KT You talk about the site? What triggers the discussion?
NL It depends. Sometimes we get the call Take, for example, we are supposed to have an exhibition in Luxembourg this summer. We came back from Luxembourg with a small idea. And then we keep talking. We talk about it when we are on the road. We talk about it when we eat. The idea keeps morphing. Someone arrives in the morning with a new drawing, maybe we will do that.
KT And then …
SG Then we make the choice, a snowball is formed.
JB Las Vegas.
NL Sometimes you are two and the snowball grows. And when the third arrives, the snowball becomes even bigger.
SG When we work in the workshop, accidents happen and with them ideas.
JB In our studio in Quebec we have a neon sign that goes on and off just like that. It’s god laughing at us. So we use it, finally.
KT What was the seed for this Mercer Union exhibition, Need To Believe?
KT What do you mean?
NL La crainte. We wanted people to be afraid.
NL Why? Because people usually leave our exhibition–chanceux–feeling happy to be alive. Well, this time, we wanted them to be afraid. I don’t know why. Something different.
KT Does this have anything to do with Toronto?
SG and NL No no no no no.
KT Mercer Union?
NL Absolutely not.
KT Did you see this project as a comment on the gallery system?
JB We felt free to do what we wanted. The gallery is good to us. At first we were supposed to show a moose, a stuffed moose that you might have seen in the brochure. We wanted it to be afraid of the spectator. To be afraid of the human, to be afraid of the gallery. Because the gallery is so white, so sterile. In the end we decided not to show the moose, but keep the fear. It is an idea we like. The fear.
SG The car replaced the moose.
KT Babies rip and tear, destroy everything in their path. As they age they become more sophisticated in the way they destroy.
NL Wow. Yeah.
JB It feels good to talk about this problem I have with the white cube.
JB Why is it white? Why it is not … grey.
KT Why is it not black? Or blue?
JB Very strange. No emotion in white.
KT But that is the reason. There is nothing. Tabula rasa.
SG C’est vierge.
NL Maybe we are afraid of nothing.
KT There has been a shift from the simulated to the real; you have made many a simulacrum. The shimmering field. The pool. The wooden cellphones. The cabin.
NL It is so seduisant. Is that a good word? Seduisant: when you want to charm. The work that we do with our hands, people were charmed by. Wow, a wood car! Wow, a wood pool! Wooden grass! And yes, it is charming to do things with your hands … but we didn’t want to keep that recipe. We wanted to try something else. Maybe it is too easy when you arrive in front of something that has been built, you know it is a sculpture. But then we took some arrows and we shot them at a four-wheel motorcycle. When you arrive in front of that, you are not sure you are in front of a sculpture.
KT Here, your use of the real generates confusion.
NL Something happens when people arrive in front of the artwork, they feel bad for the artist because their exhibition is broken.
SG Many people ask us, “Is it on purpose?”
KT I was thinking about Fischli and Weiss’ plastic simulations of art-gallery detritus There you enter the gallery, you see Gyproc, two-by-fours, a ladder, the tools … It is about the act of preparing the gallery. This piece, your piece, is about the destruction. Especially at the entrance, there is a feeling as if it is all failing apart. I sense a dialogue between the two works, these two collaborative gestures.
NL The renovation. At the beginning of a renovation occurs a degeau.
SG C’est damage.
NL Yeah, damage. We wanted to build a small office, with the idea of people becoming crazy in the office, destroying the desks and … burning them and then using part of the wall to make a rocking chair. So it is with these ideas. We didn’t go all the way, but we kept small pieces. The damage. We needed the water to damage the exhibition.
SG It was important to us that people not feel surrounded by an art piece. They are just looking. “Where is the exhibition?” they ask, as if people working at Mercer had decided to change the architecture, the physionomie. It didn’t look as if it was our exhibition. When people arrived they thought it was a mess left by gallery staff.
KT Before we go in, we are in this purgatory that looks like an extension of the office. The photocopier, the used coffee pot and then there are tools, tools hanging magnetically from the ceiling.
NL They’re his tools [points to Jasmin].
JB I wanted people to have a short experience of art … ah, finally, art. The entrance of the exhibition is bizarre and one can feel anxious. And so when you find this art, obviously so, you might think, that’s it, and turn around, and if you are not curious enough to continue you would never see the real exhibition.
KT So it’s a decoy?
KT There is this idea in The Fold, a book I skimmed by Deleuze, where he writes about the soul’s ascension to the ceiling. The tools seem to represent the passion for construction. Labourers’ culture is at play in the space, and so the tools have floated toward heaven. And with this sign, you enter.
JB The secret door.
JB It is a fantastic world.
NL It comes from the need to …
JB To be curious
NL Yes, to be curious and to be surprised to find out.
KT When you enter the secret door there is a pulley system with flags from a used car lot.
SG You noticed the flags … smiling, in the dark, it’s poesie.
NL But the movement was there and maybe you wanted to use the movement. When you put up the flag you can see the movement of the trap door. When you are standing on the car you know someone is coming, you can see these little flags moving.
KT And the weight for the pulley system is a carpenter’s belt?
NL So simple. I had it around. It was just there, attached it and never changed it.
JB And there was just enough weight to turn the door.
KT The garbage?
JB Belonged to Mercer Union.
KT Is it important to combine objects that don’t have meaning with objects that do?
NL Yes. For instance, the flowers in the entrance. They don’t have a meaning.
KT But they do. In fact, the flowers are key, it is the flowers that signify gallery, though to be specific, not Mercer Union.
NL There are many sites with flowers at the entrance.
KT A funeral?
NL A restaurant.
KT But the car …
NL The car?
KT Why is there a car there?
NL We needed a way to get higher, to see over the roof. First, we wanted to build a small deck with two-by-fours. So we … we don’t know why, but we found it boring, so then it became desks screwed together, you could climb the desks and have that view. But with the garage door we thought about smashing, and it was strange to be able to walk on a car. And to have that view when you are on a car. And to screw the ramp on the car. It was a sculpture’s phantasm.
KT Although as you break it down, leading me through your process, I find the piece was not constructed in the way one experiences it.
JB Yes, it’s a real performance. L’accident.
JB It’s a good model for us. The crash.
JB We had to push the car.
NL The engine doesn’t work.
KT A l’abri des arbres is a critique of mass consumption and the relationship of the forest to packaging. So I am wondering, do you feel this piece is a continuation of that trajectory?
NL Kind of.
JB Kind of. Yeah.
NL Physically it is, it has two levels.
JB You have to climb to another view. That was at the beginning.
SG C’est a dit installation. It is not a sculpture. It is another experience.
KT It seems to be about a culture that has a disregard for space. It feels very suburban.
NL Suburban or office. Suspended roof. People work in cubicles with artificial lighting. You think we live in a culture where people disregard space? It’s true we are unsatisfied with that aspect of society.
KT The work is about waste again. It was about waste before; I can see it in the earlier pieces, there is very obviously a kind of commitment to … to the thing that is being destroyed. With this piece it’s not the trees but the actual real estate upon which they exist. When we view the ceiling, there seems to be an understanding that this is the urban, extra-urban, sub-urban plane, the grid, and because last time you created a forest in the ceiling, you have already set up a language, the terms of which run through this piece.
NL I think people don’t take time to look around. But the gallery is one of the few places where people consider space. In our exhibition we want people to take the time and watch for details. That’s why there is a secret door. What you see at first becomes something else.
KT Can you explain the title?
NL Need To Believe … At started with the word belief. People, when they arrive at the gallery, they believe this is real damage. They believe the exhibition to be broken. Then at the end when they discover what they have been believing is not true.
SG They believe in doubt.
NL Maybe doubting everything after that.
NL We all need to believe.
KT Do we?
NL Yes! Maybe. I believe that Jasmin is my friend. I believe that Sebastien is my friend. And if I began to doubt that, my life would be complicated.
Kika Thorne is a Toronto artist.