Swirls of smoke are floating all summer long over the Darling Foundry’s Place Publique. With its trademark caustic wit, the trio BGL has chosen to take over that space by showing Chicha Muffler, a participatory installation that lures us to attune ourselves to the hookah’s leisurely pace. After tipping a car on its side, artists Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière have dislodged the exhaust pipe from the car’s innards, thereby transmogrifying the mechanical part into a collective water pipe. That trick may initially bring on smiles, but true to the collective’s way of operating, this move is not gratuitous. Under a festive guise, we are being questioned about our ways of life and our relationship to the environment.
With Chicha Muffler, BGL is once again tackling that icon of consumer society and the North American way of life that is the car. Having once painstakingly carved a car to scale out of wood (Perdu dans la nature, 1998) and then used it to parade through the streets of Quebec City (Montrer ses trophées, 2005), the trio is now foiling its customary use, diverting it for a collective use aimed at both pleasure and exchange. Countering individualistic forms of behaviour generated by car-driving, Chicha Muffler can become a trigger for the widest array of encounters and discussions. This hoped-for reciprocity is a reminder of the peace pipe that used to seal an agreement between individuals and peoples. Mashing up genres and cultures, this work comes across as an open offer made to the Darling Foundry’s visitors, to passersby, and to the neighbourhood’s workers and residents.
An invitation that coaxes those who accept it to adopt a rather ambiguous posture. For the motor’s end is no longer the muffler, but the mouth of participants. By creating this hybrid vehicle with a twist, BGL is also thumbing its nose at prevailing political correctness. Overwhelmed as we are by a barrage of anti-smoking rules and awareness campaigns, it feels rather odd to be offered a smoke nowadays. On the one hand, the State is strongly suggesting to citizens that they refrain from smoking, but on the other hand, for all kinds of reasons, it deems this act to be a matter of individual choice. Squeezing through this inconsistency, the trio also casts light on our propensity to analyse every situation in terms of risk. Is this installation safe? Is it hygienic? Chicha Muffler thus probes our individual and collective tolerance thresholds. It has fun with limits, maneuvering within the mazes of City by-laws, while collapsing past and present.
The work thus has a strong symbolic import. The Place publique is actually just a street closed to traffic and its meeting place is a disabled car. As a rest area within the city’s bustling fabric, this intervention enables us to re-examine our relation to others and to the city, as well as to generate new ones. It gives us a needful pause to reflect on our collective choice to give priority to the car (despite half-hearted attempts to favour alternative transportation) and on an often all-too functional way of conceiving and perceiving the city. A moment of reflection that can also take the form of soul-searching by questioning our beliefs and values, or whatever is left of them.
Text : Annie Hudon Laroche
BGL is a Quebec city-based collective with sharp and extravagant humor, created in 1996 by Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière. Known for cheeky, critical and explosive works, BGL create self-referential in-situ installations that take over architecture and encompass a gallery’s context. The resulting artworks speak directly to contemporary culture and the nostalgia of memory.