The Venice Questionnaire 2015 #3: BGL

Representing Canada at the 2015 Venice Biennale, the collective BGL answered our short questionnaire

BGL, Canadassimo, 2015 (work in progress for the Canada Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale). © Ivan Binet. Courtesy BGL, Parisian Laundry, Montreal, and Diaz Contemporary, Toronto

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2015 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening.

The artist collective BLG (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière) is representing Canada. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

For Venice, we’ve created an installation that completely transforms the Canadian pavilion, practically doubling its surface area. Canadassimo is an immersive circuit composed of four distinct spaces, one of which is outdoors. The installation appropriates the pavilion and alters its appearance, so that its exhibition function is no longer evident. It’s a strategy – practically a modus operandi – that characterises our work, a kind of syndrome that impels us to systematically blur the parameters of spaces and art objects. Maybe we should see an art psychoanalyst!

Visitors access Canadassimo through a typical Quebec dépanneur, a type of small convenience store; it’s as if there were no exhibition, just this public service. Behind the counter of the shop, which is crammed full of stuff, through a doorway with a bamboo curtain, can be glimpsed a private area under renovation that looks like an apartment – the loft inhabited by the owner of the store. At the end of a passage formed by the bookshelves surrounding this domestic room is another completely chaotic, crowded space where the grocer-tinkerer makes things – what we’ve called the ‘studio’. Finally, a metal staircase leads from the pavilion’s inner courtyard to an extension on the front of the building. This is a kind of outdoor balcony crisscrossed with a tangled network of metal gutters, which offers a marvellous view over the Giardini.

Are you approaching this show in a different way as to how you would a ‘normal’ exhibition?

Venice is not something you plan to make part of your career. It’s the most incredible honour that came entirely out of the blue. We were selected for the Biennale during what was already proving to be the busiest year of our career! But we leapt at the chance to take our immersive, labyrinthine installations to a whole new level: instead of transforming one or a couple of exhibition galleries, we decided to metamorphose an entire building. To match the extravagance of this prestigious event, we’ve responded with the chaotic extravagance that defines BGL!

A characteristic of Canadassimo is that it’s tailored to its venue: the installation was inspired by the building’s unusual layout, its rather 'shabby' look and its position within the Giardini. This local element is always extremely important to us in the creation of site-specific works. From our very first visit the pavilion struck us as congenial and on a domestic scale that made it suitable for either a public or a private purpose – very different from the traditional 'white cube.' We found this architectural ambiguity odd, given its role in a Biennale where the pavilions are intended for the exhibition of art. The idea of creating a fake convenience store was directly inspired by the location of the pavilion, which is slightly cut off from the neighbouring buildings and would actually make a great service area.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or problematic?

It’s tremendously exciting, it warms a sculptor’s heart, although it’s also a source of performance anxiety. We decided to approach this very special exhibition context obliquely by developing a concept that subverts our national pavilion and potentially obscures the building’s function: contemporary art versus service and leisure.

How are you addressing the different audiences who come to Venice – the masses of artist peers, gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening and the general public who come through over the following months?

Perhaps oddly, we don’t try to adapt to different audiences but simply to remain true to our aesthetic choices. We’re strong believers in the power of the experience that impels visitors, once they’ve entered the work, to act and react differently in relation to their immediate surroundings, regardless of their knowledge of contemporary art. Initially, our main goal is to focus on this destabilising experience; we prefer it if interpretation of the work comes later. In any case, many of the questions raised by the work go beyond the realm of contemporary art and concern global issues related to today’s capitalist society, such as mass production, rapid consumption, comfort, the world economy, the environment and different social practices.

What are your earliest or best memories of the biennale?

This is a major first for us – we’ve never been to the Venice Biennale before. But we have taken part in the 9th Bienal de La Habana (Cuba, 2006), the 1st Bienal del fin del mundo (Argentina, 2007), the Biennale de Montréal (Canada, 2007) and the Manif d’art/Biennale de Québec (Canada, 2000 and 2005).

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

We’re eager to see the other pavilions and to meet the artists, but frankly we haven’t really had time to think about it much. We’ve been totally absorbed by the conception and execution of Canadassimo, and now we’re busy preparing for our trip to Venice. We’re intrigued by the theme of All the World’s Futures, which seems to focus on the issues that have interested us since BGL was formed twenty years ago.

How does a having a pavilion in Venice affect the art scene in your home country?

We’re artists – we don’t assess the impact of Canada’s national pavilion. Canada’s participation in the Venice Biennale is overseen by the National Gallery of Canada, and its director, Marc Mayer, would no doubt be in a better position to answer your question.

Read all responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2015 edition published so far

Read all 30 responses to the Venice Questionnaire 2013 edition

Read our Biennial Questionnaire with the curator of the 2014 Biennale de Montreal 

Online exclusive published 9 April 2015