After months of anticipation and bemused art-world speculation (a dépanneur in Venice?), the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale was finally unveiled on Tuesday. At the pavilion’s advance preview, Marc Mayer, director of the National Gallery of Canada, introduced Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière, the trio of collaborators behind Quebec City–based artist collective BGL, who have transformed the pavilion in Venice’s Giardini with their project, Canadassimo.
The exhibition begins with a towering superstructure of scaffolding, which, as pavilion curator Marie Fraser noted, gives the impression that the site is still under construction. Entering through a typical “dep” doorway (past a beat-up air conditioner, lottery-jackpot numbers and the warning sign “INTERDIT DE FLÂNER,” or “NO LOITERING”) visitors find a fully stocked Quebec dépanneur, complete with “exotic” staples such as cold Boréale beer, bacon-flavoured potato chips and a rack of retailles d’hostie (the packaged scraps of communion wafers, a specialty of the province). The likeness was so accurate, Fraser said, that, in the lead up to the exhibition’s opening, people working on the other national pavilions were dropping in to buy items, only to realize that the site was not actually a store.
Next, a beaded curtain leads to the artist-owner’s backroom studio, filled with paint-covered tin cans and ad hoc shrines of kitschy multi-faith figurines. After climbing a staircase to a deck on top of the exterior scaffolding, visitors complete the work by dropping pocket change into a twisting and turning Plinko-style contraption that rains coins down the sides of the pavilion’s ground-level windows. It’s an absurdist take on the idiosyncrasies of local culture and the construction (not to mention the accumulation) of value—a theme that is bound to play out across the Biennale in the days to come.
Canadassimo opens to the public on May 9.