raise thought-provoking questions about the original functions of the materials they use, the consumer products they depict and the places where their works are displayed.
As the new millennium began, the collective started using recycled materials in their art, in particular to address issues of excess consumption. In the installation Abondance difficile à regarder (An Abundance That Is Hard to Look At), presented at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in 2000, the message was explicit: hundreds of plastic bottles of household products were assembled to create a multi-coloured, translucent ceiling resembling a stained-glass window in a church. This ironic analogy made this museum — a place where art is worshipped — into a place to contemplate (and condemn) the cult of consumption. In 2002, the collective created Le manège, an installation that required visitors to interact with it. It consisted of two swings at opposite ends of a pole; the visitor sat in one swing, while the one at the other end was loaded with bags of garbage as a counterweight. Beneath this festive structure, the ground was strewn with more household garbage and debris. Thus the visitor was torn between the childlike pleasure of riding the swing and disgust at the physical consequences of overconsumption.
Though many of BGL’s works are symbolically tied to the places where they are installed, others involve performance and interaction, usually tinged with a sense of humour and the absurd. In Bosquets d’espionnage (Spying from the Bushes), presented in the streets of Toulouse, France, in 2004, the artists hid in plain sight behind fake bushes made of painted wood and spied on passersby with binoculars, sometimes while being filmed by a crew stationed right out in the open. At the Manif d’art 3 biennial in Québec City in 2005, the trio presented Rapides et Dangereux (Fast and Dangerous),a performance that typified their oddball sense of humour: donning team uniforms and rollerblades, the trio pushed a motorcycle mounted on stroller wheels through the city streets at high speed.
In their exhibition Commercial Pleasure, at the Diaz Contemporary gallery in Toronto, the group mischievously upset visitors’ expectations about their own role as viewers of art. One of the exhibition rooms was simply filled with office furniture, leaving visitors to search for the “real” works of art. In another room, a small mechanism made one of the photographs hanging on the wall come crashing to the floor at regular intervals, much to the visitors’ consternation. Thus BGL offered a kind of self-criticism, undermining the very definition of a work of art, the function of an art gallery, and the role and perceptions of the people who visit it.
Public Art Projects
In a 2011 competition, the trio was selected by the Québec Ministry of Culture to incorporate a work of art into the architecture of the new Montréal Symphony House. Entitled C’est sûrement des Québécois qui ont fait ça (It Has To Be Quebecers Who Made That), the hanging installation, composed of three giant spirals, evokes sound waves floating off in various directions. In 2014, BGL exhibited Water Velocity/La vélocité de l’eau, a gigantic kinetic sculpture representing a swimming pool lane twisted into the shape of a roller coaster, in front of the Aquatics Centre at the July 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
The trio often reintroduce pieces of their past installations into new exhibitions, thus offering a critique of their own discourse. In the exhibition bgl : Sculpteurs Bonimenteurs (BGL : Smooth-Talking Sculptors), presented in 2013 at the Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides in Saint-Jérôme, Québec, the three artists investigated the theme of the suburb and the forces of uniformity and individualism that this social reality underlies. To do so, they reintroduced the wooden automobile from their late-1990s installation Perdus dans la nature. Thus decontextualized and projected into a different space, this piece told a new story and enabled a new dialogue, according to the artists, who described themselves as tricksters and storytellers.
After participating in the Havana Biennial in 2006 and the Ushuaia and Montréal biennials the following year, BGL was selected in 2014 to represent Canada at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in 2015. In partnership with guest curator Marie Fraser, the trio transformed the Canada Pavilion into a multi-room installation. The first room was a typical Québec dépanneur (convenience store), plastered with beer advertisements and posters for the provincial lottery. In the second room, visitors found stacks of hundreds of empty cans of Heinz Tomato Sauce and Green Giant Corn Niblets, filled with paintbrushes of all sizes and with multicolored paint dribbling down their sides. These artifacts of cheap grocery items clashed ironically with the élite artistic context of the Venice Biennale. Once again, the collective’s modus operandi was to throw the viewer off balance through a combination of illusions and ironic mockery.
The BGL collective is now represented by the Parisian Laundry gallery in Montréal and Galerie 3 in Québec City. Its works are exhibited in many Canadian museums, including the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa.