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Features / May 7, 2015

Venice Biennale 2015: Like Flies to Honey, BGL’s Big Gamble at the Canada Pavilion

Isa Tousignant reports from the opening of BGL's installation at the Canada Pavilion, where the collective's project has been gathering crowds all day.

Those brave enough to pass through the thick throng of tipplers in front of the Canada Pavilion yesterday afternoon, Venice time, were rewarded with two treasures: on one side, the prosecco table, and on the other, the door to the dépanneur.

Access to this now-infamous installation by Quebec City trio BGL yesterday wasn’t as simple as all that, though. It felt more reminiscent of Saturday-night lineups on the night’s last cigarette run than your average wander-in corner-store experience. But then again, nothing is average in Venice. Half cheeseball amusement park, half natural splendour, the city is a befitting location for this work, which is so thoroughly and distractingly amusing while, at its essence, making a biting statement about the moneyed art scene it serves. The theme of cash came up in a few other pavilions as well—in the Australian Pavilion, Fiona Hall has woven delicate nests out of the American dollar bills she hand-shredded one by one, and at the Greek Pavilion, off-site, two rooms are filled waist-high with desiccated bills—and for good reason. There’s a sort of somber irony to the incredible cost of fairs like this at a time when so many nations are facing ruin. In the Serbian Pavilion, Ivan Grubanov makes a knockout statement about the absurdity of such a Modernist type of gathering in this day and age with his work United Dead Nations, but I digress.

The well-heeled crowd at the opening of Canadassimo—which included Canadian visitors Marc Mayer, Jonathan Shaughnessy, John Zeppetelli, Gaëtane Verna and Jeanie Riddle, among many others—took great pleasure in slotting their spare euros into the complex rooftop contraption, then watching their coins make their way down the side of the windows. It’s like a game; people’s eyes get wide and involuntarily fill with wonder—no small feat for this blasé scene. And that’s true for pretty much the whole installation, from the moment you walk through the typical dep door, all the way to the jam-packed studio section and back outside onto the roof. Canadassimo is a festive feast for the senses, with weird objects in every corner to discover each time you visit. The fact that it’s a giant slot machine just adds to the fun. The crowds that are gathering for this work, which were there all day yesterday, well before the official opening and well after, prove the success of BGL’s strategy. You do catch more flies with honey. Whether you can make the flies stop and think is the question.