Guillaume Bijl

Galerie Isy-Brachot

An integral part of the work of Guillaume Bijl is a kind of cognitive reversal that must be effected in the viewer. The “formula” revolves around the transformation of the gallery space into a different kind of site, often one with a patently commercial connotation; in this way, Bijl elides the art gallery’s economic determinants. Over the course of the past five years, the artist has mined this conceptual lodestone to produce numerous self-critical spaces. These installations, complete down to the most minute detail, are all linked together by their insistence on the transposition of contexts. But Bijl goes beyond references to the commodification and fetishization of the art object. He isolates the hierarchization of the entire process of making and perceiving art. This isolation, or decontextualization, begins the moment one enters the gallery. His pieces are a negation of post-Modernist practice through an excessive affirmation.

The most recent of Bijl’s elaborately constructed illusions is entitled Toning Tables Centre, 1989. Once again, the gallery is replaced by a business establishment in which commerce is foregrounded. Situated throughout the space are exercise machines, instructional photos, and workout uniforms. One can weigh oneself, find depictions of finely tuned bodies on the walls, even hear the loud music that is often used in aerobics classes. This is not merely a framing of one environment with another: Bijl’s copy is traced rather than drawn. The exercise tables are sleek and minimally designed. Their purpose is to provide an automated method of controlling and sculpting the human body. Their placement in a gallery does not alter this function.

Yet what happens when Bijl’s copies, through repetition of the same strategy, become more a reflection of the artist than the object being traced? When the work loses its anonymity, it also loses some of its ability to effect the required reversal: the jolt of misunderstanding is no longer there. At its best, Bijl’s work functions as a catalyst, paradoxically taking us outside of the original work itself. While its effectiveness in the gallery, as a first-hand experience, seems to be more and more tenuous, it still functions as a stimulus through which our impression of subsequent contexts may be altered. Thus, when one exits the gallery and heads past the shopfronts on Brussels’ Avenue Louise, Bijl’s work comes to life. It is still capable of effecting a perceptual reversal, leaving its own trace largely after the viewer has left the exhibition.

Michael Tarantino