Culture  BGL looks back to the future

Quebec art collective reworks old pieces into something new

“Posterity,” Québécois art collective BGL’s presentation of new and reworked pieces, is a poignant mix of serious recollection and sharp humour. Their work is currently on display at Parisian Laundry, a large-scale contemporary art space in St-Henri.

Founded in 1996 by Université de Laval students Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère, and Nicolas Laverdière, the collective takes its acronymic name from the members’ second initials. Their show’s title refers to the exhibition’s main thematic concern: many pieces are reworked or modified versions of work from the collective’s past and all engage with modalities and representations of memory.

At last week’s vernissage, a diverse mix of black-clad art-world types mingled among families with strollers and young children in their arms. BGL complemented their already highly interactive work with a classical guitar performance and a working hookah made from the salvaged muffler of a car, which proved one of the most popular pieces of the night.

Art was spread over the three floors of the gallery, showing the collective’s use of diverse media to address wide-ranging concepts. At the entrance were large installation pieces – reinterpretations of previous artwork – many concerned with issues of speed, disaster, and death.

Two of the most imposing were a skidoo, covered in matte white paint, hung from the ceiling and two wrecked motorcycles, painted a felt-like, fuzzy, matte black.

Bilodeau discussed the modifications to the work: “We put plinths under the skidoo and motorbikes for the first time. Before, they had just been presented on the floor, but putting them on the plinths evoked a much more official feeling.”

Discussing the origins of BGL’s materials, Bilodeau said, “being a trio, we see things that the others find and say ‘Oh wow, there’s potential there.’ We find things in strange places.”

The walls near the crashed vehicles bore framed highway signs, which on inspection were covered in thousands of squashed mosquitoes. Like the vehicles, the signs evoked notions of speed and collision; the use of typical gallery frames, meanwhile, functioned similarly to those museum style plinths, juxtaposing the origins of the found objects against their current role as artwork.

In addition to reworking old pieces, BGL presented a large installation conceived for this exhibit, transforming the gallery’s basement into a Christmas tree factory. The artists collected dead pines and painted them a shockingly bright phthalo green. The work presents the trees in a process of transformation: some lie dry and dead near the wall while others hang painted from a metal frame, drying from a fresh coat.

The trees evoke a strong sense of mortality, while offering the possibility of regeneration: the dead ones could be “revived” through a coat of paint. Parisian Laundry director Jeannie Riddle made this aspect of the work clear, saying that “the Christmas tree factory sort of hinges on the idea of these burned out, dead things that they reinvent and transform…. They’re coming back around to a rebirth, and away from some of the catastrophe and speed that was seen in the last work.”

On the second storey of the gallery, BGL collected remnant artifacts of past installations, which they presented as a “flea market” in a ramshackle warren of small rooms. The space’s interactivity – where one could wander through and pick up objects – proved popular with guests, although this collection lacked the topical coherence of both the motorcycle/skidoo and the Christmas tree installations. Those pieces that fail to make their strongest impact now, however, could well be recycled in BGL’s future projects.

“Because with art, you try, it doesn’t work, you begin again. It’s interesting. It gives an option for the most freedom possible,” said Bilodeau, emphasizing the constant flux and modification in the trio’s work. “It’s intuition, I guess. And sometimes it doesn’t work out…. You say, ‘yeah, I think we’ll continue to play with that object. It’s still an enigmatic object, but it takes time.’”

“Posterity” by BGL is on display at Parisian Laundry, 3550 St Antoine O. until November 21.