In the Canadian pavilion, BGL’s money machine was broken. The structure which resembled the kind of track that ball rolls down in an arcade game had to be modified. It was the middle of June with Greece in the thick of insecurity negotiating with the E.U., also hoping to fix their money game as the world anticipated economic repercussion from the outcome. On both the outside and inside of the Canadian pavilion BGL had erected scaffolding, an indication that props were needed in the unique yet awkward pavilion, much like the temporary constructions on the faces of buildings continuously being repaired or cleaned in the beautiful, crumbling city of Venezia. BGL had added a creative renovation onto the exterior name plaque, CANADA.

CANADASSIMO was seen through the temporary, galvanized, geometrical sheath.

For this 56th biennale, Okwui Enwezor described his curatorial choice as reflecting “a ramshackle assemblage that reflects the world’s current disorder.” The Quebec City (surname initialed) collective BGL, Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière, echoed the theme with aplomb.

The money machine was not the first financial experience on entering the pavilion. BGL had reconstructed a corner store, stocked with fast food, junk indulgences, inedible stomach fillers and the usual array of contemporary ‘necessities’. The hitch was that despite the fact that there was a real person sitting behind the counter and actual products in the store, there was not a channel for commerce. The BGL store would not accept money. I tried. This store would not, in fact, let anything leave the store. It was a commercial venue that was frozen, growing dusty and stale where shelf lives expired without the option of acquiring.

Then as if being allowed the privilege of entry into the back room of this non-store, we were routed behind the cashier’s desk and into a relatively empty space with a seating platform covered by blue quilted packing blankets. There were a few empty cardboard boxes, planks – a general assortment of flotsam and jetsam. It was a collection of saved items as if destined for future use with nothing to ‘look at’ – no noticeable ART. This was where a man on a ladder was trying to fix the money machine. He looked diminutive within the small glass courtyard, kept company by the tree that grows there. Behind the plate glass Euro coins were perched on pegs unable to fall into the catch-all below.

Delving deeper into this private zone, an overwhelming confrontation of stuff-used-to-make-art extrapolated to include a room of things. There were paint pots with colourful drips and poised paint brushes; earthenware statues made from clichéd molds like seated, head-dressed politically-incorrect renditions of ‘Indian chiefs’; rolls of coloured papers; strings and tape randomly attaching the objects – and as if recognising the uninhibited realm of current art materials, found objects. Claus Oldenburg’s iconic piece Mouse Museum / Ray Gun Machine was a collection of stuff, mainly kitsch, that Oldenburg had related to, including small models for larger scaled works. BCL’s attention to placement, so that the arrangement is an integral and illuminating part of the installation, was similar. But BGL’s installation revealed an aspect of a generic artist’s mind, an oxymoron when coupled with the intrinsic idea of individuality associated with ‘artist’. The endless pots of paint, the collating of materials, the classification of objects into groups – all based on the appearance, the visual pull, of that object – brought to the fore the incomprehensible variables of contemporary art making.

The visionary, first female director of the National Gallery, Dr. Jean Sutherland Boggs, in a 60’s CBC interview when questioned as to the future of art, remarked that she believed art would become something that we walked into so that it would surround us rather than being something that we looked at. The Canadian pavilion – occupied by BGL, seemingly under construction, revealing the workings of the creative process, enveloping the ‘viewer’ so that the position of on-looker disappears to be replaced by interlocutor – fulfills this prediction. And since everyone can relate in one way or another to the phenomena of over possession, BGL’s installation was relevant while still being oddly aesthetic, much like our general dilemma with ‘stuff management’.

BGL hit the bullseye. The pavilion addressed an over-riding aspect of the contemporary art world – commerce. There is a palpable buzz of importance during the Biennale and much of it has to do with the intoxicating whiff of money. BGL’s money machine was a pertinent inclusion, for representation at the Venice Biennale has historically been a step up the economic art ladder. BGL humorously guaranteed their rising status – a helpful pavilion attendant stated that the coins put into the money machine would be collected by BGL at the end of the show, a version of a ‘performer’s hat’ on the premises for appreciative viewers to express their thanks. Even though the coins were stuck on the way down, I threw in a Euro. 

56th International Art Exhibition
Venice, Italy
May 9—November 22, 2015