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John K. Grande

BGL: Sheltered from the Trees

Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
May 25 - Sept. 2, 2001

[ 629 words ]


"We no longer see nature; we see pictures", Cézanne once commented. Recreating and reproducing experiential scenarios, at once artificial, yet also occupying real space, Quebec-based collective BGL have adopted that simulacra's keynote as their modus vivendi. Neither romantic, nor utopian, BGL's art, whether in urban or rural settings, deals with the symptoms of a world where nature is disappearing, and where overproduction has led to a displacement effect. BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière) walk the line between the sublime and the ludicrous, endlessly recreating the signs and symbols of consumer culture. Engendering a sense of displacement by technology, for instance, BGL built seven multicoloured fully non-functioning telephone booths along Highway 132 in rural Quebec in the summer of 1999. The "booths" were placed at random, in fields, somehow distanced yet easily seized upon as an idea. Lost in Nature (1998), painstakingly recreated a suburban swimming pool and Mercedes Benz car out of wood, with the BGL logo attached to the piece. Their craft work gestures recall James Carl's labour intensive post-industrial cardboard jibes at the consumer object/artifact, and for a more recent project BGL gathered 60 Christmas trees after Christmas 2000 to then carve images of Christmas presents into their bases: a football, a teddy bear, toy car, and folk carvings.

For their present exhibition titled In the Shelter of the Trees, on view at the Musée d'art contemporain, BGL have created a labyrinthine post-consumer warren of cardboard boxes, some flattened out, some stacked and wrapped, others forming the walls and ceiling of the extravaganza. They likewise left iconic object/clues - paper hats, plastic drinks cups, tinsel - the residue of a fictional office party. Wandering through BGL's narrow cardboard pathways and passages, one eventually arrives at a raised promontory "room", a viewing platform, a room with a view window through which one can sees a miniature forest of cut out trees. The medium here is not the message, but the representation thereof.

BGL's simulations have that chance-like, anti-aesthetic style, and the experience is like making your way through constricted spaces, not thickets or brush, more like an overloaded warehouse. This landscape material has been reconfigured a few times... once trees, then packaging, and now art. From A to Z, but not back again. You can enter or exit at either end of the installation, never really sure where it begins. Intermittently positioned mirrors, we are told, are there to create an illusion of space opening up endlessly. While "nature" may not exist in the classic sense for BGL, everything that surrounds us is generated by nature, of which we are a part. For all its irony and labour intensive reconstruction, BGL's In the Shelter of the Trees, inadvertently reaffirms the ongoing nihilism that goes with mass marketing and consumerism. Some accept the anomie and join in the party. Others question it. BGL's artmaking seems somewhat lost in that commonplace, endlessly reconfigured landscape that is part and parcel of economies of scale. It is as if all that wasteful exploitation of resources that is the starting point for their material method, has lead them to a cul-de-sac conception as constricted as these passageways, that look out box. And so, as we enter or exit the piece (we can do so from either end), we find a tiny generic office setting that has a desk, shelving and other generic low budget office furniture. It's an austere dichotomy, this wrong box, kind of like window dressing, all done with cardboard, once trees.

review appeared in Sculpture magazine

Text: © John K. Grande. All rights reserved.


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