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Guillaume Bijl Separates Art and Social Reality at SMAK
Guillaume Bijl - Flanders Extra Fair, 2008 Photo: Dirk Pauwels.

GENT.- Since the end of the seventies Guillaume Bijl (b. Antwerp, 1946) has explored the boundaries separating art and social reality. His inspiration comes from the everyday reality that surrounds him. Much of his work is based on banal, even trivial elements. Bijl wrenches reality out of its everyday context and places it in a setting that is both neutral and unexpected. This forces the spectator to approach this ‘placed’ reality from a completely new angle. The emphasis shifts from him being a participant in reality to an observer standing on the sidelines of this same reality.

Guillaume Bijl’s work can be divided into four categories. First and foremost are the Transformation Installations, which he himself describes as a ‘reality in unreality’. Here Bijl transforms the neutral setting of an art gallery or museum into an objective, banal and utilitarian reality. In this way he transforms a driving school in the Ruimte Z Gallery (1979), a chip shop in the Cultural Centre in Berchem (1983), or a supermarket in the Littmann Gallery (1990). These installations are a part of Bijl’s biggest art elimination project. In 1979 he wrote a fictitious pamphlet in which the government considered art unnecessary because of its non-functional nature. Based on this point of view art spaces were closed down and transformed into ‘useful’ social institutions. In 1984 however Bijl decided to distance himself from this text on the fictional bankruptcy of art, because of the clear visual evidence of the installations on the one hand and on the other hand, due to a misinterpretation which caused some of the public to think he was creating anti-art.

Without the context of this pamphlet these transformation installations created a more subtle merging of fiction and reality. Nevertheless distancing himself from this pamphlet did not mean that there was no longer a critical eye. By taking away their everyday context and practical value, these transformation installations create isolated illusions which appear to be the same as the reality. Bijl reconstructs reality using its own materials and so highlights several social processes in the light of what is routine. By exposing the emptiness behind the façade of our reality he creates a space in which our alienated look questions what is banal and self-evident in our social life.

Apart from this reality in unreality Bijl creates installations in which unreality is placed in reality. These so-called Situation Installations are concrete interventions in reality and usually part of an art manifestation. They are fictional interventions which, although barely visible, nevertheless manage to question what is banal and self-evident. Indeed, during the FIAC 1990 Bijl created a prototype of a poster stand or, as another example, placed 10 stuffed seagulls in their natural surroundings in Hoorn in the Netherlands, right in the middle of an unsuspecting population.

However Bijl does not only work with a ‘reconstructed reality’ as in the above-mentioned installations. At times he also abandons the notion of isolating reality. Bijl’s sorry-installations are absurd assemblages of existing objects in which he pulls the spectator’s leg. In 1988 for example he placed a fake horse in a trailer next to a riding school or, in 1989, created a bird’s nest which on closer inspection appeared to consist of a wig that the wind had blown off someone’s head. These works are an absurd poetic extension of Bijl’s work as a whole.

Finally there are the Compositions Trouvées, which, as the name suggests, are compositions of various objects found in reality. These contemporary archaeological still lifes are related to large installations in the same way that sketches relate to a large painting. They have the form of a polling booth, a showcase or shelving in a shop, but then without everyday connotations.

Despite this clear division into categories, most of Bijl’s work belongs to several of these categories simultaneously. What is important to him is not to create an illusion of reality but to make us aware of the illusionary nature of reality.

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